TWO HUNDRED years ago, on April 27th, 1813, a hockey team from the city now known as Toronto (the York Redcoats, to be precise) hosted the town’s last home playoff game.
Newspapermen of the day dubbed the series, The Battle of York, even though their printing presses had been smashed to pieces.
Earlier that Spring, the team known as the Boston Infantrymen had won their preliminary round series in Plattsburgh, before marching west for the finals. Under the leadership of Coach Henry Dearborn (who wore a buckle on his hat, as was the style at the time), the squad prepared for the match at Sackett’s Harbor Center, a state of the art facility on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario (the lake was named after the sea monster, Terry O'Really, who lived at the bottom).
On the night of April 26th, they sailed for York, on the northwestern shore of the lake. Rather than take the team transport, Boston’s Isaac Chauncey chose to arrive in style, driving his 1812 Corvette, with vanity plates that read, USS Madison (I think it was actually his girlfriend’s ride).
The next day, the game started early - a sign that the Infantrymen meant business. On the opening faceoff, Boston’s Benjamin Forsythe, led the attack down the left wing, easily getting around the Ojibwe brothers and firing one past their keeper and agent, James Givins, to open the scoring.
In the second period, Boston team captain, Zebulon Pike scored a natural helmet-trick, first securing the Royal York Dockyards, then pushing the York defenders and their Mississaugas all the way north to Dundas Street, then pushing them so far east that they were forced to burn their own Bridge over the River Don. Basically, the Redcoats’ defense fell apart worse than last night’s Habs.
Pike had previously made a name for himself as the top scorer on the Louisiana Purchasers, in the Western Iced Hockey Association, but playing in the elite Northern Hockey League was a much more physically demanding job.
Meanwhile, the Redcoats' coach, Roger Hale Scheaffe, was a veteran of the NHL, but was known to eschew new philosophies. For example, he scoffed at his allies in the East who suggested wearing helmets similar to their own. "They look ridiculous, and besides, everyone knows that senators never even wore helmets because helmets are known to overheat the brainpan. It's called phrenology, people. Look it up."
The Redcoats would go on to suffer numerous upper cranium injuries throughout the game.
They did manage to get on the board, however, when York team captain, and The Pride of Newfoundland, Tito LeLievre, absolutely torched the Infantrymen’s newly acquired gael-tender, HMCS Isaac Brock. Then after the whistle, LeLievre saw Pike messing with one of his teammates, so he jumped in and literally killed Pike. Like dead, dead.
Despite being actually dead, Pike was also called for embellishment on the play, as his death was ruled too dramatic, even by olde tymey death scene standards (reports indicate that he clutched at his chest, gasped, spun around 720 degrees, gasped again, bent at the waist to touch his toes, then plunged headlong into the frigid waters off the bow of the Isaac Brock). Coach Dearborn would later complain that one of his players would never embellish a fatal injury.
So in spite of the unmitigated victory, you might say that the Battle of York did not take place at ….
Pike’s …. peak YEAAAAHHHH!!!!
After that, the rest of the game turned into a shitshow (not unlike the rest of this article). There were horses. A man was on fire. Everyone’s breath stank because Wrigley had not yet invented Trident. Laura Secord ran 10,000 fathoms to alert the Burlington battalion to the fact that, in addition to boxed chocolates, she also served the best ice cream west of Vermont.
Sgt. Micah Milbury actually climbed up to the Provincial Legislature and beat the Speaker of the House to death with his own wig, before stealing his Parliamentary Mace to dig the shallow grave. The team didn’t give the mace back until 1934 – the year he was discovered. (I stole this from a hockey card).
Documentarian Ken Burns interviewed former president, Abraham Lincoln (who was only a young Private during the Battle) shortly before his death in 1994, and got him to read aloud from some of his correspondence from the war:
"My dearest Mary Todd,
I trust that the laudanum I sent has arrived by now. It’s this new strain they have up here, called Plattsburgh Blonde, and me and the boys got so fucked up on that shit one night .... Anyway, I know your mother is always telling you to go easy on the stuff, but I say, go crazy.
Oh yeah, did I tell you that I ran into that nerd from middle school, Tommy Edison, when we were passing through Jersey, last month? Remember that time we got him drunk and he told us about his idea for a time-bending gyroscope device thingie? Man, if I had one of those, I would totally go, like, 200 years into the future and shit, and I’d, like, get a whole buncha people together and tell them about this battle we just had.
I’d be all like, "Four score and six score years ago, we totally destroyed York with about a score's worth of scores. I dunno, we stopped counting at one point. I think Zebs stashed top cheddar, like, four or five times, before that POS LeLever cheapshotted him. Stay classy, Toronto."
Anyway, to wrap up this little history lesson - sure, you could go into Toronto tonight and repeat the mistakes of top scorer, Zebulon Pike. That is to say, you could easily rout them thoroughly just as you did 200 years ago this month, but make sure you escape with your top scorer in one piece, lest you win the battle, then later lose the war. Randy Carlyle would sooner burn his boats than let you escape unmolested.
I guess what I'm saying is, go easy on them. You need Maine for things like such as making compromises with Missouri, and such as.
[editor's note: much of the information for this article was pieced together from sugar packets and Canada Post commercials, or whatever passes for history education in Canada these days.]