(Image: 1923 Ottawa Senators, via Wikimedia Commons)
Brothers who play professional hockey is nothing new, but in 1923, brothers played against each other in the playoffs for the first time. Not just one, but two sets of brothers, squared off in the first round of playoffs starting on March 16, 1923. That season, the NHL champ would play the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) champions. The winner of that best-of-five series would play the champions of the Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL) for the Stanley Cup. The Ottawa Senators led the NHL, the Vancouver Maroons the PCHA, and the Edmonton Eskimos the WCHL.
Defenseman George Boucher was the oldest of four brothers in professional hockey. He joined the Ottawa Senators in 1915 and remained with the team through most of the 1928-29 season (which meant he transitioned from the NHA to the NHL with the team in 1917). The next Boucher brother, Billy, skated for Montreal in 1923. Although joined the Senators for the playoffs (with the intention of filling in for the injured), Billy was not allowed to play. The third Boucher brother, Frank, was a center and became the best known, especially for his gentlemanly reputation. After spending the 1921-22 season with Ottawa, Frank was sold to the Vancouver Maroons of the PCHA. That put him in direct opposition to George for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, left winger Cy Denneny had first joined the Toronto Shamrocks in 1914-15, and they brought on his younger brother, Corb the following season. In 1916, Cy was traded to Ottawa, so he, like George Boucher, transitioned with the Senators to the NHL and then remained with them until 1928. Corb remained with Toronto until he was traded to Vancouver in December 1922. When they played against each other that playoffs, Corb was a sub. His career was never steady after that as he bounced between teams and leagues.
The first game pairing off the brothers occurred on March 16, 1923 at Vancouver’s Arena before a crowd of nearly 9,000. The leagues still played by different rules, so the games held at Vancouver on that Friday and the next would be played according to coast rules. The games on Monday and (if needed) the following Monday at Ottawa would follow the eastern rules.
After the game, the Canadian Press noted, “The fans were much interested to watch the fraternal duels in skating and stickhandling staged by the Boucher brothers and Denneny brothers. Frank and George Boucher for the Maroons and Senators respectively, were regulars, and were given plenty of opportunity to test each other’s ability. George was trickier perhaps, but Frank showed the greater speed, and worried brother George and his fellows all evening with his hookcheck.” Both the Ottawa and the Vancouver papers delighted in comparing the four.
Surprisingly, the papers were harder on their own players. Ottawa papers commented on the “unsteadiness” of George Boucher, while the Vancouver papers named him the star of the game noting how their own fans cheered him. They praised his stickhandling and skating, and The Province stated, “George Boucher is the star that he was two seasons ago. He is the same wizard stickhandler, and his rushes last night were finely staged and thrilling. He is the daddy of them all as a manipulator, and the crowd got considerable ‘kick’ in the numerous exchanges he had with his younger brother.” Of his brother, Frank, the Vancouver papers thought he was “just fair” until the third period. “Then he opened up and skated and stickhandled in his best form. His hookchecking broke up many a prospective Ottawa rush.” Whereas, the Ottawa Evening Journal, stated, “Ottawa went right for the key of the Vancouver system – little Frankie Boucher – and when they solved him they had a great part of their power turned off.” The article continued, “Frank Boucher has a good hook check, but is no particular sensation as a shot. He, however, is the most improved player in the game, and the same thorough little gentleman.”
As a sub, the media could comment little on Corb Denneny. The Vancouver Sun stated only, “Corbett Denenny had little chance to show his wares.” Tommy Gorman, manager and part-owner of the Senators, noted, “Corbett Denneny also appeared lost in the maze of speed.” Big brother Cy was another matter. He was treated as a warrior because he had sustained a head injury (referred to as a “slight fracture of the skull”) in the previous series against Montreal but still played most of the game. Gorman praised, “Plucky little, Denneny, his head plastered and stitched, went nearly the full route and turned in a beautiful game. Cy complained of dizziness but repeatedly refused to come off.” The Vancouver newspapers remarked that he was an “alleged cripple” because he “played brilliantly.” He “gave an exhibition at left wing for Ottawa that drew cheer after cheer from the benches” and “probably was the pick of the forward line.”
