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Road trip was one to forget

Published May 29, 2004

Modern day coaches who complain about the hardships of a cross-country trip should learn the story of the famed Dawson City Seven.

In the dead of winter 1904, a plucky bunch of skaters from Dawson City's Klondikers Hockey Club set out on a 4,300-mile journey to Ottawa, home of the reigning Stanley Cup champion.

The Klondikers and their manager traveled the first 87 miles by dogsled in minus-20 degree temperatures. By Day 3, some of the players had blistered feet. Team members, though, plowed on. Sometimes on foot. Sometimes on bikes.

A train from Whitehorse in the Yukon whisked the players to Skagway, Alaska, where they promptly missed the boat to Vancouver. They spent five days waiting for the next one, which took them to Seattle. Some of the players suffered from sea sickness.

They finally boarded a train that took them through the Rocky Mountains and across the prairies. They jumped rope in the smoking car in a futile effort to stay in shape.

The Klondikers arrived in Ottawa 23 days after starting out. They had 36 hours to prepare for the first of two games against the mighty Ottawa Silver Seven, nicknamed the Invincibles.

The trip was the brainchild of Joe Boyle, the Klondikers manager. A struggling boxing promoter, Boyle arrived in Dawson City just before the great Gold Rush of 1898. While other gold rushers panned for gold, Boyle secured permission to dredge away at the earth with huge machines. He expanded his businesses and grew wealthy.

Boyle began dreaming of bringing the Stanley Cup to Dawson City. In the early years, teams could challenge the Stanley Cup champion to a showdown. Usually the challengers had won region championships or other major competitions. Boyle used his political pull to bypass that hurdle.

All his gumption, though, could do nothing to alter what happened on the ice.

The Klondikers lost the first game 9-2. Three days later, the Invincibles demolished the challengers 23-2, the most lopsided victory in Stanley Cup history.

"Our team played gamely from first to last, but was dead on its feet," Boyle wrote in a dispatch to the Dawson (City) Daily News.

The local media was not as kind.

The Klondikers are "the saddest example of a hockey team ever to play in a Stanley Cup challenge," one Ottawa paper wrote.

"The worst consignment of hockey junk to come over the metals of the (Canadian Pacific Railroad)" blasted the Toronto Telegram.

Boyle and the team lost some exhibition games and then headed back to Dawson City, where they were treated as heroes. Boyle went on to reorganize Russia's decrepit rail system, help restore Romania's paper currency and archives and work as an intermediary between the two countries during peace talks. He also became close friends with Romania's Queen Marie.

The Dawson City Seven went back to their jobs as gold prospectors and civil servants. They never again played for the Stanley Cup.

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 01:00:33]


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