“When It Mattered Most,” with Kevin Ticen
Kevin Ticen spent more than six years writing about Seattle sports as director of marketing and communications for the Seattle Sports Commission. He's a former catcher on the University of Washington baseball team. Then he played professionally in the Anaheim Angels' minor league system and then overseas in Austria. His post-playing days have been spent coaching baseball, first for five years on the staff at the University of Washington, and now leading a high school summer program in the Seattle area. Kevin works at Seattle Pacific University on the University Advancement team. His new book, When It Mattered Most, tells the forgotten story of America's and Seattle's first Stanley Cup champions and the war to end all wars.
Amanda Stubbert: Well, let’s just start with sort of the obvious. This book, everything you write about, took place 100 plus years ago. What got you interested in writing about Seattle’s first hockey team?
Kevin Ticen: I was asked to help promote the centennial in 2017 and super busy day, I get called into a meeting I didn’t want to be in and I’m sitting down with my head in my hands, and the guy starts talking about the Seattle hockey team and the first American team to win the Stanley Cup, and I literally stopped what I was doing, looked at him and said, “Did you say Seattle and Stanley Cup in the same sentence?” We had a fantastic time promoting it. And like everyone else, I had just read The Boys in the Boat. The truth is I started pitching every author I knew to write the story, and I got zero responses and was frustrated for about six months and complained nonstop to my wife.
She finally looked at me one day and said, “Why don’t you shut up and write it yourself?” And I kind of laughed, said there’s no way I could write a book. And then the thought wouldn’t leave my head. And it was probably a week of sort of sleepless nights just thinking if I could do it or not, and then jumped in and decided at least I was going to start researching and figure out if there was an actual story to tell.
Amanda: Then you started researching obviously.
Amanda: What did you find out along the way that made you say, “OK, this is going to happen”?
Kevin: The first day that I went to do research, I went to the Seattle Central Library and had the librarians show me how to put the microfilm in because the Seattle Post-Intelligencer archives at that time weren’t even digitized. It wasn’t like I could just sit down and search for things. And so, I put the microfilms in for March of 1917, and I start scrolling through them to try and get to the Stanley Cup final. And it was obvious immediately that the war was imminent. That World War I, the U.S. was about to get pulled into it, and I keep scrolling and keep scrolling, and I get to three or four days before game one. And the headline is absolutely massive and it says, “Czar Abdicates.” And I sat there and I stared at the screen for about five minutes, and then I looked down and said, “I wonder when we got pulled into the war.”
And so I pulled my phone out and I Googled the date, and it was six days after the final game of the series. And so, immediately, I was like, well, I mean, those are absolutely world-changing events, spectacular, so at least there’s something. And then I went through and I started reading the series, and it was amazing. I mean, completely different than I thought it was going to be and it captivated me and literally in the span of 30 minutes, I was like, OK, well at least I know the end will be spectacular. And then as I started going backwards through the first season, it just got better and better and better and better and better to the point where, Walt Disney, in my opinion, literally could not have scripted the story any better than it was.
“In the span of 30 minutes, I was like, OK, well at least I know the end will be spectacular.”
Amanda: Can we just backtrack a minute to the microfilm, because those of us of a certain age … I’m just going to tell you right now, that would have been the end of it for me. I don’t think I ever found what I was looking for on microfilm or microfiche, ever. You check out the thing, you put it in the machine, you scroll and it goes too fast or too slow. I’m not sure I ever found what I was looking for, so props to you …
Kevin: Thank you.
Amanda: … for making the whole technology work. So you found this story, you must have wondered how is this story in my lap, a story that good, why hasn’t anyone told this story before?
Kevin: I mean, absolutely. The thing that’s sort of wild for me, too, is I grew up in Seattle. I spent my entire adult life in the sports scene, and I didn’t know that this happened. And then as you go back and you start looking, I actually sent an email to a guy I know at the Hockey Hall of Fame and then said, “What is the deal with this? Was this just a team of mercenaries that came in and spent a year in Seattle? Did anybody actually even care about the Stanley Cup back then?” I thought it would be hilarious if I wrote this story and then come to find out that the Stanley Cup was something that became famous 30 years afterwards, and we just went back and figured out who won it.
