BY David Eskenazi 08:03AM 02/21/2012

Wayback Machine: Hockey Icon Pete Muldoon

One of Seattle’s iconic hockey figures also boxed, played lacrosse, ice danced and skated on stilts. Not many knew that he used an alias throughout his life.

The 1917 Seattle Metropolitans, coached by Pete Muldoon (center row, right) won the Stanley Cup, the first American-based team to do so. The team featured three future members of the Hockey Hall of Fame: Hap Holmes (top row, far left), Jack Walker (top row, far right) and Frank Foyston (middle row, left). / David Eskenazi Collection

By David Eskenazi and Steve Rudman

If San Francisco hedge-fund manager Christopher R. Hansen and Seattle/King County officials have their druthers, a $490 million basketball/hockey arena will one day spring up south of Safeco Field. If constructed, and there is no guarantee, the facility in theory would become a relocation magnet for struggling NBA and NHL franchises.

Seattle has been without top-tier basketball since the Sonics evacuated in 2008, and sans  a top-tier minor league pro hockey franchise since the Seattle Totems vanished in the late 1970s, leaving a trail of lawsuits in their wake.

Pete Muldoon launched his athletic career in Seattle as a boxer and later managed hockey, lacrosse and baseball teams in the Queen City and British Columbia. Most famously, he coached the Seattle Metropolitans in three Stanley Cup finals. / David Eskenazi Collection

For many decades, Seattle viewed itself as more of a hockey town than a basketball burg. Its first major figure in the ice game is actually more famous for something he didn’t do rather than for the myriad of remarkable things he did.

Born in 1881 (exact date unknown) in St. Mary’s, Ontario, Canada, Linton Muldoon Treacy grew up in that outpost mainly playing hockey and lacrosse. When, in 1909, it was time for Treacy to make a living, he moved to the Northwest to pursue a career not as a hockey or lacrosse player, but as a professional boxer.

In those days, professional athletes were widely viewed as loathsome lowlife. So out of respect for his family, Treacy shed his given name and assumed the alias “Pete Muldoon

Initially a middleweight (later a heavyweight), Pete Muldoon joined the Ballard Athletic Club, which presented weekly boxing cards, and showed immediate promise. After a few matches, the Seattle Times wrote, “Pete is a clever boxer and has a stiff punch. The striking feature of this boxing Muldoon is his excellent judgment and ability to get away from punishment. He has been in the ring with several good boxers, but none was able to lay a glove on him whenever said glove was backed up by any considerable force.”

Muldoon’s complete boxing record hasn’t survived, but some parts remain. According to Boxrec.com, Muldoon engaged in his first notable bout July 1, 1910, winning on points at the Snohomish Stag Club against Stockton, CA., puncher Ed Reilly (Muldoon issued such a beating that Reilly never fought again).

Muldoon had only four more fisticuffs of consequence. He recorded a third-round TKO over Bob Armstrong, who outweighed him by 40 pounds, at the Ballard Athletic Club Dec. 21, 1910, and lost by TKO in three rounds to Cle Elum’s Jack Lester Jan. 17, 1911, at the Dreamland Rink in Tacoma, when Muldoon’s handlers “threw in the sponge.”

Muldoon’s final two ring endeavors ended in draws, against Lee Manson (Dec. 15, 1911) and Vancouver B.C.’s Billy Weeks (March 28, 1913).

This is a robed Pete Muldoon during his Seattle boxing days (1910-13). A young Ad Schact, who later trained the Metropolitans and baseball's Seattle Indians, is to the right of Muldoon. Schact later became the trainer for the Chicago White Sox and worked the first major league All-Star Game in 1933. / David Eskenazi Collection

Muldoon never boxed on a full-time basis, fight-game money insufficient for his financial needs. So near the end of his career, in 1912, Muldoon left Ballard for Vancouver to manage what one newspaper called “Canada’s crack lacrosse team” (lacrosse was a pro game in Canada), and train its hockey (Millionaires) and baseball (Beavers) teams. When he found time, Muldoon moonlighted as a boxing referee.

