Profiles in Excellence: Frank Patrick

Frank Patrick

Rank #34 – 22 points

Coaching Experience: Vancouver Millionaires, 1912-1922; Vancouver Maroons, 1922-1926; Boston Bruins, 1934-1936

PCHA Regular Season W-L-T: 143-127-2; PCHA Playoff W-L-T: 11-9-1

WHL Regular Season W-L-T: 22-34-2

NHL Regular Season W-L-T: 48-36-12; NHL Playoff W-L: 2-4

PCHA League Championships: 1914-15, 1917-18, 1920-1924

Playoff Appearances: 1915, 1918-1924, 1935-36; Stanley Cup Finals Appearances: 1915, 1918, 1921-22; Stanley Cup Victory: 1915

Frank Patrick was the younger brother of Lester Patrick but differed from his more illustrious brother in subtle ways. Lester was charming and convivial in manner; Frank was somber and introspective.

However both brothers shared the same intellectual, cultural, and athletic versatility; and both brothers shared the same genius, passion, and inventiveness for the playing, promoting, coaching, and administration of professional hockey.

Frank Patrick was the winningest coach in the fourteen year existence of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA) and the third most successful head coach behind Pete Green and Pete Muldoon during the early years of professional hockey (1917-1926).

Frank Patrick’s success point is figured from 1917-1936. If you count his PCHA record before 1917 his final total would be 31 success points.

Frank and Lester brought Canadian hockey to the Pacific Northwest; expanded the wage potential for hockey’s best players at that time; rewrote the hockey rule book and in the process developed a style of hockey that competed and eventually won over the more conservative Eastern style of Canadian hockey; all the while becoming one of the finest coaches of offensive hockey of his era.

Frank is credited with 22 rule changes which are still in effect today. He invented the blue-line; the penalty shot; forward passing; the playoff system; the boarding penalty; and even the gesture of raising one’s stick after scoring a goal. Not only was he innovative he was also prescient. He predicted that one day teams would dress two goalies for games and he even proposed the formation of women’s hockey leagues.

Frank (like his brother) was a defenseman during his playing days and (like his brother) revolutionized the position; making bold rushes with the puck; expanding the envelope of what a defenseman could do on the ice.

When the PCHA began operation in 1912 Frank Patrick’s Vancouver Millionaires franchise swiftly became the powerhouse of the fledgling league; winning the league title eight times in fourteen seasons. His greatest moment came in 1915 when the Millionaires took on the Original Ottawa Senators (one of the finest franchises in hockey history) for the Stanley Cup.

In an awesome display of offensive hockey, Patrick’s Millionaires beat the Senators. It was a landmark moment: it was the first time the upstart PCHA had won the Stanley Cup—and they had beaten one of the most powerful franchises at that time to do so.

Indeed the 1915 win still remains in the hockey record books as the best offensive performance during the Challenge Cup era in Stanley Cup history (1893-1917). It’s also the only time a Vancouver hockey franchise has ever won the Stanley Cup.

For the remainder of his coaching career Frank Patrick tried but always failed to repeat that magical moment. He had three more chances to win the Cup in 1918, 1921 and 1922 but fell short each time. He won the PCHA league championship in 1923 and 1924 but lost in the preliminary rounds to the WCHL winner both times.

Frank Patrick was the Glen Sather of his era. Twelve times his teams led the PCHA in offense. Patrick got great output from the greatest scorers of his time. Players like Newsy Lalonde, Gordon Roberts, Cyclone Taylor, Jack Adams, and Art Duncan flourished under his tutelage. All of these men enjoyed hall-of-fame careers as did goalie Hugh Lehman. Conversely his teams only led the league in defense four times and finished last five times. This imbalance is one reason why Patrick failed to win the Stanley Cup when competing against the NHL from 1917-1926.

Was Frank Patrick the greatest offensive coach of his time? The answer is no. Examining the average goals per game of Patrick’s teams versus the league leaders of the NHL and the WCHL/WHL from 1917-1926, his teams failed to surpass those in the other two leagues.

But one area that Patrick dominated (and quite possibly innovated) was in on-ice discipline.

Patrick’s Vancouver teams were notable in that they didn’t accumulate a lot of penalty minutes whereas the other two main teams in the PCHA (Victoria and Seattle) did. We don’t have team penalty minute totals for most of the PCHA’s existence but during a five year time period (1921-1926) Vancouver finished last four times in team penalty minutes. Frank Patrick’s and Art Ross’ teams were equal to one another in on-ice discipline during 1917-1926.

