Early NHL: Spanish Flu

The Stanley Cup Finals have only been cancelled twice in the history of the NHL and first time was the 1918–1919 season when the Spanish Flu infected the Montreal Canadiens locker room.

Text written by Ryan Kessler

March 29, 2012

The Stanley Cup Finals have only been cancelled twice in the history of the NHL. Most recently was in the 2004–2005 season, as a result of a lockout by team owners. However, the first cancelled Stanley Cup Final was in the 1918–1919 season when the Spanish Flu infected the Montreal Canadiens locker room.

In our Canada’s History podcast, Ryan Kessler and Fever Season author Eric Zweig discuss the life and death of Joe Hall.

The flu was at its deadliest in the fall of 1918, but it still lingered in March, 1919, when the Stanley Cup Finals were taking place. At that time, the Stanley Cup went to the winner of a best-of-five series between the NHL and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA)’s top teams. The Montreal Canadiens took the ice for the NHL and the Seattle Metropolitans suited up for the PCHA.

By the end of the fifth game, the series was knotted up with two wins for each team and a draw. During that fifth game, Hall of Fame defenseman Joe “Bad Joe” Hall left early, feeling ill. Many other players also appeared tired in the contest. Even left-winger and scorer of the game-winning goal – Jack McDonald – looked more fatigued than usual.

As it turned out, Hall, McDonald, three other Canadiens players and their owner — George Kennedy — had contracted the flu.

The Canadiens management knew the team couldn’t continue playing. After all, the flu racked up a higher death toll than all of the First World War. The disease spread across the world quickly and struck viciously, with a higher mortality rate than anything seen in the lifetime of the Montreal Canadiens players.

The five players and Kennedy were admitted to bed rest in their hotel, but that wasn’t enough precaution. The finals were cancelled on April 1. The teams never re-scheduled a tie-breaking sixth game and the series ended without naming a champion.

The flu resulted in two deaths. Hall died on April 5th in a Seattle hospital of pneumonia, aged 37. Kennedy’s influenza had severely damaged his immune system, leading to his death in October, 1921.

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