Earlier in his boxing career (1911), Muldoon met up with brothers Frank and Lester Patrick, who, a year later, offered him an opportunity to supplement his income by playing for the Vancouver Millionaires of the new Pacific Coast Hockey Association they had formed. Muldoon agreed, making him both a professional fighter and hockey player.

Montreal natives, the Patricks had relocated to Nelson, B.C., to work in the family’s lumber business. When their father, Joe, sold the mill in 1911, Frank and Lester took their profits and invested in hockey franchises.

They launched the PCHA in 1912 with three clubs, the Millionaires, Victoria Senators and New Westminster Royals. The Patricks, who owned the franchises, stocked the teams by conducting systematic raids on the NHL’s forerunner, the National Hockey Association.

Despite the PCHA’s blatant poaching of NHA players, the NHA agreed in March, 1912, to send a collection of its best players to the West Coast to play a PCHA All-Star team in a pair of games some newspapers described as the “World Series” of hockey.

Lester Patrick, one of the founders of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, played for and managed the Metropolitans in 1917-18, the year after the Mets won the Stanley Cup. / David Eskenazi Collection

The PCHA won both contests, 10-4 and 5-1, demonstrating to the more established NHA that the caliber of PCHA play was at least as good as its own, if not better. So in 1913-14, the NHA struck a cooperative agreement with the PCHA, mainly to stem the tide of player jumping.

This led to a further agreement: the regular-season champions of each league would face each other in a special, postseason challenge series. Following the 1914 season, PCHA winner Victoria went east to play the Toronto Blueshirts.

Won by Toronto, that competition shaped a further NHA-PCHA agreement: the leagues would engage in an annual playoff to determine the winner of the Stanley Cup, which had been awarded since 1893.

The first PCHA-NHA Stanley Cup took place following the 1914-15 season. The Millionaires beat the Ottawa Senators in a best-of-five series.

The Patricks had trouble keeping their franchises in the black. When they could not make a go of the New Westminster Royals, afflicted by poor attendance and a shabby arena, they shifted the club to Portland  and sought out Muldoon to run the Rosebuds on their behalf.

A year later (1915), the Patricks created a new PCHA team, the Metropolitans (see Wayback Machine: Frank Foyston and the Metropolitans), and asked Muldoon to leave Portland for Seattle, which had just finished construction of a new ice arena on Fifth Avenue between Seneca and University streets. Muldoon agreed, setting up one of the seminal careers in the history of professional hockey in the Queen City.

“Pete Muldoon will be manager of Seattle’s hockey team,” announced The Times. “Pete handled the Portland team last year and made a splendid showing. While rumors were printed that Pete would be transferred to Seattle, it was not until today (Oct. 15, 1915) that he got his release from President Savage of the Portland club.

“He will at once begin hustling for players, for both he and the Patrick boys know that Seattle must have a strong team in order to make hockey go here in its first season. Muldoon is well known and popular in Seattle, and his selection is a good one. He is a splendid skater himself, but seldom plays hockey any more, though he can give a good account of himself in a pinch.”

This is a rare program cover from the Metropolitans' 1917 season, when they won the Stanley Cup. / David Eskenazi Collection

Actually, Muldoon was more than a splendid skater, as The Times explained in a story midway through his tenure with the Metropolitans.

“Before Pete Muldoon, manager of the Seattle hockey team, learned his multiplication tables,” the story said, “he was doing stunts on skates that were the envy of his school mates. Pete has forgotten his multiplication tables now, but he still can cavort on ice as few skaters in the world are able to.

“When he is not bossing the Seattle puck chasers, Muldoon puts in his time doing exhibition skating in rinks in all parts of the United States. Some of his favorite and most difficult stunts are performed on stilt skates, which raise his feet 26 inches above the surface of the ice.

“Norman Baptie, world’s champion speed skater, and Johnny Davidson, who is now giving skating exhibitions in London, are the only two other men in the world who perform on ice stilts. These men use 18-inch stilts. Muldoon uses stilts eight inches higher and makes these exhibitions a regular part of his repertoire.”

