Stanley Cup

Hops and Hockey Cards #4: Jack Marshall

There’s no live hockey to provide inspiration for the latest installment of Hops and Hockey Cards, but the reason there’s no hockey — the coronavirus pandemic — prompted me to look toward the past, when another pandemic brought the hockey world to a stop.

In the spring of 1919, the Spanish flu pandemic ended the Stanley Cup series between the NHL champion Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans, champs of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. The teams were deadlocked with two wins apiece and a tie between them when several Canadiens players fell ill. The series was called off just a few hours before the deciding game on April 1 and the cup wasn’t awarded to anyone that year. Four days later, Joe Hall of the Canadiens died of pneumonia brought on by the flu.

The Stanley Cup is synonymous with NHL supremacy today, but it was a different story 100 years ago. From 1915 to 1926, champions from the NHL and its forerunner, the National Hockey Association, squared off against teams from rival leagues for the right to claim the cup.

I don’t have any hockey collectables from that period, but I do have a couple of old cards from the years just before that — a time known as the challenge era. Between 1893 and 1914, teams tried to win the Stanley Cup by issuing a challenge to the club that currently held it. With the NHL apparently considering a number of different playoff formats to finish the current season, it seems apropos to harken back to a time when the Stanley Cup was awarded in a much different way than it is today.

If you’ve never read about the challenge era, I highly recommend it. Some of the game’s most colourful lore comes from those years. It was a time when teams from places like Kenora could vie for the cup — and win it. Yes, the Kenora Thistles were on top of the hockey world for two glorious months after winning the cup in a two-game challenge of the Montreal Wanderers in January 1907. The Thistles withstood a challenge from the Brandon Wheat Kings in March 1907, but a week later the Wanderers took back the Stanley Cup by winning a two-game series.

The challenge era also spawned one of the most improbable stories in any sport, in any era: the Dawson City Nuggets’ challenge of the Ottawa Silver Seven (later Senators) in January 1905. The Nuggets trekked 6,500 km from Dawson City, Yukon to Ottawa to challenge for the cup — a journey that took several weeks by foot, dogsled, train and ship. Alas, the trip is the most memorable part of the story. Ottawa easily defeated the Nuggets, who didn’t have a single top-flight player among them, 9-2 and 23-2.

I’m lucky enough to own a card depicting one of the most successful players of that era: Jack Marshall, who won the Stanley Cup six times with four different teams between 1901 and 1914.

I say “lucky,” because when 12-year-old me paid what I considered a princely sum of $15 for Marshall’s card from the 1911 Imperial Tobacco set, I had no idea of his hall of fame pedigree. And if I had an ounce of foresight back then, I would have bought a lot more $15 tobacco cards instead of boxes and boxes of baseball cards that are basically worthless today.

But I digress.

I was mulling over a beer to pair with this historical foray and decided on King’s English Black Tea Lemon Pale Ale, a current seasonal release from Annex Ale Project. Between the name and the addition of Earl Grey tea in the beer, it all seemed thoroughly British, as Canada still would have been in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

All that aside, the inclusion of tea and lemon bring a level of creativity to beer that wouldn’t have existed a hundred-odd years ago. Annex has done a good job of taking the idea and executing from top to bottom. The lemon is brightly citric & meshes nicely with hops they’ve used. There are distinct bergamot and tea notes, but they don’t overwhelm the base beer, which is a nicely-balanced pale ale.

King’s English finishes grainy, and leaves a firmly beery impression. For all this beer’s modern flourishes, there’s a solid pale ale underneath that wouldn’t be out of place in any era. Enjoy it with a pinky extended, if you’re feeling fancy.

Hops and Hockey Cards #1: Patrick Roy

It seems unnecessary to say Hops and Hockey Cards is a new feature here at Original Levity, considering just about everything around here is new. It’s maybe more apropos to introduce this as the first installment in what I hope will be a running series bringing together two of my favourite things: beer and hockey.

