Though many would call the 1924-25 campaign a victory for the USHA (it had won the Challenge Cup for the first time, the two teams who had departed for the NAHC were a laughingstock in their new environs while the USHA's new teams were competitive, etc), it was something of a pyrrhic victory. The fact remained that the NAHC had deeper pockets than the USHA, particularly after the latter's three richest owners were no longer part of the league. Two - New York's Sam Bigsby and Boston's Frank Denny - were now in the NAHC while the league's wealthiest man, silver magnate Jack Connolly was dead. His son, John "Junior" Connolly Jr. was wealthy, but he also had two siblings with whom Jack's fortune had been split. Exacerbating the problem was that the league's next-wealthiest owner - Philadelphia's Thomas Franklin - abruptly pulled the plug on his admittedly underwhelming club in early April.

Franklin was not only the Philadelphia owner, but also the interim league president. With his folding of the Rascals in April, the USHA was left without a president. Into the breach stepped George Yeadon, the former TCHA League President and owner of the New York Eagles, who volunteered for the interim role and was given it in an emergency meeting of the five remaining owners at the end of April. The Rascals themselves faded into the mists of history but they would live in the memories of hockey fans as the starting point in the career of one of the game's greatest defensemen - a fellow named Cyrus Beech who would go on to become a legend in later years.

For the competing hockey leagues 1925-26 was a make-or-break season. Both loops were paying higher salaries than they wanted, and though neither was carrying on large-scale raids on the other, the top players were well aware not only of the power they held by threatening to jump ship, but also looked at the salaries the top stars of baseball - guys like Powell Slocum and Max Morris - were earning. And they wanted a piece of the pie. Exacerbating the problem was that the two circuits were continuing to expand, pushing the number of clubs ever higher. This had the effect of not only lowering the overall talent pool, but it also created some haves and have-nots. Everything came to a head in '25-26.

The season began on a tragic note. In the team's first game of the season Montreal Valiants' longtime star goalie Al Juneau collided with a team mate, hitting his head on the ice with a sickening crack. He gamely finished the first period, but passed out in the locker room and was sent to the hospital in Detroit. He was found to have suffered a skull fracture and died over night. His death cast a pall over the team and though the Vals did gamely compete for the man they lovingly called "June Bug," they ended up finishing in fifth-place.

Juneau and Davey Vert were the forerunners for a goaltending revolution that took over the game in 1925-26. Though Vert now skated for the Shamrocks (who won the regular season title with a 26-9-1 mark), his replacement in Ottawa, Sam Jordan, had the greatest season in net up to that time, posting a 1.53 GAA with 12 shutouts over the 36-game season. Most of the teams now had a defensive focus and goal-scoring was down across the board. One team that didn't focus on defense was Toronto and they suffered a dismal season, winning just 10 games and allowing 133 goals, twice as many as New York allowed and 78 more than Ottawa allowed. Adding to the Dukes' woes was an injury-plagued campaign for Jack Barrell. The winger toughed it out for 31 games, but managed just 17 goals, a far cry from his high tallies of years past. A new goal-scoring force emerged in New York's Chris Schneider who won the scoring crown by scoring 39 goals and adding nine assists. Boston's Jack Rossdale scored 30 - the only other player to top that mark (and they had six extra games in which to do it thanks to the addition of the Detroit Bulldogs, the league's seventh club).

The new Bulldogs impressed, finishing third with a very respectable 20-16-0 mark. They were not a high-scoring outfit, but they did play hard and well on defense, allowing the third-fewest goals in the NAHC. Defending champion Quebec toppled all the way to sixth thanks to an anemic offense that scored only 66 goals all season. 

The USHA had replaced the Philadelphia Rascals with a new club of their own in the Chicago Packers. The new team was exciting featuring the league's runner-up in goals scored with Danny McLachlan potting 28 - but the club was a sieve defensively allowing 111 goals in 30 games and finishing a distant last with a 7-20-3 mark. The race for the title came down to two of the league's newer clubs in the Montreal Nationals and Cleveland Eries. Cleveland was an offensive force, scoring 89 goals while the Nationals were built on defense and goaltending as they had the USHA's answer to Davey Vert and Sam Jordan in Jesse Hart. The longtime veteran netminder was stingy with a 1.57 GAA and 10 shutouts. Buffalo was the league's top scoring outfit and had the league's best player in Andre St. Laurent, who came into his own as a star in his own right, scoring 31 goals and adding 13 assists to lead the league in points by 10 over runner-up (and team mate) Cal Oliphant.

