Harry ‘Hap’ Holmes – one of the greatest goalies nobody remembers

Hap Holmes shown in the uniforms of the Toronto Blueshirts and Detroit Cougars

Goaltender Harry “Hap” Holmes won four Stanley Cups, faced Georges Vezina five separate times with either the Cup or a championship (sometimes both) on the line and was never beaten (one draw in 1919 when the flu interrupted play), is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, has a goaltending award named after him, and most people have never heard of him.

Holmes is forgotten by modern fans for a number of reasons – the most significant being the era he played in and the teams he played for. 

Toronto, in theory, should remember him findly since he delivered two Cups here, but one was for the 1914 Blueshirts, a team abandonded to history, and the other was the 1918 Arenas – a team that a) wasn’t really even called that and b) donated a banner to the ACC but virtually nothing to the collective consciousness. 

Hap spent the bulk of his career in a rival league – the PCHA (later the WCHL and WHL).  This was the western equivalent of and main foil to the NHL and its precursor, the NHA.  The two leagues would clash over players, raid each other when they could and compete annually for the Stanley Cup. 

The two leagues met each year from 1915 through 1926 to determine the overall champion.  Of 11 possible Cups, the PCHA won only three, and two of those were teams backstopped by Hap Holmes.  (Sharp eyes will note that that should be 12 possible Cups, but again, 1919 wasn’t awarded.)

Hap Holmes was born February 21, 1888 in Aurora, north of Toronto (much further so then than now).  A stand-up goalie, he would become known (among other things) for wearing a cap while he played.  This covered his balding head, which could be a tempting target for objects thrown from the stands. 

He played senior hockey in Toronto with the Parkdale Canoe Club and when the two pro teams (Tecumsehs and Blueshirts) came to town, he signed with the Tecumsehs.  Lacking an arena, the team only played a handful of exhibition games.  Hap won the only game he appeared in.

For 1912-13, Hap joined the rival Blueshirts.  The team was new and a little slow to get going.  Hap did record the team’s first-ever shutout, dumping the Senators 2-0. 

The next year went much better.  Toronto finished the season tied for first with the Canadiens at 13-7.  This forced a 2-game total-goals series to determine the winner of the O’Brien Cup (championship of the NHA) and, more importantly, ownership of the Stanley Cup.  (The Stanley Cup was still a challenge cup in those days, but having failed to finish first in their own league, the Quebec Bulldogs had to give up their hold on it.)  Hap and the Blueshirts prevailed 6-2 (aggregate) over Vezina and the Habs and then successfully defended a challenge from Victoria the following week.

After 1914, the Blueshirts stumbled (particularly with the loss of Scotty Davidson) and when the team was bought by Toronto Tecumsehs owner Eddie Livingstone in 1915, most of the existing roster was allowed to head west.  This was called a raid at the time, but there is some thought that it was a ‘raid’ with a wink and a nudge.  Livingstone wanted one team, not two, and the raid was a quick way to reduce payroll.  (See Deceptions and Doublecross – How the NHL Conquered Hockey.)

Hap signed on with the Seattle Metropolitans.  In his second season, 1916-17, the Mets were the team coming out of the PCHA to face the defending champs, the Montreal Canadiens.  Hap outdueled Vezina again, beating the Habs three games to one in a best-of-five.  This was the first Stanley Cup victory ever for an American-based team.

The following season Hap was lured back east.  The NHA had suspended operations and a new league had been formed.  A team was set up in Toronto that had been leased lock, stock and barrel from Blueshirts owner Eddie Livingstone (the NHL didn’t want him, but did want his team).  They lacked only a goaltender.  Hap had actually signed with the Montreal Wanderers, but was loaned back to Seattle and then subsequently to Toronto.  One way or another, he returned to Toronto to suit up for the unnamed ex-Blueshirts. 

Once again, Toronto (second-half leader) faced off against Montreal (first-half leader) in a two game, total goals series for the league title.  Hap and the Torontos won it 10-7.  This set up a best of five against the Vancouver Millionaires, won 3-2 by Toronto.  Hap had backstopped three Cup winners in five seasons.

Following 1917-18, Holmes went back to Seattle, where he’d stay through 1924.  There were no more championships there, though the Mets finished first three times and made an appearance in the 1920 Final against Ottawa, losing 3-2. 

After 1924, the team moved to Victoria, BC.  The PCHA (now merged with the WCHL) was in trouble, losing the money war to the NHL.  1924-25 would be the last great hurrah as Hap’s Victoria Cougars faced Montreal (again) in the Final, winning three games to one.  It was the last Stanley Cup ever captured by a non-NHL team.  The league would spend one last season as the WHL and then disband.  The Cougars repeated as Stanley Cup finalists, losing 3-1 to the Montreal Maroons.

With the dissolution of the WHL, an ever-expanding NHL went on a spending spree.  The rights to the entire Victoria Cougar organziation were purchased by the new Detroit team, nicknamed the Cougars in their honour.  Hap Holmes, now 38, played two seasons in Detroit, turning in averages of 2.23 and 1.73 before retiring.  (It’s worth noting that the late 1920s was the real dead puck era.  In 1927-28, a GAA of 1.73 was middle of the pack, sixth out of 11 goalies that played enough games to qualify.)

When his playing days were done, Hap Holmes turned to coaching minor league hockey.  He died in 1941.  For the 1947-48 season, the AHL named its top goaltending trophy the Hap Holmes Memorial Award.  Among others, it was won by Johnny Bower, Roger Crozier and Gerry Cheevers.

Hap Holmes at the HHOF

Hap Holmes at hockey-reference.com

four cups, eight goaltending awards, solid career.

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5 Responses to Harry ‘Hap’ Holmes – one of the greatest goalies nobody remembers

  1. now I can post a comment!!! Woot! It’s working!

    I love this old set. These posts made me go a nd dig up my binder and look through it again. Great cards.

    oh, and my ’71 OPC baseball wantlist is posted on my wantlist blog… like I said before, those hi numbers are scary.

    • 1967ers says:

      They’re awful. I think I have 12 of them. Only 200-odd to go!

      I had some of this set in postcard form that I bought at the HHOF when it was still at the Exhibition Grounds. No idea what became of them. It’s really useful for players who never had cards, though (or whose cards are nasty expensive).

  2. shanediaz82 says:

    Do you have any more info on this set? Just inherited what I believe is a complete set from my Dad, and thought I recalled seeing one here (I was right!).

    • 1967ers says:

      They were produced for the Hockey Hall of Fame in about ’83-84 (possibly by a Montreal card dealer called Cartophilium, who also produced the first price guides I ever saw). There were two formats – a postcard-sized edition and a regular trading card-sized edition. The postcards were sold in groups of 10-15 at the HHOF. The smaller set was always mail-order, so far as I know.

      • 1967ers says:

        Looking closer, of course, it says Cartophilium right on the back, along with a 1983 Copyright date. At least my memory was accurate. 🙂

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