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Seattle’s forgotten Stanley Cup Championship

There’s a big celebration taking place this weekend. Festivities on Sunday will mark the centennial of one of the most auspicious events in Seattle sports history.

And no, we’re not talking about the 1995 Mariners (though that season often does feel like it happened a hundred years ago).

“It’s the 100th anniversary of the Seattle Metropolitans being the first American team to ever win the Stanley Cup,” said Jeff Obermeyer, an insurance executive who lives in Kirkland. He’s been researching the nearly-forgotten Seattle hockey championship for decades.

Celebrating the Stanley Cup

Over the weekend, another Seattle Mets enthusiast named Paul Kim has organized a tribute to mark the centennial. On Saturday night, a collection of memorabilia, including jerseys and skates from the 1917 team, will be on display at the Seattle Thunderbirds game at the ShoWare Center in Kent.

On Sunday, the same memorabilia will be displayed at Washington Athletic Club (WAC) in downtown Seattle from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In addition to being free, the event at the WAC is also close to history. It’s two blocks from the long-gone arena that the Seattle Metropolitans called home for about a decade, and where they clinched the best-of-five Stanley Cup series on March 26, 1917.

“The location of the arena was on 6th and University, which later became a parking garage, and then later the IBM Building,” Jeff Obermeyer said. “It’s a spot right there almost in the heart of downtown.”

That spot is also within the “Metropolitan Tract,” that 10-acre piece of land that’s been owned by the University of Washington since the 1860s. It was the site of the original campus from 1861 until 1895, and the UW held onto the real estate when campus moved to its current home. Development and construction on the downtown property was carried out by the Metropolitan Building Company, predecessor of current operator Unico Properties.

“They were called the Metropolitans, named for the Metropolitan Building Company,” said Obermeyer. “[They] built the arena where the Mets played.”

Without that rink, Obermeyer says, it would’ve been hard for hockey to catch on in Seattle’s mild climate any earlier than 1915.

“There was no organized hockey around here until 1915, because you had to have an artificial rink,” Obermeyer said. “It’s too warm here most winters to play outdoors like they do in other cities where hockey has been played longer.”

Seattle Metropolitans’ Stanley Cup victory

The story of the Seattle Metropolitans’ Stanley Cup victory is almost something of an urban myth. It happened so long ago, of course, and there are also no audio recordings or even silent newsreels of the action. Any eyewitnesses to the game passed away decades ago.

And 1917 was a different era in Seattle. In less than a month, the US would formally enter World War I, and troops would begin arriving at what was then called Camp Lewis. It was a simpler time for many things, including professional hockey.

“The Mets team in 1917 only had nine players, which is pretty impressive when you consider that seven of them were on the ice at any given time,” Obermeyer said. “Three of them actually went on to be Hockey Hall of Famers. You had Harry Holmes in goal, Jack Walker as the rover and Frank Foyston as forward.”

It was also a different era in terms of how people celebrated professional sports championships. Jeff Obermeyer says his research hasn’t turned up any cases of angry Montreal fans (or happy Seattle fans, for that matter) storming out of the arena and flipping over and setting fire to the nearest Model-Ts on 6th Avenue or University Street.

“I haven’t seen a lot about anything really specific other than people getting excited at the game,” Obermeyer said. “I think the arena at that time seated around 4,000 fans, and certainly it was full for the Stanley Cup finals.”

And there wasn’t the now obligatory formal civic celebration in the wake of the win, either.

“I didn’t see any references to any kind of major parade or anything over the top like that,” Obermeyer said. “Seattle was still a relatively small city in the Northwest at that point, so it was certainly big news for the local fans, but not the size or the magnitude of something we would see today for a championship.”

Hockey in Seattle

Another thing we don’t see today is an NHL franchise in Seattle. Jeff Obermeyer says that there was talk of a franchise here as early as the 1960s and again in the 1970s, during the years the Seattle Totems of the Western Hockey League played at the Seattle Center Arena and what’s now KeyArena.

In that regard, Obermeyer sees the 1917 Seattle Metropolitans’ Stanley Cup as a bit of a mixed blessing.

“First of all, it’s super-cool to think that your town won the Stanley Cup at some point in the past,” Obermeyer said. “And it’s also a little piece of disappointment, where you’re thinking to yourself, ‘Well, if we were so awesome and such an integral part of the hockey world back then, then how come we aren’t today? Why isn’t there an NHL team here, why has there never been an NHL team here?’” he said.

“So it’s kind of the yin and the yang, the good and the bad,” Obermeyer said.

He also says the reasons Seattle didn’t get an NHL franchise back in the 1970s are complicated, and that the city’s current prospects for landing a team aren’t exactly clear-cut at the moment.

Does Jeff Obermeyer think Seattle is a ‘hockey city’?

“I want that answer to be ‘Yes,’ and I think the answer is ‘I don’t know,’ because it’s a whole different game when you’re talking about bringing an NHL team versus supporting the Totems back in the 1970s or even the Silvertips and T-birds now,” Obermeyer said. “The pricing structure is totally different, those are some really expensive tickets in the NHL.”

Obermeyer says that regardless of what may or may not happen on the ice for Seattle hockey teams in the future, the Metropolitans of a hundred years ago will always have a place in history. In addition to winning the Stanley Cup, the team played in the finals in 1919 and again in 1920.

“In 1917 you win it. In 1919 the flu epidemic hits and it actually kills one of the Montreal players, and they have to cancel the Cup. That was the last time the Cup hadn’t been played for since the mid-1990s when the labor dispute happened,” Obermeyer said. “Then, in 1920 . . . the Metropolitans went out east to play against Ottawa and unfortunately lost that series.”

“They had a pretty good run with three Stanley Cup finals in four seasons,” Obermeyer said.

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