Burlington Winter Carnival Hockey Medal 1886 won by Montreal AAA / Montreal Hockey Club
Original and with two Hockey players depicted on the nickel-size piece encircled by a golden wreath, the backdrop of which dangles from crossed hockey sticks, the award is identified "1886" on a fancy metal piece fastened to a red and blue-striped ribbon. The "B-C-C" initials at the top likely represent Burlington Coasting Club, the original organizers of the "week of winter sports" which turned into the Burlington Winter Carnival.
The Ice Hockey tournament was the wrap-up sporting event scheduled for the late morning and afternoon of February 26th, 1886. Said the Free Press: “Hockey on the ice is one of the prettiest of carnival sports, with the colored costumes of the players, their rapid movements and the feats of skill accomplished.” The paper did its best to picture the object of the players’ attention. “The ball instead of being round is round one way and flat the other,” wrote the reporter before finally nailing down the puck’s description with the deft phrasing “like a boy’s cartwheel sawed out of a board.”
Competing with the MAAA and the Crystals in the three-team round robin was the local Van Ness House club. The Van Ness House was a prominent Burlington hotel and one of the centers of carnival socializing. Its members had never played a Hockey game before and had only a few practice sessions. Nevertheless, in the spirit of athletic competition for which America is renowned, they ventured forth. At stake were gold medals for the members of the winning team and silver for the runners-up.
The rink was Lake Champlain, specifically the Central Vermont railroad slip. It was protected on three sides by docks which gave spectators an excellent vantage point. By 1886, organized Hockey in Montreal had long been an indoor game, being played at the magnificent Victoria Skating Rink and the Crystal Rink. In a sense, the Canadian teams were returning to their outdoor roots. And the lake suited their American counterparts just fine. A terrific gale off the lake greeted the MAAA and the Crystals as they ventured onto the ice for what would be the first game of Hockey ever played in the vicinity. Curiously, the referee and umpires were local residents, but since the rules of the game at that time were few and simple, no previous experience in interpreting and enforcing them seemed necessary.
Just one week earlier the same two teams, with almost exactly the same lineups, had met in the Montreal championship series. On that occasion the Crystals prevailed 3-1, thus setting the stage for a grudge match which, though it would have no bearing on the Montreal series, would give the MAAA a chance to restore their pride. And this they did when, after two scoreless 20-minute games, R. Smith “sent the ball through” to give the MAAA the sudden-death win. Friends of the victors greeted the result with deafening cheers.
At this point, true Hockey history was about to be made, for the MAAA seven were now to face the Van Ness club in the first Hockey tournament contest involving teams from two countries. The wind blew harder than ever through the frigid slip and gusting snow made visibility poor from the spectators’ docks. Though the local team battled valiantly, again the MAAA came through, this time with a 3-0 victory in two games of 15 minutes duration. They took the gold medal honors. All that was left to be decided was the silver.