The Romance of the Falcons

or, The Sport Saga of the Vikings

By Fred Thordarson

Edited by Shirley Thordarson McCreedy

 

PREFACE

 

It was the keen interest shown by a group of young men in a brief recounting of some of the highlights of the (Winnipeg) Falcon Club's history and the background provided by the hockey of the stirring early days that gave impetus to a long-felt urge for setting down in words The Romance of the Falcons. Often the remark has been heard that the Club's history carries the basic elements of interest and appeal and, if interpreted aright, would reveal the essence of successful sport and the secret of the Falcons' success. With the aid of information gleaned from the reminiscences of many old-timers, as well as other younger members and followers of the Club, the attempt is made to convey to the young athlete some idea of the spirit that brought such wonderful results each serving his part unselfishly none giving a semblance of the appearance of 'falling down on the job' or introducing a discordant element. This spirit is essential to any organization that hopes for a measure of success and worthwhile accomplishment.

 

The individuals of a team, or club, create a certain spirit or 'atmosphere' which the whole derives from the participation of each one comprising the group. Some teams or groups appear to be naturally able to coordinate their affairs. Others simply cannot do themselves justice for lack of a motivating spirit, some jarring note being present, or an essential something in personalities that may be lacking. When a group has this atmosphere or harmony which, in reality, is the subjection of the individual to the whole, each and every one of the group requires the will to contribute his share to put forth the ,effort to make a 'go' of things.

 

In presenting this 'Sport Saga,' with the famous Falcon Olympic Championship team of 1920 as the central figures, the story being told is that of a group of clean-living young men, each striving with all his heart and mind to achieve the goal they had set for themselves, with no thought of personal advantage but rather of doing everything for 'the good of the team.'

 

However, before going on with the main theme of The Romance of the Falcons, culminating in the Olympic Championship, it is fitting that the activities of the Club during the intervening years 1920 to 1933 should be reviewed.

 

The Seasons that Followed Riding on the great wave which the spirit of the Falcon Olympic combination engendered, the Club produced a junior team in the following year to the Olympic Championship which won the Canadian Junior Championship. The success of this squad, the first Western junior team to travel east to compete for the Dominion title, is something of a story in itself. That junior club had the old Falcon spirit and harmony reigned. They were one of the gamest aggregations ever to step on ice.

 

They played through their eighteen-game schedule without a single loss, but in their play-off with Regina for the Western Championship, which they won in two desperately fought encounters, they suffered a severe blow which had every appearance of minimizing their chances of victory in Eastern Canada.

 

A Fight Against Odds It happened when the Falcons were pressing strenuously in front of the Regina goal. Several players of each team suddenly sprawled on the ice in one big pile. When the bell rang and the referee extricated the various players, Art Somers emerged from under the heap and had to be assisted from the ice with a severely wrenched ankle. Art, who had started the season as a second substitute, had developed rapidly towards the end of the season and with this valuable reserve power missing from the line-up the Club appeared to be under a severe handicap for their series with the highly-touted Eastern teams.

 

But the boys were not dismayed! The Falcon spirit had still to be reckoned with! They played and defeated Fort William quite handily without the services of Somers, and went on to Toronto.

 

Never did an injured limb receive more attention and nursing! On the eastward journey, trainers and officials availed themselves of every opportunity to reduce the swollen condition of Art's injured ankle, for his value as a centre man was nearly equal to that of Wally Fridfinnson who was then turning in a mighty good performance in the centre ice area for the Juniors.

 

Howie Morenz was the centre ice man for the Stratford junior Eastern Champions. With this 'speed-merchant' leading the opposition, what were the Falcons' chances of victory?

 

The true will to Win! Vividly are recollected the moments in Toronto before that first game! The lads were silent and just a little grim. They were resolute that the great Falcon Club, which had skated like whirlwinds onto Toronto ice only a year before to defeat the famous Varsity team, would not be let down by their showing. All around the dressing room the determined aspect of the players showed itself. Art Somers, gamester to the core, was in uniform. The boys, tired as they were, went out and when the first goal was scored Somers, and not Morenz, scored it! Imagine the surprise when eight more goals followed this counter into the net and the Westerners took the first game 9-2!