Hamilton and the New York Eagles struggled, Hamilton thanks to a sputtering offense and New York largely due to a porous defense. Only the Packers kept those two from competing for the basement - as it was they finished with identical 11-15-4 records.

The total-goals series in the NAHC needed a third-game as New York and Ottawa were squared at four apiece after two. The Shamrocks dominated the third contest, winning 4-0 to earn the right to play for the cup. Facing them would be the winner of the USHA's total-goals playoff between first-place Montreal (19-9-2) and second-place Cleveland (18-9-3), an evenly matched pair if ever there was one. The Eries took the series in surprisingly easy fashion, making Hart look human for a change. Cleveland's hot play carried over into the Cup series - with a small game one hiccup in there (a 5-2 loss in game one in New York's Bigsby Gardens). The Eries bounced back to win three straight with 4-1, 5-1 and 4-0 victories as they seemingly outclassed the much more heralded and certainly better paid Shamrocks. 

That Cup title turned out to be the last hurrah for the both the Eries and the USHA as a whole. Big changes were coming to the world of hockey in the spring of 1926.

 

NAHC Standings GP W L T PTS GF GA   USHA Standings GP W L T PTS GF GA
New York Shamrocks 36 26 9 1 53 104 66   Montreal Nationals 30 19 9 2 40 77 48
Ottawa Athletics 36 21 15 0 42 74 55   Cleveland Eries 30 18 9 3 39 89 72
Detroit Bulldogs 36 20 16 0 40 83 71   Buffalo Bears 30 15 13 2 32 93 71
Boston Bees 36 19 17 0 38 97 95   Hamilton Hammers 30 11 15 4 26 60 72
Montreal Valiants 36 16 18 2 34 86 88   New York Eagles 30 11 15 4 26 68 90
Quebec Champlains 36 12 21 3 27 66 89   Chicago Packers 30 7 20 3 17 77 111
Toronto Dukes 36 10 26 0 20 87 133                  

 

NAHC SCORING LEADERS
Player Goals   Player Assists   Player Points  
Chris Schneider, NYS 39   Charlie Oliphant, OTT 12   Chris Schneider, NYS 48  
Jack Rossdale, BOS 30   Efrem Massicotte, OTT 12   Charlie Oliphant, OTT 34  
Jack Cooper, BOS 27   Rene Mailloux, VAL 10   Jack Rossdale, BOS 33  
Harvey McLeod, VAL 25   Ben Scheer, NYS 10   Jack Cooper, BOS 32  
Charlie Oliphant, OTT 22   Three players tied 9   Rene Mailloux, VAL 29  

NAHC TOP GOALIE

Sam Jordan, OTT: 21-15-0 1.53 GAA, 12 ShO

  

USHA SCORING LEADERS
Player Goals   Player Assists   Player Points  
Andre St.Laurent, BUF 31   Cal Oliphant, BUF 16   Andre St.Laurent, BUF 44  
Danny McLachlan, CHI 28   Andre St.Laurent, BUF 13   Cal Oliphant, BUF 34  
Dick Carey, CLE 20   Dick Carey, CLE 11   Danny McLachlan, CHI 33  
Charles Tattler, CLE 19   Charlie Gagnon, CHI 11   Dick Carey, CLE 31  
Two players tied 18   Bernard Gregory, CHI 11   Two players tied 28  

TCHA TOP GOALIE

Jesse Hart, NAT: 19-9-2, 1.57 GAA, 10 ShO

 

McDaniels Trophy: Chris Schneider, NYS

The spring of 1926 was a watershed moment in hockey history. Like baseball before it, the powers that be within the sport had discovered that competition between top-level leagues was a financial disaster. And though William Whitney (and his disciple Jack Connolly) were both deceased, the lessons Whitney had expounded back in 1909 were still remembered by both Toronto owner Bert Thomas and Ottawa owner Martin Delaware. And just like Whitney had done with his Century League back in the 1890s, Delaware and Thomas fostered a merger agreement with their rivals, co-opting them rather than continuing to try to destroy them (which was a wise decision).

With Connolly gone, the main powers in the rival USHA were the Yeadon brothers and John Connolly Jr. The Yeadons were astute businessmen and had a long, somewhat checkered history with the NAHC, but they were usually willing to talk turkey in an honest and open manner. Connolly Jr. was not his father - the young man was level-headed and though he had a healthy dislike for both Boston's Francis Denny and New York's Sam Bigsby (whom he saw as traitors to the USHA), he too was willing to sit down and talk.