The Stanley Cup was first awarded in 1893 to the Montreal Hockey club as the top amatuer team in Canada. American teams didn’t start competing for the cup until a couple of decades later. I’ll explain this a little later, but first we must answer our primary question.
What was the first American team to win the Stanley Cup? The first team to win the Stanley Cup was the Seattle Metropolitans in 1917, who were part of the Pacific Coast Hockey League. The first American team in the NHL to win the Stanley Cup was the New York Rangers in 1928Embed from Getty Images
As you read the above paragraph a lot of thoughts and questions will be running through your head.
The Seattle Metropolitans? Never heard of them. Did they play in the NHL? No. But, I thought the Stanley Cup was awarded to the NHL champion? It is now, but hasn’t always been.
Well to make more sense of the Seattle Metropolitans winning in 1917 and the New York Rangers winning in 1928 as the first NHL team let’s look at how the Stanley cup came to be and was awarded before looking at the two American championship teams.
How was the Stanley Cup first awarded?
The Stanley Cup has a bit of a complex beginning, but to simplify things there were basically three stages.
- Challenge Cup era (1893-1914) – The Stanley cup was commissioned in 1892 after being donated by Lord Stanley of Preston, the Governor General of Canada. The trophy was awarded to the top-ranking amateur ice hockey club, and was awarded in 1893 for the first time to the Montreal Hockey Club.
The Stanley Cup was awarded based on ‘challenges’ between teams and associations within Canada, including professional teams.
- NHL vs NHA/PCHA (1915-1926) – The Stanley Cup then moved to be the prize of the different professional leagues within North America. This largely played out to be the winner of the NHA/NHL versus the Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL).
As I said earlier the Stanley Cup was awarded to the top team in Canada. However, after the New Westminster Royal (a suburb of Vancouver) moved to become the Portland Rosebuds in 1914, the trustees issued a statement that the Stanley Cup was now to be awarded to the best team in the world.
This set the stage for the Seattle Metropolitans of the PCHL to become the first American team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917. Although, the Porltand Rosebuds were the first American team to play for the Stanley cup in 1916.
- NHL (1927 – present) – With the folding of the WHL/PCHA in 1926/1924 the NHL was the only professional league left and the sole team competing for the Cup. The Cup has only ever been awarded to an NHL team ever since.
When the NHL first came into existence in 1917 it comprised an original four teams – Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa, and Toronto.
The first American team did not join the league until 1924, which was the Boston Bruins. The concept of the Original Six is misconceived where the four American teams – Boston, Detroit, NYR, and Chicago – joined the NHL between 1924 and 1926.
First American Stanley Cup Winners: Seattle Metropolitans 1917
League: Pacific Coastal Hockey Association (PCHL)
The Seattle Metropolitans were the winners of the PCHA and faced off against the winners of the National Hockey Association (NHA), Montreal Canadiens.
One of the quirks of the finals is that the leagues used different rules. The main difference was that the PCHA had seven-men on the ice versus six-men on the ice for the NHA.
The series was played in a best-of-five format with Games 1 and 3 being played with seven-men and Games 2 and 4 being played with six-men.
The Metropolitans would defeat the Canadians Canadians 3-to-1.
The two big stars for the Metropolitans were Bernie Morris and Hap Holmes.
Morris led the team by scoring 14 the 23 goals Seattle would score in the series. And, Hall of Famer Hap Holmes would record a 2.90 GAA to backstop the team.
The Metropolitans would play for the Stanley Cup in 1919 but the series was cancelled due to the Spanish Flu pandemic.
First American NHL Stanley Cup Winners: New York Rangers 1928
The Rangers would enter the NHL for the 1926-27 season. At that time there were 10 teams in the league divided into the Canadian Division and the American Division.
The Stanley Cup Finals was now played only amongst NHL teams and was between the winner of the Canadian Division versus the winner of the American Division.
This would guarantee that the Stanley Cup finals would include an American team.
The Boston Bruins became the first NHL American team to play for the Stanley Cup, but lost in the finals to Ottawa.
However, the next year and in only their second season the New York Rangers would win the Stanley Cup.
New York would beat the Montreal Maroons 3-2 playing all five games at the fabled Montreal Forum.
A lot of things have changed since Seattle won the first Stanley Cup.
Currently, the winner of the Stanley Cup has mostly been American teams. A Canadian team has not won the Stanley Cup since 1993 (Montreal Canadiens). That is a 27 year drought and counting.
As well, Seattle is finally getting an NHL team. The Seattle Kraken will begin play in the NHL for the 2020-2021 season.