|Out of the Mists of the Past
|The Kenora Thistles: 1907 Stanley Cup Champions
Billy was fairly small for a centerman, only 5'8" and 145 pounds, but what he lacked in size he more than made up for in speed and agility. McGimsie was one of the fastest forwards of the day, as well as one of the finest passers. Playing with future hall-of-famers Tommy Phillips, Tom Hooper, and Si Griffis, Billy had unlimited options. Many times he would simply take it to the net himself and pop it in. McGimsie would later claim that it was the Thistles' incredible front line that invented the modern tic-tac-toe passing game in an era where players would simply lift the puck down to the other end of the ice and then chase after it. Based on newspaper articles of the day desciribing the Thistles' play, he was not exaggerating with his bold assessment.
The Thistles quickly established themselves as one of the premiere teams of the western arena and eventually became serious contenders for the famed Stanley Cup, then only in its tenth year of existence. In the 1903 challenge match versus the Ottawa Silver Seven, McGimsie tipped in three goals, but it wasn't enough as the Thistles went down valiantly in defeat, 6-2 and 4-2. During the 1903-04 regular season, Billy chipped in 14 goals in 11 games to take the league scoring title by one over the Brandon Wheat Kings' left wing sniper, Harry Bright. Despite McGimsie's heroics, the Thistles finished in second place behind the Wheat Kings, and were unable to stage a rematch against their eastern Ottawa rivals.
McGimsie's scoring prowess took flight the following year, when Rat Portage native Tommy Phillips returned from playing hockey in the east to bolster the Thistles' offensive attack. Billy scored an incredible 28 goals in only 8 games to pace the league and lead the Thistles to the M.N.H.A. championship, setting up a rematch with the Silver Seven, who were in the midst of a three year Stanley Cup championship run. Unfortunately, Billy failed to register a goal in the rematch, though the Thistles made the three game series much closer than the Ottawa squad expected. Afterwards, due to some suspicions that the hometown Ottawa ice was doctored to slow McGimsie and the speedy Thistles down, there could be found some eastern hockeyists intimating that the wrong team won.
The 1905-06 season again showcased McGimsie's extraordinary offensive talents, this time with the renamed and recharged Kenora Thistles. Billy scored 21 goals in 9 games, but was beaten out by the Winnipeg Winnipegs' ace center, Billy Breen for the league title. Still, the Thistles coasted to a 7-1 regular season record and another league championship. This time, however, their Stanley Cup foe would not be the Silver Seven, but Pud Glass and the Montreal Wanderers. Due to the lateness of the conclusion of the season, the challenge match was held over until the following January. In the meantime, the Thistles went out and tendered the services of both Art Ross and Joe Hall to help offset the Wanderers' early season acquisitions of former professionals Hod Stuart and Riley Hern. The Thistles were victorious in the two game, total goals series. McGimsie scored early in the second game to pace the Thistles to a 6-2 half time lead. He also made several nifty passes to teammates Phillips and Hooper, who neatly deposited the pucks into the Wanderers' nets. After a furious comeback by Montreal that made it 6 all, McGimsie made one final rush down the ice with teammate Roxy Beaudro that resulted in the game winning goal. Hooper tacked on an insurance tally and the Stanley Cup was finally in the Thistles' hands.
Just two months later, the Thistles would lose the cup back to the Wanderers in a Winnipeg, Manitoba challenge re-match . McGimsie was not a participant in the series. A separated shoulder in an exhibition game vs. Ottawa kept him out of the running of most of the regular season and all of the challenge. The Thistles hired three outside ringers to replace him, the departed Art Ross, and to spell Phillips and Hooper, who were also hobbled with injuries. The injury and subsequent recuperation effectively ended his hockey career, as well as the Thistles' good fortunes. The team was never again a Stanley Cup contender.
A few years after Billy's career as a player ended, he tried his hand at managing, coaching the Fort William Forts of the New Ontario Hockey League (N.O.H.L.). On his available roster were his brother, Charlie, and old Rat Portage teammates, goalie Fred Dulmage and winger Russell Phillips.
During the 1960s, Billy, his brother Charlie, and Thistles team trainer J. A. Link helped unveil a commemorative plaque in the town of Kenora celebrating the Thistles' amazing achievement. Billy McGimsie was elected to the National Hockey League Hall of Fame in 1960. He died at age 88 while in Calgary, Alberta on October 28, 1968.
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