Hockey has its roots as an amateur game played across Canada. Amateur hockey leagues were first formed in Manitoba during the early 1890s. For the better part of a decade, the Winnipeg Victorias Hockey Club competed against the Winnipeg Winnipegs Hockey Club. The Vics dominance included Stanley Cup championships in 1896 and 1901.
Professionalism transformed hockey and almost killed the game in Manitoba. The amateur game was pushed aside for a professional league. When that league failed, amateur hockey was looked on as the only answer to the game’s survival in the province. Organizers at the University of Manitoba were part of that revival.
The Manitoba Amateur Athletic Association formed a new amateur league — the Winnipeg Senior Hockey League (WSHL). The 1908-09 inaugural season included the Victorias, a Mercantile team called the Capitals, and the University of Manitoba Varsity. The Vics were league champs.
On Feb. 23, 1909, Sir H. Montagu Allan of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association announced he would donate a trophy in his name for the senior amateur hockey championship of Canada. Manitoba hockey had another chance to win a national championship.
The big surprise of the 1909-10 WSHL season was the play of the University of Manitoba Varsity. The team had only been playing at the senior level for two seasons, but university hockey was not new to Winnipeg. University students were playing hockey as far back as 1893. The first student game on record was played between science faculty students and a group of students who went by the name Varsity.
On Jan. 18, 1898, the Inter-Collegiate Hockey Association was formed at the university. The first four teams were St. John’s College, Wesley College, Manitoba College and the Collegiate. St. John’s College was the inaugural champion.
With many years of Inter-Collegiate play, the decision to enter the city senior league in 1908-09 came as a surprise. But it became a popular one as the best players from the university competed against the best in the city. A strong second-place finish demonstrated to observers that the university boys could play first-class hockey.
The 1909-10 Varsity squad was made up of students attending the university. They could have picked up graduates or non-students, but that was never an option they exercised. The point men were Jack Ruttan and Ollie Turnbull, and they played in front of goalie Jack Gannon. The forward line proved to be the strongest in the city with Bert Andrews, Walt Aseltine and Al Adamson. They were the top three scorers in the league with 21, 12 and 11 goals, respectively.
The Varsity squad went through the six league games undefeated to win the league championship. They sent a challenge to compete for the Allan Cup. Along with the challenge they sent dates that would work in their schedule at the beginning of March.
Varsity thought they would challenge Allan Cup champion Queen’s University, but events started to unravel that changed all their plans. The Allan Cup challenge game had to be played after the regular season of both the champion and the challenger.
Queen’s season didn’t end until the beginning of March. It was learned they were required to defend the Allan Cup against Toronto’s St. Michael’s College. That game wasn’t played until the March 17. St. Michael’s won the challenge 5-4 and was awarded the Allan Cup.
After that delay it would be too late for the Varsity to go east and challenge for the national championship. The eastern ice would be on the soft side and their games would be during the student’s exam period. The Varsity was forced to cancel the trip.
Players off that 1910 Varsity squad would have interesting futures. Defensemen Jack Ruttan would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Ollie Turnbull and Jack Gannon would be killed during the actions of the First World War. The Manitoba junior championship trophy would be named in honour of Turnbull.
Even though they didn’t reach the big game in 1910, Varsity teams in the future would. A team of university graduates, renamed the Winnipegs, won the Allan Cup Championship in 1913. Teams from the University of Manitoba eventually won the Allan Cup, Memorial Cup and a World Championship.