The Times quoted Muldoon as saying, “With practice, a man can do anything on stilts that he can do on regular skates. All it takes is nerve.”

Muldoon not only gave stilt-skate exhibitions (he garbed himself in an Uncle Sam costume), he and a series of partners (one just 13 years old) traveled the country giving ice dancing exhibitions – 50 years before ice dancing became part of the Winter Olympics program (1976).

A professional showman as well as a former professional athlete, Muldoon had a lot of creative ideas for how to market the Mets (Muldoon also opened and successfully marketed a series of West Coast-based winter sporting goods stores).

To make the Mets’ Ice Arena games more entertaining, Muldoon cooked up promotions to occupy the 10-minute intervals between periods. As the Post-Intelligencer explained, “Manager Muldoon plans on filling in these rests with exhibitions of fancy skating and with speed races. Speed skating is not allowed ordinarily, but those who like to go fast will be given a chance during the intermissions. Manager Muldoon wants the entries of the boys who think they are fast and a gold medal will be hung up for the winner.”

Featuring three future Hockey Hall of Famers – forwards Frank Foyston and Jack Walker and goalie Harry “Hap” Holmes — the Mets went 9-9 in their first season (1915-16), finishing in a second-place tie with Vancouver. As seattlehockey.net opined in its excellent history of hockey in the city, “The people of Seattle had taken to hockey.”

In addition to coaching and managing the Metropolitans, Muldoon traveled the country, giving exhibitions on his "stilt skates." / David Eskenazi Collection

By defeating Portland on the road in the final game of the 1916-17 season, the Mets won the PCHA title with a 16-8 record, earning the right to host the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup.

In the subsequent four-game series conducted in front of packed throngs at the Seattle Ice Arena, the Metropolitans obliterated the more famous Les Canadiens by an aggregate of 19 goals to three, Bernie Morris scoring 14 of them. That made the Mets the first American team to hoist Stanley’s Cup, and the first Seattle-based franchise to win a major pro title in any sport. Muldoon was just 30, making the youngest to coach a Stanley Cup champion (he’s still the youngest).

Muldoon is commonly listed as having coached the Mets for the duration of their existence (1915-24). In fact, he did not. A few months after the Stanley Cup clincher, Lester Patrick decided to fold his one-year-old Spokane franchise, the Canaries, who had moved to eastern Washington from Victoria following the 1915-16 season.

As co-owner of the PCHA, Patrick could work with any franchise he desired, and in 1917-18, he decided to become player-manager of the Metropolitans and send Muldoon back to his old job as manager of the Rosebuds.

Under Patrick, the Mets missed a chance for the Stanley Cup again when they lost a two-game playoff series with Vancouver.

For the 1918-19 season, Patrick removed himself from Seattle, joined the Victoria Aristocrats, and ordered Muldoon back to Seattle. By year’s end, Muldoon had the Mets playing for the Stanley Cup again, once more against Montreal.

This became the most unusual – and tragic – Stanley Cup series ever contested. Seattle and Montreal split the first two games, and after five the series stood 2-1-1.

Five and a half hours before the Game 6 face-off, players on both sides suddenly took ill with the flu (the worldwide Spanish influenza epidemic had just about, but not entirely, run its course). Health officials quickly dispatched five Montreal players to local hospitals, and ordered the rest of the Canadiens to remain in their rooms at the Georgian Hotel.

This image, taken outside the Seattle Ice Arena, shows Pete Muldoon, second from right, shaking hands with club trainer Ad Schact as he prepares to leave for Seattle Indians spring training. Metropolitan forward Jack Walker is next to Muldoon. The uniformed player is unidentified. / David Eskenazi Collection

Montreal manager George Kennedy, who had been hospitalized, announced from his bed that the Canadiens would forfeit the Cup to Seattle, but Muldoon refused to accept, recognizing that catastrophic illness had caused the Canadiens to be short of players.
So the series was canceled and no Stanley Cup was awarded, the only such occurrence in the event’s history (see Wayback Machine: How The Mets Missed A Dynasty).