And as I got deeper into it, I just realized: One, the Stanley Cup was huge back then. Two, the Metropolitans [Seattle’s hockey team] were massive in Seattle, bigger than the Seahawks are now today. And the story was huge until really probably just after World War II. People kind of started dying at that point and the last player died in the mid 1960s. So as each guy dies, there’s a fairly big obituary in the Times and the P-I, and Royal Brougham, who the younger generation that you were talking about earlier, they only know him as a street between the two stadiums. He’s the patriarch of the Seattle sports scene, and he’s the Metropolitans’ official scorer. He’s 21 years old, at his first job and he’s their official scorer as he’s writing for the P-I. And so, when Royal dies in the ’70s, really the story kind of dies with him. And then it gets talked about two or three other times. I think that it’s pre-TV, pre-radio, and it died on microfilm.
Amanda: Because people like me couldn’t find the story.
Kevin: Exactly. You go back and you look at it, and I’m a firm believer that history should remember those that are worthy, and these guys absolutely are worthy to be remembered. They should be talked about, you’re starting to see statues going in outside of our stadiums. And there’s three guys from the Metropolitans that are in the Hall of Fame. They’re the first three Seattle athletes to go into their respective hall of fame. All three of them spent nine years playing for the Metropolitans. The heart of their career is spent here, and it shouldn’t have been forgotten truly, and to answer your question, yeah, I was just shocked. I mean, really, the entire process was just otherworldly. It’s like God had a plan for this thing. The story needed to be told, dropped it in my lap.
With The Boys in the Boat, Dan [Brown, author] had a journal from three or four of the rowers actually. And then one of the guys is still alive, so he could ask questions. Nobody is alive with this. The 91-year-old daughter of the star player is alive, and she was born 15 years after it happened. There’s no journals, there’s nothing. The entire book was literally put together using newspaper articles. I just went back and read them all. And then I was able to use my experiences of coaching and playing to really understand what was happening.
And so, the story is told through that perspective: It’s told through a competitive standpoint and a team-building standpoint, and it’s essentially how Pete Muldoon, who’s the head coach, brings these disparate parts together and forms a fantastic team. And it’s about the ups and downs of their season, both in 1916, which was their first season, and then 1917, which was the championship year, and how they formed the nucleus of this team that did something incredible. I don’t know, probably somebody who has a different background would have written a different story, but for whatever reason, it all came together and worked.
“I was able to use my experiences of coaching and playing to really understand what was happening.”
Amanda: What was the secret of the team? How were they able to win the championship their second season?
Kevin: In some respects, they’re a perfect team. They have depth; they have star power. The best player on the team is the hardest worker and the best teammate. And just all these things, if you were going to put a team together in your mind, you would say, “I want this and I want that.” And this team had all of it. At that time, there were only two reserves on the team and both of the reserves were younger players, and they both became all-stars later in their careers. You have three Hall of Famers, the goalie, the left-wing, and then a position back then, it was called rover and it was the sort of a hybrid. And you needed somebody who could really score and somebody who could really play defense.
And so, the Metropolitans have a Hall of Fame goalie. They have Frank Foyston, who’s really the heartbeat of the team. He’s one of their wingers and he makes the entire thing happen. And then Jack Walker’s this rover, and he’s the best defensive player in hockey at that time and one of the best scorers. And then when you top it off, Bernie Morris is an orphan. He’s a guy that’s been pulled off the scrap heap. This is really his last chance to make a better life for himself, and he turns into the second best scorer in hockey. The Vancouver Millionaires have a guy named Cyclone Taylor, he’s the Michael Jordan or Babe Ruth of hockey in that era, but Morris is the second-best scorer in the league.
And you couldn’t stop this team, really, and they overcame a lot. There are injuries throughout the year. Just like any team, you think you finally have it rolling and then all of a sudden, you lay an egg and you have a really bad game, and they just got this thing to the point where they could just compete harder than everyone else.
Amanda: You threw up Michael Jordan. As you were talking, I was already thinking, so this is Michael Jordan’s Bulls, except we’ve never heard of them.
