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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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Why were the 1920s very good years for U of T men's hockey teams?

Answer For nine consecutive years they won every intercollegiate title in sight, including the Allan Cup as best amateur team in Canada.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

The 1920s were good years for sports and culture at the University. During the decade, writes Bruce Kidd, an Olympic runner and now dean of the faculty of physical education and health, "U of T athletes - both men and women - captured virtually every honour they sought."

The men won Allan and Grey Cup championships in hockey and football, Olympic medals in hockey and rowing, and intercollegiate championships in every sport in which there was competition. The women won the very first intercollegiate championships ever held in Canada - in basketball and hockey - and, according to Kidd, "contributed significantly to the legitimation of energetic sport for women in the community."

Canada's Olympic gold medal hockey team of 1928... the U of T alumni Grads. Goalie "Stonewall" Sullivan, winner of three Olympic shutouts, is the rightmost on the bottom row.

Kidd observed that not only were they excellent athletes, but "some of the most prominent student athletes went on to distinguished careers in medicine, law, journalism, and the public service." Hockey, football, and, to a lesser extent, rowing were the most popular spectator sports at the time.

They were called 'the greatest hockey team ever seen in Europe.'

There is no question that the men's hockey teams produced in the 1920s were outstanding. They won every intercollegiate title from 1920 until 1929. In 1921, they won the Allan Cup as the best amateur team in Canada, defeating Brandon, Manitoba. In 1925, the Varsity team was again in the Allan Cup finals, but lost to Port Arthur. Virtually the same players made up the 1926 Varsity team, and it was expected they would easily capture the intercollegiate title against Queen's and McGill - which they did - and possibly win another Allan Cup.

At the end of the season, their intercollegiate dominance was demonstrated once again - in total they had scored 42 goals and allowed only 13. Toronto then played against the American intercollegiate champions, Dartmouth, at the new Madison Square Garden, easily winning the international intercollegiate title 6-1.

In the Olympics they shutout Sweden, Switzerland, and Britain on their way to the gold.

The Toronto team once again would face Port Arthur for the Allan Cup. Joseph "Stonewall" Sullivan, a member of U of T's Sports Hall of Fame, was goalie. A medical student, he later became a distinguished ear, nose, and throat specialist, a member of the University's Board of Governors, and, in 1957, a member of the Canadian Senate. Captain Lou Hudson, Hugh Plaxton, "Red" Porter and Dave Trottier were leading scorers for Toronto. It would be the best of three games. The first two were played in Montreal. Port Arthur won the first, and Toronto the second. The final game was played in Toronto at the Mutual Street Arena. Varsity Arena would not be completed until later that year.

Plaxton scored a goal within the first fifteen seconds. At the end of the first period, Varsity was ahead 3-0. At the end of regulation time, however, the teams were tied 3-3, and still tied after three ten-minute overtime periods. There would have to be another deciding game. Once again, the game ended in a tie - 2-2 - but with four minutes left in the second overtime period, Port Arthur beat Sullivan and won the cup. "It was," said Torontonensis, "the greatest Championship series ever played in Canada."

Most of the members of the team graduated that year and formed themselves into the Varsity Grads, which competed in the 1928 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Observers called them "the greatest hockey team ever seen in Europe." It easily won the gold medal. No other team in the finals came close. It beat Sweden 11-0, Switzerland 13-0, and Great Britain 14-0.

Women's hockey
U of T's women's hockey team did well at this time, too: they won all but one of the provincial university championships from 1922 until the end of the decade.

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Links of interest:

  • U of T's hockey teams have long played at Varsity Arena. Students are voting next month on a plan to redevelop the arena and Varsity Stadium into a new sports facility. Read more about it here.
  • Read more about the 1928 Olympics, including an interesting anecdote about U of T Olympic assistant coach Harold Ballard, here.
  • More about the University of Toronto Press.

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