|Out of the Mists of the Past
|The Kenora Thistles: 1907 Stanley Cup Champions
In 1904 Fred joined the Midland Hockey Club of the intermediate division of the O.H.A. The following year he moved back to Peterborough and assumed the captaincy of their intermediate hockey team. Again he led his team to an O.H.A. provincial championship, this time in the intermediate division. Word of Whitcroft's scoring prowess quickly spread around the province. With the rash of professional hockey contracts being handed out, it would have been reasonable to assume that Whitcroft's name was mentioned by several teams who, while not openly pro, still managed to pay certain players "under the table". The O.H.A. was extremely tough regarding any hints of professionalism in the league, and frequently would ban players that were accused of accepting "payment".
Fred was to enter into one more year of amateur hockey before making the decision to turn pro. Whitcroft played the first five games of the 1906-07 season for the Colts, scoring an impressive thirteen goals. Whitcroft's reputation had managed to reach all the way up to the northwestern Ontario town of Kenora, home of the then-Stanley Cup champion Thistles. The Thistles were having some problems with injuries, and with a Stanley Cup challenge match coming up at the end of the season versus the Montreal Wanderers, looked outside the borders of their small lakeside village for help. It was Tom Hooper who suggested, following the advice of Jack Walsh, who had witnessed Whitcroft's extraordinary play in Peterborough, that the team acquire the ranging rover. Now officially a pro team playing out of the Manitoba Professional Hockey League (M.P.H.L.), the Thistles wasted no time in signing Fred to a short contract that would see him finish out the Thistles' season for the substantial sum of $700.
Whitcroft played four regular season games with the club, scoring a modest four goals, but found his scoring touch in the best-of-three league playoff vs. the Brandon Wheat Kings, scoring five goals in two games. Had Brandon won, they, by virtue of winning the league title over the Thistles, would have inherited the Cup and therefore the right to play the Wanderers. Whitcroft's nifty scoring touch made sure that that was not the case. Kenora's stewardship of the famed trophy might have been a bit shorter if it wasn't for the talents of the talented scorer from Port Perry. Victory over their league rivals set the stage for a Thistles-Wanderers re-match on the rather late date of March 23rd.
Playing the games in neutral Winnipeg, Manitoba due to a dispute with the Wanderers on player eligibility, Whitcroft and the Thistles, aided by two ringers from the powerful Ottawa Hockey Club (or "Silver Seven")-- Harry "Rat" Westwick and Alf Smith, were soundly defeated in the first game, 7-2. The
Later that year, Whitcroft moved to Edmonton, Alberta and signed a contract with the Edmonton Pros (Eskimos) of the Alberta Professional Hockey League (A.P.H.L.). As soon as he set foot on ice, Fred dominated the fledgling league, scoring an impressive 35 goals in only 10 games, 9 more than the next closest player. Whitcroft's team posted a 7-2-1 record in the three-team league, going on to win a series of playoff games that saw them declared champions of the west. In those eight playoff games, Fred scored an incredible 24 goals. Before the next season began, management made the decision to replace every regular season performer with a ringer, that is, every player except Fred. Ex-Kenora teammate Tommy Phillips joined the club just in time to play in a exhibition contest that December. Former Kenora Thistle "Bad" Joe Hall and lanky Montreal Wanderer defenseman Lester Patrick were added as well. With these and other rather timely additions, Edmonton sought to challenge the Wanderers for the Stanley Cup. The club's challenge was accepted at the beginning of the 1908-09 season. On December 28th, 1908 Whitcroft and his merry band of ringers went into battle against the mighty Montreal Wanderers, losing the first match by the score of 7-3. Early in the contest Tommy Phillips suffered a broken ankle and was lost for game two. Two nights later, the Eskimos bounced back, edging the Wanderers 7-6, but, being a series based on total goals, lost the Stanley Cup by a score of 14-9.
During Edmonton's 1908-09 campaign, Whitcroft continued to score goals in bushels, racking up 27 in 10 games. Unfortunately, the A.P.H.L. had ceased to exist as a league proper so the Eskimos went around the country playing exhibition games. After again winning the western championship in which Fred scored 21 goals in 9 playoff games, the Eskimos again issued a challenge for the Stanley Cup. On November 24th, 1909 the challenge was approved by the Cup trustees-- a two game, total-goals series against Fred "Cyclone" Taylor and the Ottawa Hockey Club (Silver Seven), to be held in the early part of the following season. The two contests, played on January 23rd and 25th of 1910, were high-scoring affairs, with the Sens taking both games, 8-4 and 13-7 respectively. Whitcroft had managed to score five of the Eskimos' 11 goals, but again went away empty-handed.
In the December days running up to the Ottawa-Edmonton series, Whitcroft had been made an improbable offer to return east that he couldn't refuse. Ambrose O'Brien, the owner of the Renfrew Creamery Kings, promised Fred $2,000 if he would come play for the northeastern Ontario club that some were beginning to call the "Millionaires". O'Brien had recently signed Edmonton teammates Jack "Hay" Miller, Lester Patrick (along with his brother Frank), and was aggressively pursuing Cyclone Taylor. After the conclusion of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Whitcroft joined the Renfrew juggernaut.
Despite being included in a roster that contained three other future hall-of-famers (the total becoming five when Edouard "Newsy" LaLonde joined the team halfway through the season), Whitcroft never quite got his game on track, scoring a modest three goals in five contests, and though the team finished 8-3-1 and led the National Hockey Association (N.H.A.) in total offense, they finished out of the Stanley Cup hunt, thanks to Montreal's league-leading, Stanley Cup clinching 11-1 record.
After that fourth and last attempt at winning back Lord Stanley, Whitcroft retired as a player, moving back to Edmonton and coaching the Eskimos for the next two seasons. He later moved on to Vancouver and served as president of the Vancouver Amateur Hockey Association during the 1920s. Whitcroft also spent time in England, South America, and the Yukon.
Fred Whitcroft died at McKee Creek, near Atlin, British Columbia on August 9, 1931. He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962.
TEAM PHOTOS FEATURING FRED WHITCROFT:
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