Contributions to hockey a little artificial for Patrick brothers

Historically, Lester Patrick is not remembered as a phoney or a fake. Nor was his brother, Frank.

Yet, something about the Hall of Fame siblings was artificial ? specifically, their choice of ice.

The Patrick brothers joined together to construct the first artificial ice rinks in Canada ? opening in Vancouver and Victoria around 1912. However, their contributions extended far beyond the ice surface.

From the introduction of the penalty shot to the playoffs and the blue line, they played a pivotal role in the evolution of the game.

Lester was born in Quebec in December 1883 and got his start on the ice in the province. Moving up from the amateur leagues in Montreal, he was an offensive force on the blue line and a respected team leader.

Born two years after his brother, Frank was also drawn to the rink. He attended university and excelled in hockey, football and track. In addition to playing, Frank also spent time on the other side of the whistle as an official.

Despite their relatively young age, the Patricks were already making a difference on the ice. Defencemen were previously employed to strictly protect their own team?s goal, but the brothers were among the first to turn offensive and rush with the puck.

In 1907 they headed west when their father relocated the family to Nelson, B.C. to start a lumber business. Besides the family company, Lester and Frank also found time to play hockey.

However, new years brought new destinations, as they were recruited to play for various teams across the country.

With the sale of the family business in 1911, the Patricks went from hockey players to hockey administrators. Frank convinced their father to use the proceeds from the sale of the business to build some rinks and start up a hockey league of their own ? filling a void for the game on the West Coast.

Despite Lester?s initial reluctance, a 10,000-seat arena was built in Vancouver for $350,000, while a $125,000 rink in Victoria could accommodate more than 4,000 people.

With the rinks ready, the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) soon followed. Beginning play in 1911-12, the Patricks were able to gain instant credibility by luring some of the top players from the National Hockey Association ? the precursor to the National Hockey League (NHL).

In addition to serving as league president, Frank was in charge of the Vancouver club. Like Lester, who ran the Victoria team, he played an important role on and off the ice.

With the innovations and rule changes introduced by the Patricks, the PCHA was reportedly one of the most exciting professional hockey leagues with its wide-open style of play.

Many of the innovations introduced in the league are still evident in the game today. They included the introduction of the blue line, forward pass, penalty shot, crediting assists to players and the use of numbers on sweaters. The playoff system was another innovation that was quickly adopted by other leagues and sports.

Financial difficulties soon led to the league?s downfall. Like many of the players, the Patrick brothers also joined forces with the NHL. Lester enjoyed a long and successful career as coach and general manager with the New York Rangers, while Frank worked with the league before moving on to the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens.

(Paul Spasoff is a freelance writer with an interest in Western Canadian history.