On November 17, 1926, the day between the first game for the New York Rangers and the first game for the Detroit franchise, the Chicago Black Hawks (as the name was then listed) played their first NHL game.
Chicago had been granted the franchise in April, and in September, the $12,000 entry fee was paid by Major Frederic McLaughlin, a coffee tycoon and associate of Tex Rickard. McLaughlin had served during World War I with the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division, and these soldiers nicknamed themselves Blackhawks after the Sauk chief of that name. Although the original charter indicated that McLaughlin named the team Blackhawks (after his division), his wife, actress Irene Castle, created the logo with a Native American profile and the name on the sweaters listed as Black Hawks.
While McLaughlin did not know much about hockey, he still served as his own general manager and remained very involved in running the team. He promoted American hockey players until the Black Hawks had the first all-American born starting lineup in the NHL. To stock his team, McLaughlin bought up the contracts for the Portland Rosebuds upon the folding of the Western Hockey League (WHL). The WHL team had only been in Portland for one season, 1925-26, when they formed the second incarnation of the Rosebuds. The team had originated as the Regina Capitals back in 1921.
The Chicago Coliseum was packed, well over its capacity of 6,000, for the franchise’s first game. According to the Chicago Daily Tribune, “There were cheers from the time the game started until the final whistle.” Only 3:20 into the first period, George “The Western Wizard” Hay, scored Chicago’s first ever goal. Hay had come through the Regina Capitals and Portland Rosebuds, but he only remained with Chicago for that first season before being traded. A minute later, Chicago had another goal. During the third period, Chicago scored twice more to defeat the visiting Toronto St. Pats (predecessors to the Maple Leafs) 4-1.
During their first season, the Black Hawks had to compete with the Chicago Cardinals, an American Hockey Association team. McLaughlin had allowed them to start playing at the Coliseum about the same time but then had to reduce prices for Black Hawks to remain competitive. The reputation of the NHL’s quality of play kept the Black Hawks the more popular choice, and the Cardinals were sold at the end of the year.
Over the course of that season, the Black Hawks led the league in goals, but veteran goalie Hugh Lehman also let in the most goals (despite having five shutouts and leading the NHL in minutes played). For the first season, the Black Hawks earned 41 points (19-22-3), ranking them third in the American Division. They made the playoffs but immediately lost to the Boston Bruins. Chicago’s growing pains over the next few years have been blamed on the Curse of Muldoon because their first coach, Pete Muldoon, lasted only one year due to conflicts with the controlling McLaughlin. The team went through many coaching changes under McLaughlin before they won their first Stanley Cup in 1934.
- Stephen Laroche, Changing the Game: A History of NHL Expansion (Toronto: ECW Press, 2014), 35-42.
- Tab Bamford, 100 Things Blackhawks Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Triumph Books, 2016), no. 61.