The Pittsburgh Pirates

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The Pittsburgh Pirates were an American ice hockey team that played in the NHL from 1925 to 1930. They were based at the Duquesne Gardens Arena in Pittsburgh. They used a black and gold uniform scheme that was later adopted by all other major sports teams based in Pittsburgh. The Pirates, under Coach Odie Cleghorn also pioneered first line changes in ice hockey.

How did the Pittsburgh Pirates start up?

Pittsburgh was awarded an NHL franchise in 1925 following a request by Eddie Livingstone, the then owner of Toronto Shamrocks. Jam Callahan had acquired amateur team Pittsburgh Yellow Jacket and in 1925, he renamed it the “Pittsburgh Pirates”, making it the Seventh team to join the NHL and the third from the US. The name “Pittsburgh Pirates” was borrowed from the Pittsburgh baseball team with the same name. The Pirates were assigned to the NHL’s then American Division. Odie Cleghorn was appointed coach, ready for the team’s first season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates in competition

The Pirates’ first game was played on November 28, 1925, a 2-1 win on the road over the Boston Bruins. That season, they finished third in the league with a 19-16-1 record. They reached the playoffs that year but lost the series in two straight games to Montreal Maroons. In the 1926/1927 season, the Pirates finished fourth in the league and then made the playoffs again in the 1927/1928 season, when they finished third. They met the New York Rangers who eliminated them and went on the win the Stanley Cup.

During the 1928/1929 season, with the team struggling financially, they finished in fourth place with a record of 9-26-6. At the end of the season, Frank Fredrickson assumed a player/ coach role following the departure of Coach Odie Cleghorn. In the 1929/1930 season, they finished with their worst record ever, 5-36-3. The team had to sell star players in order to stay afloat.

Pittsburg Pirates Most Notable Moments

On December 26, 1926, the game between the Pirates and the New York Americans yielded the NHL record for most shots in one game. The teams combined for 141 shots, a record that still stands today. Roy Worters of the Pirates made 70 saves and Jake Forbes of New York made 67 saves. This game is considered one of the most interesting games ever played.

During their very first season, the Pirates made it to the NHL playoffs after finishing third in the league. They would meet Montreal Maroons in the semifinals. The Maroons won the first game 2-0 at the Duquesne Arena. The Pirates then put up a strong fight in the next game, forcing a 3-3 draw despite the Maroons having opened a 2-goal lead. The pirates were however eliminated due to the Maroons’ superior goal tally. The Maroons went on to win the Stanley Cup.

The Pirates played their first ever game against the Boston Bruins, which they won 2-1. This game was also notable for an unfortunate incident involving goaltender Georges Vezina. Vezina, who had fallen ill in preseason, collapsed during the second period. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis and died four months later without making another appearance for the Pirates.

Pittsburg Pirates Most Notable Players

Goaltender Roy Worters played three seasons (1925-1929) for the Pirates, establishing himself as one of the best goaltenders in the game. His most outstanding performance came in the 3-1 loss to New York Americans in 1926 when he managed to stop 70 out of 73 shots.

Lionell Conacker was a multi talented sportsman who also played professional football and lacrosse. He scored the Pittsburgh Pirates’ first ever goal during the game against the Boston Bruins in 1925. Lionell Conacker went on to have a colorful career with the New York Americans, Montreal maroons and Chicago Black Hawks. He was inducted to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1994.

What Happened to the Pittsburgh Pirates?

The team, unable to find success on the ice fell into financial trouble as early as the second season. They had to sell star players now and then in order to reduce financial losses. Fan attendance was seriously restricted by the small capacity of the crumbling Duquesne Gardens and the crippling financial depression of 1929.During the 1928/1929 season, the team was sold to a group led by professional bootlegger Bill Dwyer and fronted by boxing champion Benny Leonard.

The new owners relocated the team to Philadelphia, initially on a temporary basis until a new stadium in Pittsburgh was built. The team was renamed Philadelphia Quakers but it ceased operation barely one year later having posted a dismal 4-36-4 record. The owners held on to the franchise in the hope of building a new rink but it officially folded in 1936 when that endeavor proved impossible.