The Mets played for the Stanley Cup again in 1920, but lost to the Ottawa Senators, and had two more shots at the Stanley Cup in 1921 and 1922, but were eliminated by Vancouver in the PCHA playoffs both years.

Two years later, the PCHA folded, the Mets disbanded, and the Western Canada Hockey League, featuring edition No. 2 of the Portland Rosebuds (the former Regina Capitals), came into existence. Muldoon, who posted a record of 115 wins, 105 losses and four ties in Seattle, became the coach.

But the WCHL didn’t last, either, and Frank Patrick negotiated the sale of Muldoon and most of the Rosebuds players to a Chicago investor who was forming an expansion franchise (then called the Black Hawks, now the Blackhawks) in the National Hockey League, which had evolved out of the National Hockey Association following the 1917 season.

The investor, Major Frederic McLaughlin, also the club president, thought the Black Hawks should have won the league’s American Division in the team’s first year (1926-27), and blamed Muldoon for finishing third (19-22-3). Chicago’s third-place finish would have quickly faded into history, but instead evolved into a charming fable that supposedly explained why the Black Hawks/Blackhawks never finished first from 1927 until 1967, when the team finally won its first regular-season title.

This is a Seattle hockey program cover from the 1929-30 season, when the team was known as the Eskimos. Among the investors in this team were Joe Gottstein and William Edris, who opened Longacres Race Track in 1933. / David Eskenazi Collection

Two weeks before the end of the 1926-27 season, Muldoon resigned, giving 14 days’ notice. He could not stand McLaughlin’s meddling.

“Our worthy president wanted to run the club, the players, the referees, etc.,” Muldoon said a few weeks after his departure. “He learned the game very quickly. In fact, after seeing his first game, he wrote me a letter telling me what players should and should not do.”

This is how Muldoon became famous for something he had no part of: Two decades after Muldoon left Chicago, the Blackhawks’ publicist, Joe Farrell, who doubled as the radio play-by-play broadcaster, concocted a story designed to make the hockey club lovable losers just like baseball’s Cubs.

Farrell, who was trying to attract fans to to the hockey team, felt that if the “Curse of the Billy Goat” had worked for the Cubs, the Blackhawks should have a curse of their own.

According to Farrell’s tale, after McLaughlin blamed Muldoon for the Blackhawks’ mediocre season, Muldoon shot back, “The Blackhawks will never, ever finish first in this league.”

At about the same time, Jim Coleman, a sportswriter for the Toronto Globe and Mail, embellished Farrell’s account by quoting Muldoon as saying, “Fire me, Major, and you’ll never finish first. I’ll put a curse on this team that will hoodoo it until the end of time.”

And so was born the “Curse of Muldoon.” Chicago actually won the Stanley Cup in 1934, 1938 and 1961, but it did not finish first in its division in any of those years. Several times in the ’60s the Blackhawks fell from the top in the dying days of the season, and the Curse of Muldoon was dusted off and retold.

“The Curse of Muldoon” vexed the Blackhawks and Chicagoans until 1967, when the team broke the curse. Only then did Coleman admit that he’d conjured up the “Curse of Muldoon” to break a case of writer’s block he’d had as a column deadline approached.

Although Muldoon had certified his place in Seattle hockey lore with his great Metropolitan teams, his longest-lasting contribution didn’t occur until four years after the Mets folded.

The 1929-30 Seattle Eskimos sent out this Christmas card. The team played in the new Civic Ice Arena, completed in 1928. / David Eskenazi Collection

In 1928, after the city constructed a new ice palace (Civic Ice Arena), Muldoon, having returned to Seattle, rounded up several investors and established the Seattle Ice Skating and Hockey Association with the intent of forming a franchise to replace the Metropolitans, whose disbanding had left Seattle sans hockey for four years.

Muldoon recruited two young real estate tycoons, Joe Gottstein and William Edris, who were then in the process of lobbying state lawmakers to legalize parimutuel wagering (see Wayback Machine: Joe Gottstein’s Racing Revival), former Seattle mayor Hugh M. Caldwell and boxing promoter Nate Druxman, as his principal investors.