Although my love of hockey has endured through the years, I don’t have the same affection for today’s game as the old-time hockey I grew up with. While today’s athletes are literally and metaphorically head and shoulders above the players I watched as a kid, I have a hard time bonding emotionally with an NHL that has teams in the desert but none in Quebec City or Hartford. It’s probably not all that unusual for people to draw some of their fondest memories from childhood. In my case, thinking about hockey, that means helmetless players, Fu Manchu moustaches, brown leather goalie pads, Cold War matchups, fly-by-night franchises and blue pucks.

I can remember Saturday nights during my early childhood gathered with my family around the basement TV (an old Zenith model in a wooden cabinet) watching the hockey game. As I got a bit older, I began collecting hockey cards — the old-school kind, printed on low-grade cardboard with a stick of gum in the pack. I’ve held onto my hockey cards, and over the years I’ve replaced dog-eared and wrinkled ones with specimens I’ve bought at collector shows or hunted down on eBay — though the majority of my collection survived childhood in good condition. I never played games with them or put them in my bicycle spokes.

Is bringing together two of my interests, craft beer and vintage hockey cards, a self-indulgent nostalgia trip? Sure, a bit. (But it’s my blog, and I can be self-indulgent if I damn well want to.) But I think there’s a logical connection there, too. Craft beer and hockey cards are art forms in their own right. Both, when done well, are worthy of consideration.

Hops and Hockey Cards, as I see it going forward, could be a reminiscence about a player depicted on a card, an appreciation of a particularly cool card, or both. I realize this may be a obscure concept, so I’ve picked a rather obvious pairing to start the series: Patrick Roy and Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Patrick Roy, the hall of fame goalie and four-time Stanley Cup winner, is an arrogant bastard. His playing days with the Montreal Canadiens ended with a public tantrum after being left between the pipes during a nine-goal run by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995. Then-coach Mario Tremblay did it to humiliate Roy and put his outsize ego in its place, but the goalie’s reaction was unprecedented for a team as rooted in honour and tradition as the Canadiens. When he finally got pulled, Roy mouthed off to club president Ronald Corey, who sat behind the players’ bench, as 18,000 fans in the Montreal Forum and a national TV audience looked on. While walking to his seat at the end of the bench, he stopped and said, “I’ve just played my last game with the Canadiens,” as he went past Corey. The Habs traded Roy to the Colorado Avalanche a few days later, and he went on to win two more cups in Denver. In retirement, Roy had some success as the Avalanche’s coach and VP of hockey operations, but left in a huff with a surprise resignation in 2016. He’s also been accused of domestic violence — though the charges were dropped — and as coach of the junior Quebec Remparts in 2008, he incited his son Jonathan, the team’s goalie, to pummel the opposing netminder during a line brawl.

Roy is a thoroughly unlikable character, but his success is undeniable. As a lifelong Habs fan who bleeds bleu, blanc et rouge, I’m grateful for his role in Montreal’s Stanley Cup victories in 1986 and 1993 — neither of which would have happened without him. But he’s a jerk. That’s why I choose his rookie card for this feature: I prefer to remember him as the shy, gangly rookie who came out of nowhere to help the Habs win the cup in 1986.

Like Roy, Arrogant Bastard is a success story — but not necessarily easy to like. When Stone Brewing debuted the beer in 1997, its 7.2 per cent alcohol content and bitterness made it pretty “out there” by the standards of the day. Brewers today are making bigger and weirder beers, but Arrogant Bastard still deserves a place in the annals of craft beer greatness. It’s a complex mix of big caramel malts, a hint of dark chocolate and a drying, bitter finish that grows as you go. There’s no denying it’s a well put together beer, but I’m partial to red and amber ales that are maltier and sweeter as opposed to hoppy ones. I guess you could say I’m caught between acknowledging Arrogant Bastard’s greatness while not necessarily being a fan — a sentiment not unlike my feelings toward “Saint” Patrick Roy.