Kevin: Yeah. I mean, think about it this way, too. The core of the Metropolitans came from a Toronto franchise that had won the Stanley Cup in 1914, and they’re all the young players on that team. And then they come over to Seattle. It’s a completely different system and a completely different league with somewhat different rules. It takes them a little while to figure out how they’re going to play. And so, they get this thing really rolling about halfway through the 1917 season, and the 1915 Stanley Cup champions are the Vancouver Millionaires. All seven of their starters are in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The 1916 Stanley Cup champions are the Montreal Canadians, who are by far the best organization in hockey. And again, I think five or six of the starters on that team are in the Hall of Fame, and the Metropolitans hold off the 1915 Stanley Cup champions in the most intense pennant chase that the league or the era had seen.
And then they go and absolutely trash the 1916 Stanley Cup champions to win it all. If you get in and read the story, there’s not one person on the planet that thinks the Metropolitans can beat the Canadians. I mean, it’s like, they don’t even think it’s going to be a series. We have people laughing about what a joke it is. Not to spoil the story, but the Canadians come out and absolutely pound the Metropolitans in the first game to the point where the media, the national media, everybody’s just saying, the series is over, it’s not even going to happen. And then the Metropolitans come out and just flip the script. I think they outscore them like 15 to 2 in the last three games. I mean, it’s absolutely magical what happens.
Amanda: Well, I’m with you. I’m waiting for the Disney movie to come out. Hopefully, it will be your book that they buy the rights from.
Kevin: I hope so, too.
Amanda: The story of this team, like you said at the beginning, huge moments in history. It’s like we’re walking into World War I as this is happening, but you also write about the pandemic of the last century, which most of us didn’t really know about until this pandemic came around. Talk about that layer to the story.
Kevin: In 1919, the Metropolitans are about to win Stanley Cup again and realistically, they’re probably eight hours away from winning their second cup. It’s the final game of the series. It’s like the World Series in baseball where the two leagues have a little bit different rules, slightly different rules. And so, games one, three, and five back then were played by the home team’s rules, and games two and four were played by the opposing team’s rules. And so, this is game five. It’s in Seattle, so it’s Western rules and the Metropolitans have outscored the Canadians again. It’s like 12 or 14 to 1 in the Western rules games. They’re going to just basically walk through this last game, and if you rewind a little bit, they actually should have won it a couple of games prior to that.
It just sort of gets weird. They have a zero-zero tie that goes into double overtime that people are saying is the greatest game ever played. Guys start collapsing at the end of that game and have to be carried off the ice and all those things. People just think that it’s exhaustion from a long game and a tight game and all of that. And then two days later on the day of the final game, everybody wakes up with massive fevers and they realized that it’s the Spanish flu that’s kicked in, and the health department shuts the series down. And so, it’s declared a tie. It’s the only major professional sports championship that was played and never completed. And 16, 18 months ago, it was a historical anomaly that was never going to happen again. In the span of a week, we all knew exactly what they went through.
The thing that was funny, as I did a bunch of interviews with KING and The Seattle Times and all of that, and right as this started to happen, right as they were beginning to use the word pandemic and that we might potentially need a lockdown and all of that, and I did the interviews on Sunday and a Monday. And as we were talking, we’re like, well, there’s no way that this is going to happen again. They’ll get this thing figured out and modern medicine is too strong to let this really affect our lives. And then that Tuesday, first player from the NBA tested positive and they canceled the rest of the season that evening and then the next day was the NHL, then Major League Baseball, and all of us were talking to guys in the local media and just like, this is actually happening, it’s crazy.
I got to talk about it a lot back then, which was great. It again shined a light on a team that was deserving of any attention it could get. It was horrible that it was a global pandemic that was bringing them back to the spotlight, but the horrific thing about that series is one of the Canadians players actually died from the Spanish flu. He’s in his early 30s and he has a son and a wife, and it actually leads to the head coach for the Canadians and the head coach for the Metropolitans both getting very, very, very ill. And the Canadians head coach never really fully recovers, and he ends up dying a couple years later.
