They were the champions

2023 marks 100th anniversary year of men’s hockey hoisting Memorial Cup

The University of Manitoba men’s hockey team won the Memorial Cup in March of 1923. It would be remiss to close out 2023 without acknowledging the 100th anniversary year of the history-making triumph, and the gruelling road that led to the Bisons 1922-23 Memorial Cup win.

Known originally as the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) Memorial Cup, the Memorial Cup remains one of the most coveted junior hockey trophies.

First donated by the OHA in 1919 in remembrance of Canadian soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War, the cup is awarded to the winner of the annual junior hockey tournament. Through the expansion of hockey leagues in the Great White North, the leagues participating in the cup have changed, but pre-U Sports, the U of M was once part of an eligible, provincial junior hockey league.

Cue the 1922-23 Bisons hockey team’s quest for national junior hockey glory.

Remembered in the Brown and Gold yearbook by their last names alone — and an egregious spelling error of the captain’s last name — the 1923 junior hockey champions of Canada consisted of captain J. Murray Murdoch, forwards B. H. Watson, J. Mitchell, J. A. Wise and R. E. Moulden, defencemen A. I. Chapman and A. Johnson and goaltender A. T. Puttee.

A member of the Winnipeg and District Junior Hockey League, the U of M faced the Winnipeg Victoria Bisons in the 1923 league final. Victorious, Manitoba went on to defeat the Brandon Tigers 8-1 in the provincial championships, winning the Turnbull Memorial Trophy.

The Turnbull Trophy was donated in 1920 in honour of Winnipeg-born Capt. Walter James “Ollie” Turnbull, who was killed in action during the First World War. It is awarded to the Manitoba junior hockey team that wins the provincial championships.

With the Turnbull Trophy in hand, the Bisons faced the Calgary Canadians in the Western Canada final. Manitoba pulled off the two-game series win against Calgary, with a tightly contested 5-4 game one victory before defeating the Canadians 5-3 in game two to win the Abbott Memorial Cup.

The Abbott Cup was presented in 1919 in memory of the late Capt. E. L. (Hick) Abbott, who also died in action during the First World War. From 1919 to 1970, teams that won the Abbott Cup went on to play for the Memorial Cup.

Winning both the Turnbull and Abbott Cups, the U of M was set to compete for the national title.

In the first leg of the tournament, the Bisons took on the Fort William Cubs. Game one ended in a 3-3 tie before the U of M defeated the Cubs 6-1 in game two, going on to face the Kitchener Colts in the Memorial Cup final.

The Bisons won the Memorial Cup handily, defeating the Colts 7-3 in both games of the two-game final series March 22 and 26.

The 1922-23 MVP during the Bisons tournament run was Murdoch, who put up five goals against Calgary and four goals against Fort William. In the national title series alone, Murdoch netted nine goals against Kitchener, scoring four goals in the second period of game one and netting the game, and cup-winning, goal in game two.

Murdoch went on to play 11 seasons in the NHL with the New York Rangers, winning two Stanley Cups with the team in 1928 and 1933 and amassing 84 goals and 188 points. After retiring from the NHL, Murdoch became head coach of the Yale University Bulldogs men’s hockey team for 27 seasons, achieving a then-Yale record 278 wins in his tenure with the team from 1938-65.

Hockey and Bisons fans alike can see the 1923 Memorial Cup banner in the Wayne Fleming Arena.