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Once you get past the lengthy title, When It Mattered Most: The Forgotten Story of America’s First Stanley Cup Champions, you dive into Kevin Ticen's account of the 1917 Seattle Metropolitans. But first there's a caveat of sorts.
The Editor's Note addresses the historical nature of the book, how the participants are long gone, so in “an effort to breathe life back into the games and humanity back to the participants, the author has used his experiences coaching and playing high level sports to interpret some words and actions of the participants and color has been added to the non-scoring plays of hockey.”
In short, When It Mattered Most, put out by Clyde Hill Publishing, has elements of fiction while very much being rooted in fact. It takes a little bit to get used to, but it works.
“The publisher pretty much gave me latitude to write it the way that I wanted to do it, which was pretty neat. I think the biggest thing I wanted to do was to give the reader perspective on the times and the people,” said Ticen recently on the phone from Seattle, where he has been involved in the sports scene for years.
It's evident that he did the research, but newspaper accounts alone do not a compelling book make.
“If I wrote the story with just the black and white information that was there, it just plays off that narrative, it was a completely different game that we don't understand,” he said. “I want the reader to understand that a hundred years ago, sports were the same as they are today, that it mattered just as much to those guys as it does to the people playing today.”
Ticen was a catcher on the University of Washington baseball team, where he was later a part of the coaching staff; he spent time in the Anaheim Angels minor league system, and played overseas in Austria. He was also the Director of Marketing and Communications for the Seattle Sports Commission.
According to those athletes who have read the book, Ticen nailed the vibe of a locker room. The things then aren't all that different than today: locker room smells and jokes, the building pressure, coaches making their speeches.
“That was one thing that I felt like I brought to the table as a writer, also, is I have these experiences,” said Ticen. “I've actually done those things and I've been in those locker rooms and I've felt the way that these guys felt with these games. So I was able to take snippets of information or quotes that they used or any of those things, and emotionally understand where they were. I did a lot of research on the players too, so it wasn't like I was making up, 'Oh, this guy is going to behave this way.' It was, 'I know who this guy is.' And a lot of that was from coaching.”
Besides the newspaper accounts, and a series of wonderful interviews that Seattle sportswriting royalty Royal Brougham did with the Metropolitans in their elderly years, Ticen got some help on genealogical research. One discovery was about centre Bernie Morris being an orphan. “I don't think anybody knew that, I don't think his teammates probably knew that,” said Ticen. The researcher found a court document from 1909 that detailed when Morris' uncle died and laid out all the family details, including his father dying earlier, the value of the farm, the fact that there was no widow, and where the Morris boys would be dispatched. No one knew, until Ticen dug it up, that Morris lost two seasons to draft dodging accusations, not one. Ticen hopes all the Morris info might get him into consideration for the Hockey Hall of Fame. Three Mets are in already, forward Jack Walker, goalie Hap Holmes and centre Frank Foyston.
While the whole Cup-winning team is covered, Morris is one of three that Ticen goes really, really in-depth on, including coach Pete Muldoon and Foyston, who had family to help the author fill in some blanks. Ticen said he's heard from one Foynton already: “I can't believe how well you captured my grandfather.”
Foyston also wrote a series in the Seattle Times about his history, which helped Ticen bulk up his story. Ticen knew to take those stories with a grain of salt. “Part of being an athlete is being a storyteller too. Absolutely, they add stuff,” he chuckled.
While doing the digging, Ticen came across the Hockeyettes, a women's team at the same time starting out in Seattle. “It was heavily covered in the papers,” he said, so he added it, just as he complimented the rise of the Mets with the real-life issues happening around the globe as World War I was raging, and about to draw the United States into battle.
But as for that subhead, are the Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and their 1917 Stanley Cup win over the National Hockey Association's Montreal Canadiens, three games to one, truly a forgotten story?
The question launches Ticen into a story. He was born and raised in Seattle, went to university there, is 43 years old and has spent his entire life around sports in town, and he didn't know about it. As planning began by a select few to celebrate the centennial of the win in 2017, Ticen recalled saying, “Did you say Seattle and Stanley Cup in the same sentence?”
The centennial helped get the information better known around town, and, with the National Hockey League coming into Seattle for the 2021–22 season, it's part of the fabric now. “People here in our hockey community knew about it certainly, and our hockey community, the real hardcore hockey people—it's not a huge community, but it's exploding in popularity right now,” said Ticen.
