In some manner, it might not seem as though U.S. college hockey players – especially the American-born brethren – have played a prominent role in NHL circles for all that many years.
Following the Olympic gold medal win in 1960, during the six-team era of the NHL, Boston Bruins forward Tommy Williams was the only member of that squad to become an NHL regular. Goalie Jack McCartan played a handful of games with the New York Rangers before settling into a long career in the minor pro ranks.
A few more American college players began to crack NHL lineups in the mid-1970s and after the 1980 Miracle On Ice gold medal win by the USA, the floodgates opened to numerous U.S. college players becoming NHL regulars and even NHL stars. But the fact of the matter is the NHL was barely a decade old when the first U.S. college stars not only were part of a Stanley Cup contending outfit, but actually became the first NCAA players to win a Stanley Cup.
In the 1928-29 season, the NHL’s 12th campaign, the defending Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers squared off with the Boston Bruins in the first all-American Stanley Cup final. Defensemen Myles Lane of Dartmouth and George Owen of Harvard will help the Bruins sweep the Rangers and bring Lord Stanley’s mug to Beantown for the first time.
The Rangers-Bruins series figured to be a barn burner. New York downed the Montreal Maroons to win the Stanley Cup in 1927-28. One season earlier, the Bruins were vanquished by the Ottawa Senators in the Stanley Cup final series. Boston and New York finished 1-2 in the NHL’s American Division for three straight seasons. The Rangers ended up on top in 1926-27, with Boston topping the group in 1927-28 and 1928-29.
The Bruins would win their first Cup by taking 2-0 and 2-1 decisions over the Rangers to win the best-of-three final series in two straight games. While Eddie Shore and Lionel Hitchman formed Boston’s top defense pairing that season, they were ably supported on the back end in the final series by Owen and Lane.
A Multi Sport Star
At Harvard, Owen was a nine-letter athlete. He captained the freshman team and later served two terms as varsity captain. On the hockey team, he played both defense and center. Owen also played football and baseball for the Crimson, serving as captain of the baseball team during his senior year.
From the time he graduated with honors in 1923 and went into the brokerage business, Bruins coach-GM Art Ross fervently pursued efforts to get Owen’s name on an NHL contract, to no avail. Finally, on January 8th, 1929, Ross succeeded. Injuries to Hitchman and Dit Clapper left the Bruins shorthanded for a date with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Whatever terms Ross offered to Owen – neither would ever reveal that amount – they were to Owen’s liking.
“I believe it will be great fun,” Owen told the Boston Globe at the time of his signing. “I always wanted to learn and to know from my own observations wherein the pro game differed from college and amateur hockey.
“It will be interesting to see how I do. Anyway, it’s worth the try and I hope to be able to deliver the goods.”
Owen would be the first Harvard player to skate in the NHL. He made his NHL debut on January 9th, 1929 in a 5-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Garden, scoring a goal.
A U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Owen played five NHL seasons, scoring 46 goals and dishing out 38 assists.
Here Comes The Judge
Lane actually preceded Owen into the NHL and did so with the Rangers. He signed with New York as a free agent on October 1st, 1928.
At Dartmouth, Lane earned three letters each in hockey and football and another in baseball. He captained the hockey team and was an All-American fullback on the gridiron.
On January 21st, 1929, the Rangers traded Lane to the Bruins for $7,500. “Boston had a strong team,” Lane told author Stan Fischler. “I liked the players on the club and on top of that I was a hometown boy.”
Lane used his NHL salary to pay for his law school tuition. After his hockey career, Lane served as a United States attorney and a Supreme Court Justice in the Appellate Division for the state of New York.