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The Western Canada Hockey League (WCHL), founded in 1921, was a major professional ice hockey league originally based in the prairies of Canada. It was renamed the Western Hockey League (WHL) in 1925 and disbanded in 1926.
In 1921 the four founding teams of the WCHL were the Edmonton Eskimos, Calgary Tigers, Regina Capitals, and Saskatoon Sheiks. Edmonton and Calgary were previously members of the Alberta Big Four League. The Edmonton Dominions were supooosed to be in the league. but withdrew before the season. They were involved in some player dispute. Also the other teams did not want the problems of a div-team (versus a four team) schedule.
The WCHL's first season 1921-22 saw the Edmonton Eskimos win the regular season, but they were upset in the playoffs by the second place Regina Capitals. The Capitals then faced the Vancouver Millionaires of the PCHA to determine who would go on to face the Toronto St. Patricks of the NHL for the Stanley Cup. Vancouver won the series against Regina, but lost to Toronto in the Stanley Cup finals.
In 1922-23, both western leagues dropped the Rover position. The Moose Jaw Sheiks team folded, but the WCHL returned to Saskatoon with a new franchise, the Saskatoon Crescents, led by Newsy Lalonde. The WCHL and PCHA started playing inter-league games, but kept separate standings. The Edmonton Eskimos won the regular season and the league final, but lost to the PCHA's Vancouver Maroons in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In the 1923-24 WCHL season, the Calgary Tigers finished in first place and then beat the second place Regina Capitals in the league final.. The Stanley Cup playoffs were changed this year, despite a protest from the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League. Instead of the two western leagues playing off to see who would play the NHL champion for the Stanley Cup, the president of the PCHA, Frank Patrick, insisted that the NHL champion had to play the PCHA winner first. It ended up not making any difference for Montreal, though, as the team swept Vancouver and then Calgary for the Stanley Cup.
For the 1924-25 WCHL season, the PCHA folded and two of its teams, the Vancouver Maroons and Victoria Cougars joined the WCHL, giving the league six teams. The Saskatoon franchise became the Saskatoon Sheiks. The league had some top-level talent on its rosters, with stars such as Bun Cook and Bill Cook and a rookie Eddie Shore. The Victoria Cougars, coached and managed by Lester Patrick, finished in third place and won the league semi final and final. They then went on to face the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup. Victoria easily beat the Canadiens three games to one, out scoring them 16 to 8. Victoria became the first non-NHL team to win the Stanley Cup since the formation of the NHL in 1917. Since then, no non-NHL team has won the Cup. With the NHL rapidly expanding into the United States, salaries were on the rise and the WCHL was finding it difficult to keep its star players. The Regina Capitals relocated to Portland, Oregon, and rekindled the old name of Portland Rosebuds, which had been out of use since 1918. With the move into the U.S. came a name change for the WCHL. "Canada" was dropped and the league was renamed the Western Hockey League.
The Edmonton Eskimos won the regular season for the third time in five seasons, but it was the third place Victoria Cougars who won the league playoffs and moved on to play for the Stanley Cup. Expectations were high for the defending Stanley Cup champions, but Montreal's other NHL team, the Montreal Maroons, were too strong for Victoria handily beating them three games to one and out scoring them 10 to 3.
With financial problems too great to overcome, the league folded following the 1925-26 season, leaving the NHL as the only top-level professional league in North America. The NHL board of governors purchased the contracts of every player in the WHL for $258,000. However, separate deals were made in stocking two NHL expansion teams. The rights to the Victoria Cougars' players were bought by the Detroit franchise causing the team to be named the Detroit Cougars in their honor, and the Portland Rosebuds' players' rights were purchased by Frederic McLaughlin for his new Chicago Blackhawks team.
The remnants of five former WHL teams formed the minor-professional Prairie Hockey League in 1926. While minor-pro, senior, and junior league hockey thrived in the west for many years thereafter, top-level professional hockey did not return to western Canada until 1970, when the Vancouver Canucks joined the National Hockey League.