When the first hockey league in Western Canada was formed in the winter of 1892/93 in Manitoba, it ostensibly represented the game for all points west of Ontario. It was called the Manitoba and Northwest Hockey Association (MNWHA), but except for very rare occasions no team from the Northwest Territories actually competed against Manitoba clubs in championship hockey (remember that the Northwest Territories until 1905 included all of what is now Saskatchewan and Alberta, and northern Manitoba as well). In fact the most prominent extra-provincial club to compete in the MNWHA came from Rat Portage, Ontario (later Kenora). The "NW" in "MNWHA" was not terribly accurate.
last time, hockey was being played in what is now southern Saskatchewan
(but was then the District of Assiniboia) by 1894, and in what is now
southern Alberta (then the District of Alberta) in 1895. It was not long
before inter-district hockey matches were played. In 1897 the
unofficial championship of the Northwest Territories was decided by a
tournament in Medicine Hat, in Assiniboia. Competing against the host
Hatters were the Regina Capitals, also of Assiniboia, and the Calgary
Fire Brigade of the District of Alberta.
Fire Brigade was surely the favourite to win. I have record of five
matches this team played in 1895 and 1896 against clubs from Edmonton
and Fort Saskatchewan, and they won all five of them by a combined score
of 21 to 1. Ironically, even though the modern Calgary Flames bear a
nickname that was simply inherited from Atlanta where it actually made
sense, for a city whose first notable hockey club was the Fire Brigade,
the name is actually appropriate. Happy accident. Although the Fire
Brigade had a brief history of success, Medicine Hat had the advantage
of some relatively experienced players, who had played the game before
it had been introduced to this part of the country.
February 18, 1897 Medicine Hat defeated Calgary 14-10 in the first
match of the tournament. The following day Calgary walked over Regina
10-2, and unless the latter club managed a miracle against the hosts the
Hatters would be champions. On February 20 Medicine Hat clinched the
title with a 12-2 victory over the Capitals, becoming champions of the
Of the Hatters, only three players first played hockey in Medicine Hat as far as I can tell: forwards Jack Hargrave, Judd Bassett and Ben Niblock.
Most of the team was actually made up of players from Rat Portage,
Ontario who had competed against Manitoba intermediate clubs in 1895:
goaltender George Delmage, forwards Tom Hardisty and Jack McMahon, and cover-point Don Hardisty, who had also previously played with the Winnipeg Vics junior side in 1892. Their other man was point Lorne McGibbon, who I believe was the same McGibbon who played junior hockey in Montreal in 1893.
Hat played its first competitive matches in 1896, when they defeated
both Moose Jaw and Regina to show they were already the best team in
Assiniboia. Of the 1897 championship squad, only Tom Hardisty, Hargrave,
Bassett and McGibbon were on the original edition of the team.
Presumably it was Hardisty's influence that brought his brother and the
other ex-Thistles to Medicine Hat, making a good team that much better
with some seasoned, effective players. An experienced team was a rare
thing in the Northwest Territories in 1897, and it proved to be too much
for the old-time Flames to handle.