Sarah Hall has heard the stories about her great-grandfather, more and more as the years have gone on. She understands the rising interest in Joe Hall — sometimes dubbed “Bad” Joe Hall for his overwhelming penalty minutes while playing for the Canadiens just after World War I.
Hall was on the team in 1919 when the Stanley Cup final between the Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans was canceled hours before Game 6, when the winner was set to take home the Cup. Too many players were hospitalized with the Spanish Flu, including Hall. Just weeks before his 38th birthday and four days after the game was canceled, Hall died of pneumonia.
Hall became hockey’s face of that pandemic from just over a century ago, one that would kill tens of millions around the world. That year stood as the only time the Stanley Cup was not awarded from its inception in 1892 until the NHL locked out its players and canceled the 2004-05 season. Now with the coronavirus pandemic spreading rapidly, the NHL is in a “pause” phase, facing the grim reality that the season is more likely to be canceled than restarted.
And so Sarah Hall kindly returned a message from a reporter when she had far greater things to think about. She is an anesthesiologist at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, in beautiful Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Her hospital had not received any patients suffering from COVID-19 as of Saturday afternoon, but she has seen all the graphs and projections and knows that it is coming sooner rather than later.
It felt like the calm before the storm, and Hall was just hoping to prepare herself and her hospital as well as she possibly could.
“Looking at our demographics, they’re projecting that we could need as many as 900 ventilators,” Hall told The Post. “And we currently have — if we include the ones we have in our operating room — 30. So, yeah, it’s pretty dark.”
Hall is not much of a sports fan, which she jokingly said made her “a great disappointment to my family.” That’s obviously not true, as she was about to be on the front lines of a battle that mattered a lot more than anything with a silver chalice as a reward.
“It’s been really, really busy,” Hall said. “As with most hospitals, we’re in the center of preparing airway teams, and trying to cobble together the equipment that we don’t have. Just making a plan.”
In all of the hubbub, she has taken a little bit of time to think about her great-grandfather, whom she didn’t know much about growing up. But it was impossible to avoid the parallels between then and now, even with greater worries swirling in everyone’s mind.
“It certainly has caused me to reflect upon his situation,” Hall said. “But I’m not sure that I can say that it’s more strange. It’s just part of our history.”
It is also part of the history of the Stanley Cup — one that a lot of people don’t know about.
That year, the Canadiens were the NHL champions and they were to take on the champion of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), with the winner of the series getting the Cup. The two leagues played by different rules, with seven players per side in the PCHA and six per side in the NHL. All the games were at the Seattle Ice Arena, and the Metropolitans won Games 1 and 3 in blowouts playing by their rules — a combined score of 14-2 — while the Canadiens won Game 2 and 5 playing by their rules.
Game 4 was considered one of the best games in hockey history, with Georges Vezina dazzling in the Canadiens nets to keep it a scoreless match through two overtimes before it was called a draw. It was played under NHL rules, so Game 5 was considered “a replay” and played under the same rules (thereafter it was determined that overtimes would go on until a goal was scored). The Mets were up, 3-0, but then “Frank Foyston got hurt, Jack Walker broke a skate, and Cully Wilson collapsed from exhaustion,” according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. They went on with only four skaters, and the Canadiens tied it before their substitute, Jack McDonald, sprinted onto the ice and won the game in overtime.
Some players had to be carried off the ice, and some went directly to the hospital. Along with Hall, the Canadiens had five players in the hospital or bedridden, along with owner George Kennedy, who would die two years later after being weakened by the flu. (His widow then sold the team for $11,000.) The two clubs decided to call off the series, and in 1948, the league made an inscription on the Cup under the year 1919, saying: “Series not completed.”
“It’s eerily similar,” Sarah Hall said. “There are a lot of parallels, for sure.”
Back then, the world was just coming out of war, and would soon dive into a deep economic depression. Who knows what is going to happen now, with the Stanley Cup or otherwise?
So Sarah Hall was planning for a mountain bike ride before getting back to work. She rightfully said her home “is a great place to be isolated.” But she knew that the lessons from the time of her great-grandfather were not far behind.
“So far, so good,” Hall said, “but I think we’re bracing for what’s yet to come.”