Patrick, (Curtis) Lester
PATRICK, (Curtis) Lester
(b. 30 December 1883 in Drummondville, Quebec, Canada; d. 1 June 1960 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada), ice hockey player, coach, manager, and team owner credited with introducing many innovations to the sport and popularizing hockey in the northeastern United States.
Of Irish descent, Patrick was the eldest of eight children of Grace Nelson, a schoolteacher, and Joe Patrick, a successful lumberman who settled in the predominantly French-speaking area of Drummondville, Quebec. Patrick's first ice skates had metal runners that attached to his shoes with a clamp. He was not exposed to ice hockey until 1893, when his family moved to Point Saint Charles, a Montreal suburb, where Patrick and friends made crude sticks out of tree branches and played on the nearby Saint Lawrence River.
A natural athlete who grew to over six feet in height, Patrick attended McGill University in Montreal for one year in 1901 to 1902 while playing varsity basketball and hockey. His hockey prowess later led to an offer of $25 per month in expenses to play for Brandon, Manitoba, in a 1903–1904 challenge for the Stanley Cup. Afterward he played for Westmount of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association alongside the future hockey great Art Ross before joining the Montreal Wanderers in 1906; the team won two consecutive Stanley Cup championships with Patrick.
In spring 1907 the Patrick family moved to Nelson, British Columbia, to establish a lumber company. Putting the family business ahead of his burgeoning hockey career, Patrick played hockey locally and joined an Edmonton team in an unsuccessful challenge for the Stanley Cup in 1908. Despite his obligations, Patrick, later known as "The Silver Fox," was lured back to eastern Canada to play for the Renfrew Millionaires for the 1909–1910 hockey season at a salary of $3,000. Following the season he returned to western Canada and married Grace Linn on 7 March 1911.
However, Patrick's goal was not to simply be a star player; he, his brother Frank, and his father entertained the idea of bringing high-caliber hockey to western Canada. In Patrick's words, "The idea was firmly planted to move to the West Coast, start a new hockey league, and pioneer Canada's first artificial ice rinks." Arenas were built in Vancouver and Victoria with proceeds from the Patrick Lumber Company, which was sold in January 1911, to host the newly formed Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA). The showpiece of the Patricks' league was the 10,500-seat Denman arena in Vancouver, which featured luxury seating, a swimming pool, and fourteen sheets of ice for curling. Frank played for and operated the Vancouver team, while Patrick became the captain, coach, manager, and owner of the Victoria franchise. Players were acquired from the eastern Canadian leagues, and a coup occurred when Vancouver persuaded "Cyclone" Taylor, considered the most exciting player of that period, to join them. Both Frank and Patrick had enlisted in World War I, but were told by the Canadian government to continue operating the PCHA to provide an entertainment diversion on the home front.
During the thirteen-year existence of the PCHA, Patrick and his brother were credited with a number of important rule changes and innovations that improved the sport of hockey, including having players substitute during the course of play. They created blue lines that divided the rink into three areas, and allowed players to pass forward in the neutral area of the ice at a time when forward passing was forbidden in the sport. In addition, rule changes such as allowing goalies to leave their feet to make a save and players to kick the puck with their skates were instituted. The Patricks also introduced the modern playoff format, began awarding assists on goals to recognize playmakers on teams, and implemented one of the most exciting features of a hockey game—the penalty shot.
Even with the PCHA's innovations and its merger with the Western Canada Hockey League in 1924–1925, the smaller western markets could not compete with the East for player salaries. In the spring of 1926, the Patricks masterminded a scheme to sell player rights to the National Hockey League (NHL), where a number of new U.S.-based franchises were in need of players. In a large-scale transaction, the players' rights were sold for a total of $377,000, which was split among the western teams.
Despite the limited financial success of the PCHA, hockey magnates in the East recognized Patrick's hockey acumen, and he joined the New York Rangers as a coach on 27 October 1926. In 1928 the team reached the Stanley Cup finals against the Montreal Maroons, a series in which Patrick was involved in one of hockey's most memorable moments. The Rangers had lost the first game of the series 2–0, and in the second period of the second game the Rangers goalie, Lorne Chabot, was injured. At the time, teams did not carry extra goaltenders on their rosters. Relying on a common tactic, Patrick asked the opposing coach, Eddie Gerrard, if he could replace Chabot with a player from another team (Alex Connell of the Ottawa Senators) who happened to be in the rink. Gerrard refused, and the Rangers were in danger of losing the game by forfeit until it was suggested that the forty-four-year-old Patrick play goal himself. Despite his inexperience at the position, Patrick agreed, and the Rangers rallied around their coach, controlling much of the play through overtime. The Rangers prevailed, winning the game and eventually the cup championship, as Patrick added to his already considerable hockey resume.
The Rangers won the Stanley Cup again in 1933 and 1940. Patrick was named a first-team All-Star coach seven times between 1930 and 1938. He also coached his two sons, Lynn and Muzz, both of whom later coached the Rangers. In 1939 Patrick left coaching to become the general manager of the Rangers and the vice president of Madison Square Garden (MSG), but resigned on 22 February 1946 after seeing the team's performance slip. On 3 December 1947 Lester Patrick Night was held at MSG to honor Patrick's service to the Rangers and his induction that year into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Patrick's involvement in the sport continued. In spring 1948 he moved to Victoria, where he operated a local hockey club. He remained in western Canada for the rest of his life. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1960 and died in June of that year with his sons at his bedside. He is buried in the Royal Oak Burial Park Cemetery in Victoria.
In 1966 the NHL introduced the Lester Patrick Trophy, given annually to players, officials, coaches, executives, or referees "for outstanding service to hockey in the United States." Lynn Patrick joined his father in the Hockey Hall of Fame, as did Patrick's grandson Craig, who played in the NHL and went on to a successful management career with the Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It would be difficult to overestimate the impact that Patrick had on hockey in general and on the growth of the sport in the United States.
A detailed review of Patrick and his life is in Eric Whitehead, The Patricks: Hockey ' s Royal Family (1980). Patrick's playing days with the Renfrew Millionaires are covered in Frank Cosentino, The Renfrew Millionaires: Valley Boys of 1910 (1990). The Boston Globe featured a seven-part series on Frank and Lester Patrick that appeared in autumn 1935.
Daniel S. Masonm