1900-10 Early Pro Hockey

1900-10 Early Pro Hockey2016-10-19T21:36:53-04:00


• The Western Pennsylvania Hockey League had three teams in 1901-02:

– Bankers
– Athletic Club
– Keystones

• In what might have been the first trade involving professional hockey players, the Pittsburgh Pirates sent MacKay, Dey and Taylor to the Bankers for Josephy Donnelly, Clint Bennest and a player named McGuire on January 28, 1908.


Harry Stoebener
Captain of the Pittsburgh Athletic Club 1899-1900

 Jimmy Gardner
Scored 10 goals in 20 games in 1906-07. Won four Stanley Cups and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Class of 1962.

 Jack Winchester
Played goaltender with the Pittsburgh Pros from 1904-07, with a record of 34-29.

Ernie Liffiton
Signed as a free agent by Pittsburgh December 25, 1906. Played with the Pittsburgh Hockey Club scoring one goal in 13 games in 1906-07.

 Tommy Smith
Played with the Pittsburgh Hockey Club in 1906-07 and signed as a free-agent with the Pittsburgh Lycem on December 10, 1907.

They make no bones whatever about paying men.  If they do not pay them, they give them fake positions.
HARRY PEEL, a player for the Pittsburgh Keystones in 1901-02 


Is Pittsburgh the Birthplace of Professional Hockey?

Pittsburgh Athlethic Club 1901
Three-time city champions (1899, 1900 & 1901) and winners of the $500 Trophy CupFront row: George Lamb and Jerry Curtain
Middle Row: Bill Hamilton, Harry Stoebener, M. Murray, Bill Shields, & C. Preston

On October 17, 2008, Ernie Fitzsimmons delivered a presentation to the Society for International Hockey Research on the emergence of professional hockey in Pittsburgh in the early 1900’s, which he has concluded was the first inter-city professional hockey league and had the first documented trade between teams.

Pittsburgh can lay claim to at least a portion of the birth of professional hockey

Pittsburghhockey.net Contributer

Pittsburgh had artificial ice in the Duquesne Garden prior to 1900 and realized quickly that to make money they would have to have more events than just speed skating, family skates and costume parties to make money.

They decided that this new game that was sweeping Canada called hockey was a good prospect, so they imported young Canadians like George “Pinky” Lamb, Herb Reynor, Billy Shields and Bill Hamilton and set up teams.

By 1901-02 Pittsburgh had lured future Hall-of-Famers like Riley Hern and Alf Smith into their fold, along with some of the top players of the day like Bert Morrison, Lorne Campbell and Art Sixsmith as well.

James Conant (LEFT) earlier formed a three-team league called the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League with teams like the Bankers, Athletic Club and Keystone Bicycle, but also played exhibition games against the best amateur teams from North America.

In the summer of 1902 Harry Peel, a Keystones player in 1901-02, admitted that he was paid $35 a week to play in the so-called amateur league and so no amateur teams would play against these teams again without being suspended by either Canadian, or U.S. officials.

Peel was suspended by the Ontario Hockey Association and an appeal was rejected on December 10, 1903 and again on November 30, 1904.

At the same time as Pittsburgh had its Pro league, Portage Lakes of Houghton, Michigan were playing Pro exhibition games and they played off with Pittsburgh Bankers for the Pro championship of the U.S.A. Portage Lakes won 2-1 with a game tied, but were outscored 11-6. In 1902-03 the WPHL was now Professional with the Pittsburgh Victorias making a fourth team. More great stars were enticed to come South as they could accept pay for play. Bruce and Hod Stuart became major stars in 02-03, while Fred Lake, “Baldy” Spittall and others were well known to followers of the new sport.

The next season, Portage Lakes continued to play Pro exhibition games, but raided Pittsburgh’s teams for Bert Morrison, Riley Hern, Billy Shields, Bruce and Hod Stuart.

Despite these losses the WPHL started with the same four clubs, but the Keystones withdrew on January 17 and the players were dispersed to the other three teams. Many other promising young players took their place and three different Pittsburgh teams challenged Portage Lakes for the U.S. Pro title that year. The league champion Victorias put up the best battle, losing two games to one.

The Pittsburgh Pros (LEFT) joined Portage Lakes, Calumet, Michigan and Canadian Soo as the five teams. In 1904-05 the first Inter-city Pro league was formed called the IHL.

Over half of the players in the league had played in Pittsburgh at one time, so those early leagues were key pioneers in the development of Pro hockey.

The locals didn’t fare too well during the first season, but in 1905-06 were part of a great three team race with Portage Lakes and Michigan Soo Indians for first place.

Hod Stuart had come back to town, but Joe Hall, who would go wherever they gave him the best paycheck, gave Portage Lakes (Houghton, Michigan) the boost they needed to finish first.

Pittsburgh was a solid third in 1906-07, with Tommy Smith, Jimmy Gardner, Horace Gaul and goalie Jack Winchester joining super-scorer Lorne Campbell. Campbell and Smith finished ahead of Hall-Of-Famers Didier, Edouard “Newsy” Lalonde and Bruce Stuart in scoring.

Pro leagues were now popping up all over Canada and most of the great players went back home for a better pay day, so the IHL folded. It was decided to revive the (four team) WPHL for 1907-08, which started several weeks before the Canadian leagues, since there were no artificial ice rinks in Canada until 1911.

One of the WPHL teams was the Pirates, with Dunc Taylor, Ed Robitaille, Ray Robinson, Harry McRobie, Edgar Dey, Charlie Mason and goaltender Jim MacKay.

There were still some great stars like Tommy Smith, Albert “Dubbie” Kerr, Harry Smith, and Art Throop, but many of the players got better offers from Canadian leagues in late December and the lineups were patchwork at best to complete the season.

In what might have been the first trade involving professional hockey players, the Pittsburgh Pirates sent MacKay, Dey and Taylor to the Bankers for Josephy Donnelly, Clint Bennest and a player named McGuire on January 28, 1908.

1908-09 brought great promise, with Alf Smith, Art Sixsmith, Lorne Campbell and goalie James MacKay in charge of the four teams, but by late December fully one-third of the leagues players had accepted offers to play in different leagues and it was becoming obvious that many players used the WPHL to get a head start on their season back home. Four of those players (Tommy Smith, Con Corbeau, Albert “Dubbie” Kerr and Harry Smith) all jumped contracts again during the season, so local moguls must have gotten a chuckle out of that.

Pittsburgh Lyceum folded on December 23 and because it was impossible to count on a line-up after December 20th, it was decided to discontinue the WPHL after the season and stick with local hockey.