The old Ottawa Arena, located at what today is the southeast corner of Confederation Park, hosted a game between Ottawa and the Montreal Canadiens on the first night of NHL action on Dec. 19, 1917. Image: Wikipedia Commons

NHL outdoor game recalled 1917 contest at downtown rink

By Spencer Douglas

The Scotiabank NHL100 Classic took place on Dec. 16, when the Ottawa Senators closed a 100-year-circle with the Montreal Canadiens in an outdoor game at the TD Place field at Lansdowne Park. The Sens won the match 3-0.

Philip Pritchard, vice-president of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, said ahead of the game that the event would be an important one for celebrating Canadian hockey history.

“It brings the game back to its roots — outdoor hockey,” said Pritchard. “It celebrates the history of the sport and the city.”

A game between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Hockey Club was one of two matches played on the opening night of the NHL on Dec. 19, 1917. The former National Hockey Association had been reorganized as the NHL in November 1917.

The other game played on the NHL’s opening night was in Montreal between the host Montreal Wanderers and a visiting team from Toronto — a club variously known at the time as the Arenas or Blueshirts, but which eventually evolved into the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Ottawa game was played at “The Arena” located just west of the Rideau Canal in what today is the southeast corner of Confederation Park, along Laurier Avenue in Centretown.

Also known as Dey’s arena, the rink could seat about 4,500 spectators, but also had standing room for another 2,500.

The arena was built in 1907 by Ted and Billy Dey, and was the third rink the brothers had run in the city. It operated from January 1908 to 1923, and for a time was the largest arena in the country.

“It was certainly the most substantial arena the city had ever seen,” said Randy Boswell, a professor at Carleton University and a journalist who wrote a feature story earlier this year for about that first night of NHL hockey 100 years ago.

The start of the Ottawa-Montreal matchup, said Boswell, was delayed due to a contract dispute, which meant the Wanderers-Toronto game in Montreal started about a half-hour earlier — and thus deserves to be known as the NHL’s first game.

In Ottawa, the Canadiens scored three unanswered goals to start off the game against the hometown club, eventually winning by wide margin. Montreal’s Joe Malone — an early NHL legend — scored five of the Canadiens’ seven goals.