The series was cancelled due to the Spanish influenza outbreak
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
The cancellation of the 1919 cup final revealed the frailty of human life. Sports became secondary.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 has altered our lives significantly. Professional sports were not immune as several sports leagues postponed their regular seasons, later restarting their seasons in “playoff bubbles.”
But over a century ago, the outbreak of Spanish influenza resulted in the cancellation of the 1919 Stanley Cup Final between the Montreal Canadiens (National Hockey League) and Seattle Metropolitans (Pacific Coast Hockey Association). Five games had already been played (series was 2-2-1); with all games being played in Seattle. It was the only time in NHL history where no champion was crowned. Two years earlier in 1917, the Metropolitans defeated the Canadiens to win the cup—becoming the first American team to win Lord Stanley’s mug. It was also the same year Montreal became a founding member of the NHL.
Game six was scheduled for April 1, 1919. But numerous players from Seattle and Montreal became seriously ill and the game was cancelled. Sadly, 37-year-old Montreal defenceman, Joe Hall, died from pneumonia-related to his influenza on April 5, 1919. Manager George Kennedy was also stricken with the flu and died two years later in 1921. The Vancouver Sun wrote a tribute about Hall, published a day after his death. These excerpts were included in a March 2020 article about the 1919 Stanley Cup Final published in The Guardian: “Joe Hall loved hockey so much that his death, practically in harness, would, without a doubt, have been the death he would have chosen were it within the power of human beings to so choose.”
The Sun described Hall as a gritty hockey player, who often played through pain: “Whenever Joe Hall played a game of hockey he played it for all he was worth. Though not a big player physically, the severest knocks never dampened his ardour. As recently as in the recent world’s series he was hit on the face a terrific crack with the puck, and though it could be seen that he was suffering he kept right on as if nothing had happened.”
Writer Gare Joyce, in his feature article about the 1919 Stanley Cup Final published on Sportsnet, states the coverage of Joe Hall’s death in the Montreal newspapers was minimal. “The details of the influenza that claimed Joe Hall’s life and ended the hockey season that spring are slight because the old newspapers gave it far less play than you’d imagine a century later,” he wrote. “The postponement of the series ran in the middle of the Seattle Times sports page, under the long shadow of a report of the Seattle Purple Sox signing an outfielder from the New York Giants and a cartoon lampooning heavyweight boxing champion Jess Willard.”
Kevin Ticen, a writer and sports historian, says there are parallels with the current pandemic and the outbreak of Spanish influenza that cancelled the 1919 Stanley Cup Final. “I think one of the biggest points of fear is, you know, that we’re in uncharted waters, right?” he said in a March 2020 interview with wbur.org. “Nobody’s seen this before. It certainly has never happened in our lifetime, but it has happened. You know, there are a lot of lessons that, you know, our government and the health department and our sports leagues, you know, can draw from that experience.”
The 1919 Stanley Cup Final with no winner declared occurred during unprecedented times and that coincides with our current era of uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancellation of the 1919 cup final revealed the frailty of human life. Sports became secondary. In 1948, the unfinished 1919 cup final was inscribed on the Stanley Cup: “Montreal Canadiens [&] Seattle Metropolitans [.] Series Not Completed.” Thirteen years later, Joe Hall, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Notably, 102 years after the 1919 Stanley Cup Final, Montreal would once again play Seattle—the newest NHL expansion team whose new name is the Kraken. On October 26, 2021, Seattle would win at home by a score of five to one.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, during Spanish influenza between 1918 till 1919, approximately 20 to 100 million people died—including 50,000 Canadians. Life would eventually carry on, including the NHL—who resumed play in the 1919-1920 season. And with the current pandemic in 2021, life will gradually carry on, for us, as well.