Lester Patrick’s greatest game was in Rossland

A hockey pioneer who won several Stanley Cups said his finest hour came in the West Kootenay in 1908.

Hockey great Lester Patrick is seen as a member of the 1909 Nelson hockey club in this detail from the team photo. He said his finest hour came against Rossland.

Hockey legend Lester Patrick’s incredible career included several Stanley Cup wins as a player and coach. He also co-founded and played in Western Canada’s first professional league and came out of retirement at age 44 to tend goal as an emergency replacement in a Stanley Cup final.

Yet when asked to name his most memorable game, his mind flashed back to the Kootenays, where he and brother Frank played for Nelson while working for their father’s lumber company.

According to a Canadian Press story in the Regina Leader Post of May 22, 1957:

“Lester recalled in an interview that the greatest game of his career was played in a small open-air rink in Rossland during the 1907-08 season … Lester, known to Rossland fans as ‘that Stanley Cup player,’ was captain of the Nelson squad and subjected during the first game to ‘the old razz berry.’

“He mapped the plan of action accordingly and for the first 45 minutes didn’t move from his own end of the ice while Rossland scored two goals. With 15 minutes to go the Silver Fox was the only fresh man on the ice. He held the puck almost all the time, scored two goals and set up two more to lead Nelson to a 4-2 win.

“‘It was wonderful,’ Lester says. ‘I think it was my greatest game.’”

Lester’s memory deceived him, however. The game would not have been played on an open-air rink, but in the old Rossland arena.

Beyond that, there are a very limited number of games Lester could have been referring to. None match the circumstances he described perfectly, but a couple come close, and these he might have combined into a single memory.

During a challenge match in January 1908 before a crowd of about 1,000, Rossland scored the only goal of the first half (the game had not yet been divided into three periods) before Lester put on a dazzling display.

A newspaper account said “In order to encourage the boys of his team, he took the puck from near the Nelson goal and brilliantly zigzagged his way through Rossland’s forwards and through their defense, and scored himself. It was a beautiful piece of work … Patrick is very fast, most elusive, and is very cool and uses his head to advantage, as well as his feet. During the remainder of the game he was not allowed to repeat the performance, and he was checked with much vigor …”

Lester only had the lone goal, but Nelson won 4-3.

At the Rossland winter carnival a few weeks later, Rossland led Nelson 4-0 at half-time. In the second half, despite being a man short, Nelson scored three times — including two from Lester — to make it 4-3. However, Rossland still won.

At the time, the carnival boasted of being the BC hockey championship, although ongoing disputes between Nelson and Rossland over refereeing and scheduling somewhat sullied its reputation.

You can learn more about the Patricks and the history of the carnival — which is on again next weekend — in Ronald Shearer’s Mid-Winter Mardi Gras: Rossland’s Original Winter Carnival, and Craig Bowlsby’s book The Knights of Winter.

This story will appear in the West Kootenay Advertiser.

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