And then the Metropolitans head coach ends up having a heart attack 10 years later. He’s 41 or 42 years old. And there are a lot of people that think that he damaged his heart while he was going through the Spanish flu recovery and that’s what led to the heart attack. It was helpful for me personally to have researched it as much as I did. That pandemic took 18 to 20 months to run its course. And I think that I was fairly certain that this was probably going to do something similar. Once it started to lock down, it just felt like you realize that nature really does control what’s happening in our lives more than we do. Honestly, modern medicine in 1917 thought that they were too strong to have a global pandemic, too.
“Two days later on the day of the final game, everybody wakes up with massive fevers, and they realized that it’s the Spanish flu that’s kicked in.”
The other thing that helped me, and I’m hopeful that this is still the case, is when it was over, it was over. There was no hangover to society, realistically; the roaring ’20s, what came out of the Spanish flu pandemic. There’s a great quote in the PBS documentary about the Spanish flu pandemic that said, “Once the dying stopped, the forgetting started, and it was just like people didn’t want to talk about it anymore.” And if you look at the Metropolitans’ 1920 season, there is no reference whatsoever to the pandemic, to any of it.
And it’s interesting: They had to wear masks back then and people freaked out. It’s very similar to today. One of the things that made me laugh is the Seattle Public Schools superintendent was one of the strongest anti-maskers back then and was livid that he needed to wear a mask and that people needed to wear a mask. Schools only shut down for a couple of weeks. I think it was mid-October and then they started back up in January of 1919. Another thing that struck me as funny was for the Metropolitans games in the 1919 season, there were actually armed police officers outside the doors ensuring that people were wearing their masks correctly, and I just laughed, like could you imagine that happening today?
Amanda: I don’t think that would go over very well.
Amanda: Well, that’s just incredible. The hope that I take out of what you just said is that we’re about to have another roaring ’20s.
Kevin: I hope so, too.
Amanda: We’re about to have another decade of joy and happiness. I’m going to look forward to that.
Kevin: And growth and everything. Great music, great film, great sports.
Amanda: Let’s call it flourishing. Yes. For sure. Well, speaking of flourishing and sports, looking at your past, so you are a writer, you’re an amazing writer, but you’ve spent so much of your career as an athlete, a coach, a sports writer, always connected with sports, so I’m going to use the Marie Kondo term, if you know who Marie Kondo is. Why does that spark so much joy for you? What is it about sports?
Kevin: As a kid, it was just something that I did. I enjoyed it as I got older; especially in college, it was a life-changing experience for me. I was, in some respects, somebody that had talents that I didn’t know how to use and I wasn’t necessarily the hardest worker, and I got to college and everybody was just as talented as I was and worked significantly harder than I did. I was forced to make a choice between actually caring and pushing myself to be great or having it all end for me. Once I made that decision and really started to grow as a human being, it just became something that I wanted to pass along to others. At the end of the day, I absolutely love the journey of sports, or of life really, but the thing that to me is so fantastic about sports is that there is a scoreboard.
You’re going to have good days. You’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have days where everything goes your way, days where everything goes against you, days where the officiating is horrible. And it’s just like, how are you going to bring it through all of those? How can you separate the process from the outcome and push yourself to compete through all of it? It’s the one thing in my life where I can disconnect everything else and just completely be in the moment and enjoy it.
Amanda: Well, here’s to hoping we all find a little bit more of that as we move into our new roaring ’20s. What is that thing for us that allows us, because I really understand what you mean when you say that. When you have a brain that has a lot going on, and more than ever in history, so much is coming at us, and I think we are looking for those moments that can take our mind, take our whole self, and we can enjoy ourselves as a whole being and leave some things behind, to think about the next step.
Kevin: And in some respects, for me, the hard part with sports is that you only get to really do it for a finite amount of time and trying to coach and make a living out of it, it gets tough, too. It’s like acting or singing or anything where there’s just not very many spots for people. And so, we kind of laughed about this earlier, just the thing that the writing did for me is, I guess, I discovered another avenue where I feel the same way, where I can disconnect from life and just be completely in the moment, and it’s fantastic.