Still, not one of the brothers actually scored. In fact, George’s multiple penalties could have cost his team. Instead, during a four-on-four, his teammate, Harry “Punch” Broadbent, scored the only goal of the game with exactly five minutes to spare. That meant their teammate, Clint Benedict (who had needed stiches to his head after getting hit with a stick in the third period), had earned a shutout. This was despite Vancouver leading the shots on goal with 43 compared to Ottawa’s 30. The Ottawa papers attributed the low scoring to both Benedict and his counterpart, Hughie “Eagle-Eye” Lehman. Vancouver had come into the game as seven-to-ten favorites, but the upset would ensure that even bigger crowds came out for the remaining games between the two teams.
At the end of the series, George Boucher and Cy Denneny came out the winners with Ottawa winning three games. After the first win, Vancouver did bounce back for a 4-1 triumph, but Ottawa finished the series with two back-to-back victories (3-2 then 5-1). Despite his team’s loss, Frank Patrick purportedly called Ottawa “the greatest team he had ever seen.” The Senators went on to play the Edmonton Eskimos and won the first two games in the best-of-three series. Again, in the second game, Broadbent scored the only goal. George Boucher and Cy Denneny had helped Ottawa win the Stanley Cup.
Three of the four brothers went on to careers worthy of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Frank Boucher was inducted first, in 1958. He had remained in Vancouver until the PCHA disbanded in 1926, and he ended up with the New York Rangers thanks to Bill and Bun Cook, with whom he formed the famous Bread Line. After retiring during the 1937-38 season, he filled in for a partial season during World War II. From 1939 to 1949, Frank coached the Rangers before concentrating on being their general manager through 1955. One year after Frank’s induction, in 1959, Cy Denneny joined the Hockey Hall of Fame. Being one of the first to use a curved stick, Cy retired (after a season with the Boston Bruins in 1928-29 and winning the Stanley Cup) as the top goal scorer and point earner (with 331 points). For the next couple of years, Cy worked as a referee before coaching in Ottawa leagues. One year after Cy’s induction, in 1960, George Boucher joined their ranks. George was picked up by the Montreal Maroons in the 1928-29 season and then finished his playing career with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1931-32. Like the others, he took to coaching, beginning with the Montreal Maroons in 1930-31. George coached the Ottawa Senators in 1933-34 and the next season, when they moved to St. Louis before folding. He continued coaching various teams and helped with choosing and training players for Canada’s gold-winning team for the 1948 Winter Olympics. Many brother pairings came after the Boucher and Denneny siblings, but they were quite famous during their time.
- Brian McFarlane, Brian McFarlane’s History of Hockey (Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing Inc., c1997), 21-23.
- Ed Baker, “Ottawa 1, Vancouver 0; Broadbent Scored,” Ottawa Citizen, 17 March 1923, p. 12.
- Tommy Gorman, “Senators Won the First Game of Series with Vancouver by Sheer Nerve, Pluck and Determination,” Ottawa Evening Citizen, 17 March 1923, p. 1.
- Basil O’Meara, “Ottawa Takes the First Game; Score is 1 to 0 at the Finish; Broadbent Scores Lone Goal,” Ottawa Evening Journal, 17 March 1923, pp. 1 and 4.
- Canadian Press, “Vancouver Men Offer No Alibi,” Ottawa Journal, 17 March 1923, image 13.
- “Ottawa Wins Opener; Edmonton in Stanley Cup Finals,” Vancouver Sun, 17 March 1923, pp. 8-9.
- Ralph Young, “Lone Tally Wins First Game for Ottawa,” Vancouver Daily World, 17 March 1923, pp. 24-25.
- “Maroon Sharpshooters Can Not Penetrate Wonderful Defense of Benedict and Eastern Champions Win Opening Game,” Vancouver Province, 17 March 1923, p. 14.