The new team they funded, the Seattle Eskimos, joined a new league, the Pacific Coast Hockey League, along with the Portland Buckaroos, Vancouver Lions and Victoria Cubs.

The Eskimos played through the 1930-31 season, at which point the PCHL folded due to dwindling attendance and rising costs.

Two years would pass before Seattle got another team, the Sea Hawks of the Northwest Hockey League. The city has had professional hockey pretty much on a continuous basis ever since: Sea Hawks (1932-41), Ironmen (1945-52), Bombers (1952-54), Americans (1955-58), Totems (1958-75), Breakers (1977-85), Thunderbirds (1985-present).

Muldoon did not live to see any post-Eskimo iteration. On March 6, 1929, Muldoon, Druxman and their aforementioned business partners were in Tacoma scouting locations for a new ice rink they hoped to build and stock with a PCHL franchise.

While driving between potential sites, Muldoon, sitting in the front seat, suffered a massive heart attack. His companions rushed him to Pierce County Hospital, where physicians said his death was due to acute dilation of the heart. Only at the hospital did Druxman learn from Muldoon’s physician, Dr. W.A. Glasgow, that he had treated the former hockey coach following a series of mild heart attacks.

“He was the squarest shooter I ever knew in professional sport,” said Druxman, briefly a boxer and long-time promoter who produced 11 world title fights in Seattle. “One thing I’ll never forget: 21 years ago, Pete and I boxed on the same card at the old Seattle Athletic Club.”

After the 41-year-old Muldoon’s death, the Eskimos created an award in his honor: “The Pete Muldoon Trophy.” A replica went to the Seattle hockey team’s most inspirational player for many years. Sometime during World War II, the original went missing.

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Many of the historic images published on Sportspress Northwest are provided by resident Northwest sports history aficionado David Eskenazi. Check out David’s “ Wayback Machine Archive.” David can be reached at (206) 441-1900, or at seattlesportshistory@gmail.com


YourThoughts

  • http://www.seattletotems.org/ SeattleTotemsDotOrg

    Great article. I never knew Muldoon was a boxer nor a stunt skater! And I always knew about the curse, but never knew it was invented by a sportswriter. Most enjoyable reading.  

    • SteveRudman

      On behalf of David Eskenazi, thank you so much for reading the article. Researching Pete Muldoon’s life was a revelation for us as well. Again, thanks for taking the time to join us.

  • http://www.seattletotems.org/ SeattleTotemsDotOrg

    Great article. I never knew Muldoon was a boxer nor a stunt skater! And I always knew about the curse, but never knew it was invented by a sportswriter. Most enjoyable reading.  

    • SteveRudman

      On behalf of David Eskenazi, whose vast collection of images astounds me, thank you so much for reading the article. Researching Pete Muldoon’s life was a revelation for us as well. Again, thanks for taking the time to join us.

  • Len Corben

    As a sports historian/columnist/author in the Vancouver, B.C., area, I have found the stories - and in particular the extensive research and vintage photographs – in the Wayback Machine of the highest quality. Congratulations on another great piece.

  • Len Corben

    As a sports historian/columnist/author in the Vancouver, B.C., area, I have found the stories - and in particular the extensive research and vintage photographs – in the Wayback Machine of the highest quality. Congratulations on another great piece.

  • RadioGuy

    Great story by Dave and Steve.  I love the Wayback Machines.  Point of information, however:  The Breakers/Thunderbirds are not a professional hockey team…the modern Western Hockey League is a Canadian Major Junior league.  The players are considered amateurs, although they do receive a living stipend (which disqualifies them from playing NCAA hockey) in addition to being billetted with local families.

  • RadioGuy

    Great story by Dave and Steve.  I love the Wayback Machines.  Point of information, however:  The Breakers/Thunderbirds are not a professional hockey team…the modern Western Hockey League is a Canadian Major Junior league.  The players are considered amateurs, although they do receive a living stipend (which disqualifies them from playing NCAA hockey) in addition to being billetted with local families.