Brothers Frank and Lester Patrick made vital contributions to hockey in its developmental days. They were excellent players, managers and team owners and ultimately the founders and organizers of leagues across North America. Frank was responsible for an incredible number of rule changes and innovations, shaping the modern game and influencing other sports with his keen mind and leadership. In his prime with the West Coast league he founded, he served as league president, coach, manager and star defenseman, all at the same time.
Frank Patrick was born on December 21, 1885, two years after Lester, and grew up in Montreal. He attended McGill University and earned varsity letters in hockey, track and football before his graduation with a bachelor of arts degree. During his university days, he was also prominent as a referee, officiating in the Montreal Senior Hockey League. He refereed his first Stanley Cup game at the age of 20. As a player, Frank was revolutionary, much like Lester, who was then a star with the Montreal Wanderers. In the years prior to the Patricks' rise, the position of defense was used strictly to protect a team's own goal. Together, they were the first defensemen to rush with the puck and play an offensive role. The family moved to Nelson, British Columbia, where the brothers continued to win converts to their rushing style.
Lester's amateur career was cut short when he received three telegrams at his home in British Columbia. All three were invitations to turn pro, with Ottawa, Montreal and the Renfrew Millionaires. He responded to the Renfrew offer by asking for $3,000, an unheard-of sum, because he didn't really want to play in such a small place. He also wanted a guarantee that Frank could play as well, for $2,000. Renfrew acquiesced. When Frank was introduced as a Millionaire, he was called the best defenseman in the world.
Following their first year in Renfrew, Lester and Frank met with their father shortly after the elder Patrick sold the family lumber company. Frank advocated beginning a league on the West Coast, using the proceeds from the sale of the business to build artificial rinks in a part of the country where the sport was little known and rarely played. Lester at first disagreed, afraid the idea wasn't financially feasible, but their father backed Frank's idea. They spent $350,000 on a 10,000-seat arena in Vancouver, creating what was at the time the largest building in Canada, and another $125,000 on a rink in Victoria that accommodated 4,200.
The league was called the Pacific Coast Hockey Association and it began play in 1911-12. Frank was in charge of the Vancouver Millionaires as well as being the league president. In the league's second year, Frank convinced his former defense partner, Cyclone Taylor, to join his team, giving the young league a boost of star power. That season, Patrick scored six goals in one game, establishing a record that has never been surpassed by NHL defenders. Frank was the leader, on the ice and in the boardroom, of a Vancouver team that won the Stanley Cup.
The innovations Frank brought to hockey during the formation and development of the PCHA are key components of the modern game. He introduced the blue line, the forward pass and the playoff system, a change adopted by other leagues and sports around the world. Together with Lester, he began using numbers on players' sweaters and in programs to help fans identify the skaters. They allowed the puck to be kicked (everywhere but into the net) and allowed goaltenders to fall to the ice to make a save, if need be, instead of forcing them to remain standing. They were responsible for crediting assists when a goal was scored and they invented the penalty shot. In all, Frank was credited with 22 changes that remain in the NHL rulebook to this day. It's no wonder he was called "the brains of modern hockey."
The PCHA, however, as Lester had foreseen, had a difficult time financially. Frank played fewer and fewer games as he took care of the business side of the league. With only two teams remaining in 1924, Vancouver and Victoria joined the Western Canada Hockey League. Two years later, with professional hockey all but dead in the west, Frank arranged the sale of the six teams' players to the NHL for the substantial sum of $250,000. Frank stayed out west even though offers to join the new NHL teams were numerous. Lester accepted one of the offers and began a long and successful tenure as coach and then manager of the New York Rangers. Frank did move east in 1933 to act as managing director of the NHL. He then coached the Boston Bruins for two seasons from 1934 to 1936, and after a brief move back to British Columbia, he took over the business operations of the Montreal Canadiens in 1939. He left the team after a heart seizure in 1941.
Frank was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1958 in the Builders category. On June 1, 1960, Lester passed away after a battle with cancer. Less than a month later, on June 29, Frank was gone as well, the victim of a heart attack. He was 74. With the sport popular around the world, it's hard to imagine hockey without the entertaining and practical innovations introduced by Frank Patrick.