It’s a toss-up as to whether it was Patrick or Ross who first established the principle of on-ice discipline as a practicable theory to playing hockey. It’s interesting to note however that other coaches who practiced on-ice discipline like Newsy Lalonde and Jack Adams both played for Patrick at times during their playing careers.

For 14 years the Patrick brothers shared in the glories and tribulations of running the PCHA together but after 1924 there began an imperceptible parting of the ways. After 1924 Frank’s star began to dim while Lester’s gained in radiance.

The collapse of the PCHA and the merger with the WCHL went badly for Frank. His teams finished poorly in 1925 and 1926. When the Western league collapsed, Frank did not join his brother in establishing himself in the NHL. There were standing offers from the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings for Frank to coach and/or manage their teams, but he ignored the offers and remained in the Pacific Northwest while trying to run and maintain the Patrick Family’s arena in Vancouver and various mining and business interests—with precious little success.

Frank Patrick went back to work in the NHL in 1934 for the Boston Bruins. Long-time Bruins coach Art Ross left the bench to work solely as general manager—yielding the position to Frank.

Eight years away from coaching hockey had not diminished his ability. He led the Bruins to two winning seasons, one divisional title, and two playoff appearances but failed to reach the Stanley Cup finals both times.

Patrick was popular with his players; getting MVP-work from the legendary Eddie Shore both seasons. His Bruins had the best defense in the NHL in the 1935-1936 Season. Patrick was still innovative. His conversion of Earl Siebert from forward to defense was a stroke of genius. Siebert (an NHL All-Star at forward) earned All-Star honors as a blue-liner.

He only coached two years in Boston. The reasons why varied. Art Ross (who made the Boston Bruins in his own image) could not remain in the shadows quietly. Ross was a formidable figure. Patrick family chronicler Eric Whitehead records this tense exchange between Art Ross and Lester Patrick about Frank.

“Do you let him do the job, Art?”

“You’re talking like a coach, Lester. I’m the boss and this is my hockey club (my own italics). I like to keep close to things. That’s my job. It’s my obligation to Mr. [Weston] Adams.”

“What about your obligation to your coach?”

“For chrissake, Lester, there you go again. Thinking like a goddamn coach. I’m looking at it like a general manager, and I think Frank is too goddamn soft. He’s too chummy with the players, and he thinks every referee is his best friend. He protects everybody. He’s too goddamn nice.…and he‘s drinking.”

Whitehead writes that Frank began to drink in his forties although not excessively but as time passed it became a growing problem within and without the family.

Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that is what determines…his fate.”

Sometime between 1924 (when the PCHA folded) and 1926 when the WHL folded Frank Patrick (as noted before always somber and introspective) examined himself thoroughly, ruthlessly, unsparingly; weighing his inner self on scales—like the ancient gods of Greece and Rome did. On the one hand there were forty years of personal and professional triumphs as a hockey player, coach, manager, and business-man; a lifetime where he enjoyed the love, loyalty, and affection of his parents, siblings (especially his brother Lester), his wife and children, and those of his players and peers in the world of hockey.

On the other hand were the negative counterweights that existed solely in his mind; unseen and unrecognized by those who knew and loved him.

Did Frank Patrick compare himself with his brother Lester? Perhaps he compared himself with other illustrious hockey friends like Art Ross (a dear friend of the Patrick Family)?

We will never know but what we do know is that Patrick, for unfathomable and inconceivable reasons, dismissed his magnificent attainments and deemed himself a failure; and, repulsed by his own self-indictment, sought refuge in alcohol—which merely compounded his own bleak self-assessment; Patrick spent the rest of his life as a man at war with himself (With people with low-self esteem no amount of outside love or praise can ever mitigate the finality of one’s own internal judgment).

The greatest loss to society is when a talented person (like Patrick was) cannot find comfort and peace with their own accomplishments but instead become their own worst enemy; thus destroying themselves and denying the world the benefits of their talents.

If Patrick were alive today he could have gone to the Betty Ford Clinic to conquer his alcoholism. Furthermore he would have had a wide variety of psychiatric counseling options and therapeutic drugs which could have resolved the conflicts in his heart and soul. Patrick could have been cured and a great hockey mind rescued to bring even greater glory to the game of hockey itself.

Sadly those options did not exist during the final 24 years of Patrick’s life. After 1936 Frank Patrick drifted into obscurity as his business interests failed and his personal problems undermined his standing within the Patrick family and the hockey world in general. Lester had to step into the breach to help Frank’s family move forward with their lives. All of this was done quietly. The only bright spot in Frank’s life came in 1958 when he was elected to the Hockey-Hall-of-Fame.

When Lester Patrick died in 1960 his death was mourned widely. When Frank Patrick died weeks later, his death was little noted.

May he rest in peace.

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