Naturally, that leads to a query about the viability of Seattle as an NHL city.
“I think hockey is absolutely going to succeed and survive here,” he said. “If you put something out in Seattle about hockey right now, it's just gone viral, people are so excited about it.” The Western Hockey League has done well in Seattle both in senior and junior hockey over the subsequent decades.
Don't accuse Ticen of trying to capitalize on the NHL hype, though. “The timing is stupid luck,” he confessed. “When I started researching, the arena situation was a mess and there really was not an ownership group in place, and all those things. I finished four weeks after the [NHL] Board of Governors vote in September. We were all just laughing about it.”
Now, to get traction for When It Mattered Most outside of Seattle.
“I think it's a good inspirational sports story. It's a group of guys that had some pretty big ups and downs to their season and grinded through it. I loved the pennant stretch. Can you imagine the mental strength that it took to really band together and ward off the chasing Millionaires? Then to get to the finals and just lay the egg of all eggs in Game 1, and to be able to flip it around and do what they did. The inspiring part of the sports story, to me, it's global. People love to be inspired, they love sports stories that do it. I think that the historical context is pretty fascinating. There's certainly a lot of Seattle history in there, but there's equally as much about U.S. history and just the geopolitical stuff that was going on during that time period, which is pretty fascinating and, unfortunately, kind of similar to today in a lot of respects.”
Like hockey fans throughout the Pacific Northwest, Ticen has high hopes for the NHL in town. But he's decidedly on the side of recognizing history.
“One of my goals in life is to be able to walk down to the arena and see that banner hanging in there. Best case scenario, there are statues of Frank Foyston and Jack Walker and Hap Holmes,” he said. “My whole thing is, people should know how these people are too. Three of them are in the Hall of Fame for what they did in Seattle, they all spent eight or nine years here. We talk about Lenny Wilkens, Steve Largent, Ken Griffey, and all these guys getting into the Hall of Fame, how big it is for our community. It's like we've had three guys in the Hall of Fame for 40, 50 years. It's pretty magic.”
Kevin Ticen talks about his book
Fever Season: The other Metropolitans book
As with Ticen learning about the Metropolitans' Stanley Cup victory a few years back, during our conversation, he also learned about Fever Season, a book about the Mets that came out in 2009, written by Eric Zweig. He hadn't heard of it. While it's aimed at a young adult market, and the accompanying teacher's guide is for Grades 7-8, it's certainly readable by any age.
It's a lot like When It Mattered Most, taking facts of the doomed Stanley Cup final between the Montreal Canadiens and Metropolitans in 1919, and tying it into a separate story. Ticen accepted the premise that perhaps that 1919 Mets team is better known, if only because of the horrible circumstances of the influenza outbreak which caused the series to be cancelled when tied up 2-2-1; no Cup was awarded that year. Hall of Famer Joe Hall died from the flu, along with thousands of others during the epidemic.
Here's the jacket blurb:
In is early 1919 in Montreal and a deadly outbreak of Spanish Influenza has killed thousands in Canada. Davis Saifert, a thirteen-year-old English Canadian, is alone: his father died fighting in the First World War and his mother and sister were recent victims of the flu epidemic. But he does have a childhood photo of his mother's long-lost brother, who he thinks lives in Seattle. David is certain his Uncle Danny can save him from the orphanage he ends up in, but he has no idea how to locate the man.
Then luck strikes when David gets a job with the Montreal Canadiens, who earn the right to play the Seattle Metropolitans in the Stanley Cup playoff, allowing David to travel across the country with the hockey club.
What fate awaits the mighty Canadiens on the West Coast? Will David find his uncle? Will he survive the deadly flu?
How did it come about? “It was something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I wrote up a brief pitch for a top children’s publisher, but nothing really came of it,” recalled the prolific Zweig. “Then, a few years later, I was at a children’s publishing industry party and Michael Carroll of Dundurn asked me if I had any projects I wanted to do. I told him my idea, he asked to see a more detailed proposal, and he liked it.”
It's one of two historical novels that Zweig has written, including 2002's Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada. “I felt I needed the real life events to shape the plot and keep me on track,” he said. “But it was fun to use my imagination (especially on Fever Season) to fill in the blanks you could never know for sure.”
SIHR IN WINDSOR
This column will be live while the Society for International Hockey Research members meet up in Windsor, Ontario. I look forward to seeing many fellow authors and my colleagues in SIHR. If you are not a member, why not?
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