 

Injuries and the exhausting effect of the strenuous season combined to bring the resistance of the game young Westerners to a very low ebb on the second night of the playoffs. Wally had received a wrenched shoulder muscle in a violent collision with Morenz in the very first flash of the first game. Harry Neil, the stocky defenceman, had a badly bruised hip, and Frank Woodall, the 60 minute man, had to take a rest after five minutes of play. They were barely able to provide serious resistance. Once again Art Somers, injured leg and all, skated the puck right through the opposing defence and notched the first goal for the Falcons! Although the drive was not kept up, the famous firing line of Stratford could not turn the first defeat into final victory. The Falcons played a determined game and although they lost 72 they gained the round by 11-9 and the first junior championship for Western Canada.

 

The Line-up of the Falcon Juniors To Connie Neil, their manager, great credit is due. He handled the boys wonderfully. They worked with the greatest of harmony and no truer expression may be used than that they were a pocket edition of the famous 1919-1920 Falcon Olympic Champions.

 

At a civic welcome on their victorious return, they were presented with gold watches suitably engraved, the gift of the City of Winnipeg.

 

Here is the line-up that brought glory to the old club: goal, 'Scotty' Comfort; defence, Harry Neil and Sammy McCallum; centre, Wally Fridfinnson; right wing, Harold McMunn (who in 1924 was chosen as the West's representative player to accompany the famous Granite Hockey Team of Toronto to the Olympic games); left wing, Frank Woodall; forwards, Art Somers, 'Big' Bill McPherson and Dave Patrick.

 

The Seniors of the 1921 Season In the 1920-1921 season, with the World Champion Falcons greatly in demand by the professional clubs,  Frank Fredrickson going to the great Victoria Cougars and Bobby Benson and Slim Halderson accepting contracts with the Saskatoon club, new figures appeared in the Falcon line-up. The pugnacious Bill Borland and his brother Eddie, 'Big' Burney McPhail and 'Crutchy' Morrison (the Selkirk Club having disbanded) together with Eddie Stephenson, who had been with the Young Men's Lutheran Church Juniors when they won the Manitoba Championship and was now coming into his own in senior ranks, were all valuable additions to the Club. However, 'Steamer' Maxwell was away the greater part of the season on business and Mike Goodman went to Saranac Lake for the Speed Skating classic that year so that, altogether, it was only a moderately successful season for the senior team. Brandon won the Western title but lost the finals to Varsity of Toronto. In the Brandon line-up were such great stars as: goal, Stewart; defence, Ambie Moran and Sandy McNeill; forwards, Bob Armstrong, Ty Arbor, Billy Hill, Coldwell and Creighton.

 

Seniors Regaining Strength During the 1921-1922 season, with Harvey Benson as playing-manager, the champion juniors with the exception of Wally Fridfinnson going over to the Victoria Club with Connie Neil, and Crutchy Morrison going to Edmonton with Joe Simpson, the Falcons played good hockey but with no exceptional results.

It was in the 1922-1923 season that the Falcon Seniors again appeared to be potential Allan Cuppers. Formed around the remaining seniors and former juniors, they presented a strong line-up. In goal, Wally Byron of the Olympic Champions, was outstanding. On the defence, Konnie Johannesson and Sammy McCallum teamed up most effectively, while the forward line, comprised of Eddie Stephenson, Art Somers, Wally Fridfinnson, Harold McMunn, Frank Woodall, Harry Neil, Huck Woodman and Lome Carroll, performed in sensational fashion.

 

Exciting Campaign Through some glorious old battles the Falcons of that year won the Manitoba Senior Championship. Their play-off with Port Arthur was a hard fought series, marred only by the misfortune of Eddie Stephenson, who suffered a broken leg. This colourful exponent of the game heard the returns of the final game with Port Arthur over the telephone while lying in bed in the Winnipeg General Hospital with the old leg well propped up.

