When the Boston Bruins Won Their First Stanley Cup. Twice.
The Boston Bruins claimed their first Stanley Cup in Montreal on a Saturday night in March 1929, sweeping aside the mighty Canadiens. Back home, a crowd of 3,000 met the team’s train at North Station.
Then again, the series with Montreal was only a semi-final. Any doubts to their hold on the trophy were put to rest six days later, when the Bruins definitively won the Cup, conquering the Rangers in New York.
Two Stanley Cups in a week? It’s complicated. And it’s not something that is reflected in the records, either: Those distinctly show that the Bruins have won six championships (so far), not seven.
And yet 90 years before the Bruins were attempting to win this year’s Cup finals and extend a run of Boston-area pro sports dominance, a brief confusion in the hockey continuum seemed to present the Bruins, at least by some accounts, with the opportunity for a one-of-a-kind Stanley Cup double.
The 1928-29 season was a banner year for the 12-year-old N.H.L. From just four teams in the 1923-24 season, the league had spread to 10 cities, six in the United States. Overall attendance was up by 22 percent from the previous season, with the Bruins rated the biggest draw.
They were the first American team to join the N.H.L., bankrolled by the grocery magnate Charles Adams. His first hire in 1924 was Art Ross, a 38-year-old Montrealer with a reputation as a genius of hockey strategy and innovation who had also won two Stanley Cups earlier as a player.
First awarded in 1893 by Lord Stanley, Canada’s governor-general, hockey’s most coveted prize was, originally, a challenge cup intended to reward the best Canadian team, regardless of league.
From 1918 on, however, the Stanley Cup finals pitted the champion of the new N.H.L. against the best team from western Canada. That arrangement lasted through 1926, after which only N.H.L. teams played for the Cup.
Still, in 1927, N.H.L. President Frank Calder believed (so he said) in the Cup’s original mandate, and that any serious challenger deemed worthy by the trustees should be allowed to play for it. He told an Ottawa audience that he favored a competition beyond the N.H.L. schedule, whereby any team in North America, amateur or professional, might take a run at the championship.
In the spring of 1928, the Bruins and the Canadiens ended up atop their respective regular-season divisions, the American and Canadian. But both teams faltered on the road to the finals, allowing the Rangers to take the Cup.
Come September 1928, Calder and N.H.L.’s governors prepared for the new season by revamping the playoff system. To ensure that at least one top-performing team made it to the finals, the new format saw divisional leaders granted byes to a semifinal that would send one of them on to vie for the Cup against the team that survived a two-round playoff among the best of the rest. The purported architect of this new ordering? Boston’s Ross.
Six months later, at the end of the N.H.L.’s 44-game regular season, Boston and Montreal had once again finished first in their divisions. The Bruins lined up eight future Hall-of-Famers that year, including the superstar defenseman Eddie Shore, the rookie goaltender Tiny Thompson, and forwards Cooney Weiland and Dit Clapper.
When the Bruins prevailed in their series against Montreal, a headline in The Boston Globe declared them “Winners of the Historic Stanley Cup.” A careful explanation followed: because this was a battle of divisional champs, the sacred trophy was indeed won. Then the competition would enter its “challenge phase,” with the new champions defending their claim against the winner of the other semifinal.
No Canadian newspaper seems to have reported any of this, despite The Globe’s assertion that the ruling was Frank Calder’s own. Within a few days, the newspaper changed key: maybe the Bruins hadn’t “gained actual possession” of Canada’s Cup, but it was absolutely “theirs theoretically.”
The confusion didn’t last long: Against the defending champion Rangers, in the first finals with no Canadian team, Boston took the best-of-three final series in a brisk sweep.
Training home again, this time from New York, the Bruins pulled into Boston’s South Station. But it was early Saturday morning, and no throng awaited the actual champions.
The Bruins took hold of the coveted Cup three days later at a banquet at the Copley Plaza Hotel.
Canada remained calm. One Vancouver newspaper, The Province, ran a single-sentence editorial on the nation’s behalf, writing, “Players imported from Canada won the Stanley Cup for Boston.”
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