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The Western Pennsylvania Hockey League (WPHL), was a semi-professional ice hockey league from the early 1900s. Based in Pittsburghmarker, Pennsylvaniamarker, the league was the pre-eminent ice hockey league at the time in the United Statesmarker. It was the first league to openly hire and trade players.


The Original WPHL

Prior to 1900 the city of Pittsburgh was one of the first cities in North America to have an artificial ice surface, located in the Duquesne Gardensmarker. The city quickly realized that to make money they would have to have more events than just speed skating, family skates and costume parties to make money. They decided that since hockey was a relatively new game, it could catch on Pittsburgh. James Conant, who was manager of Pittsburgh's first two indoor ice rinks, the Gardens and the Schenley Park Casinomarker, therefore formed the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League. The league had three teams in 1901-02: Pittsburgh Bankers, Pittsburgh Athletic Club and the Pittsburgh Keystones. To fill these teams many business and organizations imported young Canadians like George Lamb and Bill Hamilton and set up teams.

The league lured players from Canada with promises of high-paid employment and small cash incentives. At this time, all hockey leagues in Canada were amateur, and they were able to get many great players such as future Hall of Famersmarker Alf Smith, Hod Stuart and Riley Hern.

However in the summer of 1902 Harry Peel, a Keystones player in 1901-02, admitted that he was paid $35 a week to play in the so-called amateur league and so no amateur teams would play against these teams again without being suspended by either Canadian, or U.S. officials. Peel was suspended by the Ontario Hockey Association and an appeal was rejected on December 10, 1903 and again on November 30, 1904. According to Peel, "They (the teams) make no bones whatever about paying men. If they do not pay them they give them fake (business) positions". However by the start of the 1902-03 season the WPHL was now a fully professional league with the Pittsburgh Victorias making a fourth WPHL team. More great stars were enticed to come to Pittsburgh as they could accept pay for play. Bruce and Hod Stuart became major stars in 1902-03. While players like Fred Lake, were already well known to hockey fans.

The champion of this league competed against Houghton, Michigan'smarker Portage Lakes Hockey Club for the "Pro Championship of the United States" prior to the formation of the International Professional Hockey League for the 1904-05 season. Portage Lakes played off with the Pittsburgh Bankers. Portage Lakes won 2-1 with a game tied, but they were outscored 11-6. The next season, Portage Lakes continued to play Pro exhibition games, but raided Pittsburgh’s teams for top players like Riley Hern and Bruce Stuart.

Despite these losses the WPHL started with the same four clubs, but the Keystones withdrew from the league on January 17, 1904. The team's players were then dispersed to the other three teams. Many other promising young players took their place and three different Pittsburgh teams challenged Portage Lakes for the U.S. Pro title that year. The league champion Victorias put up the best battle, losing two games to one.

International Professional Hockey League

In 1904-05 the first inter-city professional league was formed called the International Professional Hockey League (IHL). The Pittsburgh Pros joined Portage Lakes, Calumet, Michigan Soo and Canadian Soo as the five teams.

Over half of the players in the league had played in Pittsburgh at one time, so those early leagues were key pioneers in the development of professional hockey. However the Pittsburgh team didn’t fare too well during the first season. However in 1905-06 they were part of a great three team race with Portage Lakes and the Michigan Soo Indians for first place.

Professional leagues were now popping up all over Canada and most of the great players went back home for a better pay day, so the IHL folded. It was decided to revive the four team WPHL for the 1907-08 hockey season, which started several weeks before the Canadian leagues, since there were no artificial ice rinks in Canada until 1911.

WPHL revived

The WPHL was revived in 1907. The league consisted of the Pittsburgh Lyceum, Pittsburgh Athletic Club, Pittsburgh Bankers and the newly formed Pittsburgh Pirates .

The revived league still some great stars like Albert Kerr and Art Throop, but many of the players got better offers from the Canadian leagues in late December and the team lineups were patch together at best to complete the season.

In what might have been the first trade involving professional hockey players, the Pirates sent James MacKay, Edgar Dey and Dunc Taylor to the Bankers for Josephy Donnelly, Cliff Bennest and a player named McGuire on January 28, 1908.

1908-09 brought great promise, with Alf Smith, Art Sixsmith, Lorne Campbell and goalie James MacKay in charge of the four teams, but by late December fully one-third of the leagues players had accepted offers to play in different leagues and it was becoming obvious that many players used the WPHL to get a head start on their season back home. Four of those players (Tommy Smith, Con Corbeau, Albert Kerr and Harry Smith) all jumped contracts again during the season, so local moguls must have gotten a chuckle out of that. Pittsburgh Lyceum folded on December 23 and because it was impossible to count on a line-up after December 20, it was decided to discontinue the WPHL after the season and stick with local hockey.

Teams that played in the WPHL include:


  • The league may have been involved in the first trade involving professional hockey players.

  • The WPHL was the first league to openly hire hockey players.


Season Teams Champion
1901 Pittsburgh Keystones, Pittsburgh PAC, Pittsburgh Duquesne, Pittsburgh Bankers Pittsburgh PAC
1902 Pittsburgh Keystones, Pittsburgh PAC, Pittsburgh Bankers Pittsburgh Keystones
1903 Pittsburgh Keystones, Pittsburgh PAC, Pittsburgh Bankers, Pittsburgh Victorias Pittsburgh Bankers
1904 Pittsburgh Keystones, Pittsburgh PAC, Pittsburgh Bankers, Pittsburgh Victorias Pittsburgh Victorias
1908 Pittsburgh Lyceum, Pittsburgh PAC, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Bankers, Pittsburgh Victorias Pittsburgh Bankers
1909 Pittsburgh Lyceum, Pittsburgh PAC, Pittsburgh Duquesne, Pittsburgh Bankers, Pittsburgh Victorias Pittsburgh Bankers

Prominent Players

The following players are members of the Hockey Hall of Famemarker:

References and Notes

See also

External links

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