 

He must have felt plenty of excitement for with just thirty seconds left to go on the timer's watch, Sammy McCallum came through to score the tying goal. With the fans wildly cheering, the Falcons then went on for a later period score which gave them victory. It was one of those sensational finishes which beggar description. The two-game series with Winnipeg Tigers was also desperately fought.

 

Then the Anti-Climax Ordered to play a sudden death game with Souris (Manitoba Intermediate Champions) the following night, the strain began to tell on the boys. Seven games in ten nights is far too much for any team to stand, but that was the necessity which the team had to comply with. The officials apparently overestimated the resistance of the team, for they had completed not only one of the most strenuous of league schedules but had been forced into overtime in other hard fought play-down games.

 

Harold McMunn, the leading scorer of the league, was on the sick list and the team itself physically exhausted. The manager prevailed upon Konnie Johannesson not to don his skates during the early part of the game in order to conserve his energy. The weary Falcons started the game slowly and as time wore on without effective results, a tragic drama gradually unfolded before the eyes of the wondering audience.

 

The picture of this mighty team still stands clear and fresh in the minds of many of the Club's followers, for in that game with Souris, for all their skill and ability, they could not shake off the overpowering weariness, and like some great lion of the forest, drugged by fatigue, fell victim to a gallant team which was actually of a lesser calibre. Tears were in many an eye as the fans realized the situation and the Falcons bravely fought to shake off the exhaustion that only a strenuous season of hockey can bring on. The final result of 4-3 in favour of Souris indicated that the Southern Manitobans were able to slip in four markers on individual forays and long tantalizing shots and pack their defence almost throughout.

 

Professional Leagues Wrought Havoc The season 1923-1924 marked the team's amalgamation with the Winnipeg Tigers, the combined team operating under the name of' Falcon-Tigers.' For some years, the Falcons did not appear on the hockey map largely because the professional teams of the United States and Canada found among these Winnipeg boys some of the finest material available for their teams, while at the same time there were few, if any, Icelandic boys coming up to take the places of those who were stepping out into higher company. Such great names throughout the whole hockey world as Frank Fredrickson, Mike Goodman, 'Slim' Halderson, Bobby Benson, Cully Wilson (an old Viking man), Konnie Johannesson, Art Somers and many others had gone on to fame and achievement after leaving the Winnipeg Icelandic hockey organization.

 

However, by 1928 the Falcon Athletic Association was back in operation, with a four-team league which operated for several years. From this humble reawakening the Falcon Hockey Club was revived in 1932, and in close cooperation with the Association began placing feeder teams in Juvenile, Junior and Intermediate city leagues. The reorganizing officials included W J. Lindal, president, and Fred Thordarson, secretary-treasurer.

 

With the Falcon Hockey Club once again in senior hockey, it was hoped the prediction would not be far wrong that this 'Preface' would be only a bridge between two great eras in The Romance of the Falcons.

 

Editor's note: At the particular point in time The Romance of the Falcons was written and prepared for publication in a new magazine, Canadian Sports and Outdoor Life, the community was looking forward to an exciting season which would see a renewal of an ancient hockey feud, that of the traditional rivals Falcons and Selkirk. The 1932-33 season of senior hockey in Winnipeg included three teams, Falcons, Selkirk and Winnipeg. Indeed, the Falcons remained on the hockey scene in Winnipeg until the early years of World War II producing several championship teams.

 

The Falcon Intermediate A team won the McDiarmid Shield in 1933. A Falcon Juvenile A team won the Canada Cycle Trophy in 1934. The Senior Falcon team won the Pattison Trophy in 1935. The Seniors of 1935 were the last Falcon Hockey Club championship team. Nevertheless, the hockey tradition was still alive in the Icelandic community in 1937, when the First Lutheran Church (Victor Street, Winnipeg) had two excellent Sunday School teams playing at the Midget and Junior levels.

By 1938-39 there was an amalgamation, and the 'Falcon-Rangers' perpetuated the name for several years. However, the teams were no longer under the management of the Falcon Hockey Club. In 1940-41 there was a West End Falcon Junior team; and in 1941-42 there was a Senior League team, the Winnipeg Falcons.