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OFF THE CUFF - 228th Was More Than a Hockey Team
The 2019 London Christian Prayer Breakfast
“An unseen Hope made the Red Sea Road where there is no other way”
Getting Connected on the Opioid Crisis – A Free In-Studio and Livestream Event
London Area Right to Life Newly Elected President - Jeffrey Belanger
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Chaplain Rejoices as Flood Victim Accepts Jesus Christ
Videos of the 2019 Prayers for London
BookMark - Don’t Give Up: Faith That Gives You the Confidence to Keep Believing and the Courage to Keep Going (BOOK REVIEW)
Experience Another World Without Leaving Yours

By Bruce Huff

One hundred years ago a hockey team was making headlines at the old Mutual Street Arena in Toronto while World War 1 – that asinine conflict that historians dubbed the Great War -- was raging in Europe.

Thirty-six nations took part in the world’s first global conflict. Sixty-five million men and women served in the military. More than nine million plus seven million civilians died including 66,000 of the 650,000 troops Canada and Newfoundland sent to battle. More than 172,000 Canadians were wounded, many of them scarred for the rest of their lives.

Such a waste of humanity, a meatgrinder of futility that began after a Serbian assassin Gavrilo Princip zapped Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary on June 28, 1914. The guns were silenced four years later with an armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11-month.

The 228th Battalion (Northern Fusiliers) formed an early unit of Canada’s Expeditionary Force after Canada joined the war in concert with Great Britain in 1914. The 228th mustered in North Bay with a clutch of professional hockey players including Londoner George (Goldie) Prodger among the recruits, many of whom were stars in the National Hockey Association.

Many of the more prominent standouts, including some Hall of Famers, toiled for NHA teams at the time: Joe Malone, Joe Hall, George and Harold McNamara, Newsy Lalonde, Georges Vezina, the Patricks Lester and Frank, Cyclone Taylor, Eddie Oatman, Frank Nighbor, Bert Corbeau, Reg Noble, and Jack Adams to name a few. Of course only a handful of these players suited up with the 228th.

And while there were battles in Europe there were boardroom conflicts that started around the turn of the century and continued until 1917 with the eventual establishment of the National Hockey League.

It would take volumes to chronicle the activities of the NHA. For brevity’s sake let’s simply say that the NHA was born in 1910. The league began with five teams including the Cobalt Silver Kings, Haileybury Comets, Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers and the Renfrew Creamery Kings (Millionaires).

The rival Canadian Hockey Association lasted only a few weeks and the Ottawa Hockey Club and the Montreal Shamrocks were absorbed into the NHA. Quebec Bulldogs joined the following year.

The championship trophy NHA the teams competed for was the O’Brien Trophy. Starting in 1914-15, the first year of the Great War, the Stanley Cup was awarded exclusively to the winner of the NHA and the Pacific Coast Hockey League. For the five years previously the Cup went to the league only champs.

Vancouver Millionaires swept Ottawa in three games in ’14-15 final. The next year Prodger scored the deciding goal as the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Portland Rosebuds in the best-of-five series that went the limit. The Buds were the first American team to play for the Stanley.

Prodger was a star with the Quebec Bulldogs when they won the Stanley Cup in 1912 by beating Moncton NB in the final. Why he isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame is a travesty when his credentials are equal or better than many of his peers.

The year 1912 was also a time of major change in the game itself. The rover position was abolished, numbers were included on jerseys, match penalties were introduced and line changes on the fly were allowed.

The 1916-17 season would be the NHA’s last but not before the 228th Battalion entered the picture. Wearing khaki hockey uniforms the 228th was the league’s most popular and highest scoring club (70 goals in 10 games). Stars such as Prodger, George McNamara, Gordon (Duke) Keats, Art Duncan and Eddie Oatman could now be kept in the NHA playing hockey and making money for NHA owners while training in Toronto.

Oatman and Prodger were the leading scorers when the team left the league after playing only 12 games. Oatman had 17 goals and five assists while Prodger tallied 16 with three assists. Goaltender Howard Lockhart allowed 69 goals in 12 games for a 5.8 goals-against average. He had one shutout.

Lt.-Col. Archie Earchman was the 228th’s commanding officer and team leader. He remained the Battalion’s CO even when it was deployed in Europe.

All hell broke loose when the regiment was ordered overseas in February 1917. A scandal ensued when Oatman and Meeking were subsequently discharged following their suit where they alleged they were promised concessions to solely play hockey.

The NHA sued the 228th claiming the team hadn’t paid their bills and owed $3,000. Some owners suggested that Earchman be brought back to Canada to face a court martial.

When the dust had settled the remaining owners formed the National Hockey League ironically adopting the exact constitution and playing rules of the NHA. The Toronto Arenas (or Blueshirts) won the first Stanley Cup for the NHL that year by defeating Vancouver Millionaires in five games.

Originally an infantry outfit the 228th became the 6th Battalion Canadian Railway Troops and played a significant role in construction and maintenance of countless miles of rail track used to transport wounded, supplies and equipment to and from the front lines.

For nation of eight million people Canada’s war effort was remarkable. No longer viewed as a colony of England, Canada had truly achieved nation status. The immense sacrifice led to Canada’s separate signature on the Treaty of Versailles that officially ended the war.

The men of the 228th served with honour being awarded 56 military crosses, 10 Distinguished Service medals and five meritorious awards. After the war ended the colours were deposited in the location of where the first German Zeppelin was brought down in 1917.

The Battalion was disbanded in 1920. By that time the boys had come home, some such as Prodger to resume their pro hockey careers.

Prodger refused to report to the Quebec Bulldogs upon his return and was traded to the Toronto St. Pats in 1919. Then he was dealt to the Hamilton Tigers where he spent the next five seasons. The Tigers became the New York Americans in 1924 and Prodger returned to London to serve as player-coach of the London Panthers and winning the Can Pro championship. He died of a heart attack on October 25, 1935 at age 44.

Today cemeteries and memorials with acres of crosses dot the countrysides in France, Holland and Belgium with perhaps the beautiful Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France standing the tallest. On April 9 Canada will pause to honour the sacrifices made by our boys during the 100th anniversary of the Vimy battles. There will be ceremonies at the Memorial and at the National War Museum in Ottawa. We must never forget.