Stanley Cup Champions: The Kenora Thistles, the Little Town That Could

Jennifer ConwaySenior Analyst IJuly 26, 2008

The small town of Kenora, Ontario (then-population 4,000) revolutionized hockey at the turn of the 20th century. In a time when hockey followed rugby’s rules, which prevented forward passing, the Kenora Thistles mastered a speedy dump-and-chase style, complete with precision passing.

“The Thistles, by skating fast, turned the game wide open, and by 1903, every senior team in the country had changed to that pleasing style,” Fred “Cyclone” Taylor said.

The Thistles, who just five years earlier had been a schoolboy team, had the audacity to challenge the powerful Montreal Wanderers for Lord Stanley’s Cup in a two-game, total-goal series.

This was their third attempt to win the Cup, but this time they had five future Hall of Famers in their lineup. (Another future Hall of Famer, “Bad” Joe Hall, was on the roster but did not play in either game.)

The third time truly was the charm for the Thistles.

On Jan. 17, 1907, Billy McGimsie, Tom Phillips, Tom Hooper, Si Griffis, and Art Ross all helped lead the Thistles to a 4-2 win in Montreal’s packed Westmount arena. Tom Phillips scored all four goals for Kenora in the upset victory.

The second game on Jan. 21 was a decidedly more physical affair. In their attempts to slow the speedy Kenora players, the Wanderers racked up 55 penalty minutes to Kenora’s 30. Unable to overcome the penalties, the Wanderers lost the game 8-6 and the Thistles won the series 12-8.

Kenora accomplished two things with their championship: They were—and remain—the smallest town to ever win the Stanley Cup, and they were the last amateur team to do so.

Unfortunately, the Thistles only managed to hang onto the Cup for about two months.

In an acrimonious two-game, total-goal series filled with accusations of ringers that made the front pages of newspapers, and was even discussed in Parliament (Kenora had recruited two more future Hall of Famers from Ottawa—Alf Smith and Harry Westwick), the Wanderers reclaimed hockey’s Holy Grail from Kenora, winning 12-8.

Shortly after that magical run to the Stanley Cup, many of the core players retired or were lured east by promises of big money. The team never recovered, and became a senior team, which it is to this day.