Amanda: Again, you have one referee that loves you and the game goes your way and they love your manuscript and then the next day, you submit something and it doesn’t go so well. And you have to decide, are you going to keep playing or not?
Kevin: I mean, I think everything that I learned in sports kicked in. The first time that I sent a sample chapter off, and keep in mind, I’d never written anything longer than a 500-word blog post really and didn’t totally know what I was doing. And so, I send it off and the literary agents take it and look at it and I get the response of, “Would you be open to a ghost writer?” I was like, “What?” It’s like, no. I mean, if this thing succeeds or fails, it’s going to be my words. And at that point, it was most likely going to fail. And you just keep working at it. I also quit my job at the sports commission to write this book. I just was so passionate about the story. And I knew that if I tried to work and write and be a dad and a coach, then I wasn’t going to do it and in the writing was going to be the thing that fell by the wayside.
“I quit my job at the sports commission to write this book. I just was so passionate about the story.”
My wife was super supportive, and I waited until I actually knew the full story and I knew what I was going to write about. And I’d started writing a couple of chapters and then I jumped in with both feet and actually wrote the end of the book first, which was the series. And that was the easiest part for me. I’m just like reading these game recaps, understanding what’s happening, and then communicating it back. And then you go back to chapter one, and it’s all character development and I’d never done anything like that. I write this chapter that in my opinion, it’s one of the greatest chapters ever written. And I handed it to my wife and she reads it and she says, “This is terrible” to me. And I was crushed.
And then I rewrote it, and I handed it to her and she’s like, “Nope.” And that probably went on 20 times. And so, I gave up on her because she was just being critical because she was my wife and I sent it to my brother. And he’s like, “This is absolutely terrible.” And then I rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it. And then I finally get to the point where it’s magical and I send it to him, and I don’t get a response over the weekend. At the same time, I send it to the editor and say, “Here’s the first chapter.” And it comes back two days later, completely rewritten.
She ghostwrote it, the editor did. And my brother calls me on Monday and he’s like, “This is terrible. You’re going to get this though, I promise you. You’ll get this, but it’s just not very good.” At that point, that was the one moment where I thought, I just made arguably the biggest life mistake. I don’t know how to do this, and I was laying in bed, panicking, freaking out. All of a sudden, the whole thing popped in my head. And I was like, “Wait.” And I got up and wrote it and sent it off to everyone. They’re like, “You got it.” And then I turned to my wife and was like, “OK, I don’t know what I’m going to do for chapter two.” And then boom, the whole thing just shows up in my head and I sat down and knocked it out. And then I was off and running. Nothing’s easy.
Amanda: Nothing’s easy. You have to build new muscles for each new thing in our lives. Well, Kevin, this has been awesome. I can’t wait to read your book cover to cover since I’ve only had a chance to skim through it. Now, I’m going to read the entire thing, but I need to have you answer our final question that we ask all of our guests, and I’m very interested in your answer. If you could have everyone in Seattle do one thing differently tomorrow that’s going to make the world a better place, what would you have all of us do?
Kevin: I mean, societally today, I think everyone needs to take a deep breath and take a step back. One thing again that I love about sports and I love about teams is you have disparate personalities, you have different ways of looking at situations, and different ways of processing situations. And when you’re on a team and you trust your teammates, you don’t care. It doesn’t matter if somebody has a completely different viewpoint than you do on a situation, you understand that all of these things are what makes the team great.
I look at today, and at some point, we all forgot that we’re teammates and that all of us are Americans and on the same team. While we might have different political viewpoints than others, society needs both viewpoints. We need both people passionately arguing respectfully, and at some point, we’re going to take the best from both sides, and society functions at its highest point. I think if anything, that would be my not-very-shallow thought on that. It’s just I just wish that people could look at each other and see us all as teammates again, and try to figure out how we could put the best of all of our ideas together to make this the special place that it is.
Amanda: Amen. All right. Let me end with our prayer of blessing: May the Lord bless you and all you put your hand to. May the Lord be gracious to you and all who hear your story. May God bring unity to our community and peace to us all. Thanks, Kevin. This has been really fun.
Kevin: Thank you.