From Rinks to Reg­i­ments:

Hockey-Hall-of-Famers and the Great War

Times Colonist - - Islander - ©ALAN LIV­ING­STONE MacLEOD

His blue eyes and fair com­plex­ion not­with­stand­ing, Sig­ur­dur Frank Fredrick­son ex­pe­ri­enced dis­crim­i­na­tion in his early years in Win­nipeg. Born in Canada, Fredrick­son was the son of par­ents who had im­mi­grated to Man­i­toba from Ice­land to­ward the end of the 19th cen­tury. He spoke only Ice­landic be­fore he went to school.

They ate dif­fer­ent food, went to a dif­fer­ent church and spoke ac­cented English, but Fredrick­son and his friends were per­fectly Cana­dian in their en­thu­si­asm for the game of hockey. Shunned by lads of other eth­nic ori­gins, the Ice­landers or­ga­nized them­selves into hockey teams of their own. Soon enough, they were beat­ing ev­ery­one in sight.

By age 18, in 1913, Fredrick­son was the lead­ing light of the Win­nipeg Fal­cons, al­most all of them eth­nic Ice­landers. That year, their first in the In­de­pen­dent Hockey League, the Fal­cons fin­ished last. It took only a year for them to re­verse their for­tunes: In 1914-15 they won the league cham­pi­onship.

In Fe­bru­ary 1916, Fredrick­son — known to all by now as Frank, rather than Sig­ur­dur — vol­un­teered for the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force. He en­listed in the 196th Bat­tal­ion, but soon moved to the 223rd Bat­tal­ion (Cana­dian Scan­di­na­vians). En­rolled in the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba at the time, he listed his “trade or call­ing” as stu­dent.

The 223rd em­barked from Hal­i­fax in early May 1917, ar­riv­ing in Liver­pool on May 15. It didn’t take long be­fore Frederickson de­cided that the life of a foot sol­dier in an in­fantry bat­tal­ion might not be the best op­tion on of­fer in King Ge­orge’s com­bined forces. He de­cided to be­come an air­man and, to­gether with two fel­low Fal­cons, man­aged to get a trans­fer to the Royal Fly­ing Corps.

Aboard the troop­ship Aragon, the Ice­landers de­parted Taranto, Italy, for Alexan­dria, Egypt, to do their air train­ing. Shortly af­ter their safe pas­sage, the Aragon was tor­pe­doed by a Ger­man U-boat, which re­sulted in the loss of more than 600 lives.

While learn­ing to fly at the Bri­tish air­base in Aboukir, the Winnipeggers man­aged to squeeze more than a lit­tle fun into their days. Fredrick­son took a cam­era wher­ever he went; pho­to­graphs taken dur­ing his time in Aboukir show him at the Sphinx, rid­ing a camel and wear­ing his air­man uni­form but with an Egyp­tian fez on his head. There is a stan­dard fea­ture in ev­ery image — Fredrick­son’s beam­ing smile.

In May, his flight train­ing suc­cess­fully com­pleted, Fredrick­son de­parted Alexan­dria for the re­turn voy­age across the Mediter­ranean. He had avoided dis­as­ter on his out­ward jour­ney but he was un­luck­ier this time. On May 28, the trans­port ship he was trav­el­ling on, the Lea­sowe Cas­tle, was struck by a Ger­man tor­pedo. Nine­tytwo men were lost.

Fredrick­son was a highly ac­com­plished vi­o­lin­ist. As men fled the sink­ing Lea­sowe Cas­tle, he put his cher­ished vi­o­lin in the hands of a lifeboat cap­tain. There was no room for Fredrick­son, but once in the wa­ter he man­aged to scram­ble into a dif­fer­ent lifeboat. The vi­o­lin was saved, and so was Fredrick­son.

Once in Bri­tain, he was posted to a Royal Air Force air­base in Gul­lane, Scot­land. The aver­age life ex­pectancy of a fighter pi­lot op­er­at­ing over the West­ern Front was less than 20 hours of fly­ing time, but Fredrick­son struck it lucky again. Be­cause he was a tal­ented flier and able com­mu­ni­ca­tor, his commanders de­cided the best use the RAF could make of him was as a fly­ing in­struc­tor and test pi­lot.

He flew an ar­ray of ma­chines: the Sop­with Camel and Pup, Bris­tol Fighter, Nieu­ports and the su­perb new Royal Air­craft Fac­tory scout, the SE5A.

As he had done at Aboukir, Fredrick­son made a point of bal­anc­ing duty with fun. Charmed by a young Ed­in­burgh woman, Fredrick­son de­cided to do some “sen­sa­tional fly­ing” over a tea party she had ar­ranged. On re­turn­ing to Gul­lane, the en­gine of his SE5A failed. He crash-landed, sus­tain­ing mul­ti­ple and wide­spread cuts, con­tu­sions and bruises. But he sur­vived again.

Gul­lane was close enough to Ed­in­burgh that Fredrick­son was able to take fre­quent ad­van­tage of the city’s ameni­ties, and he at­tended many the­atri­cal events and con­certs. He was a ca­pa­ble pho­tog­ra­pher and took im­pres­sive images of Ed­in­burgh land­marks and kept a di­ary record­ing de­tailed im­pres­sions of the city and the ur­ban at­trac­tions he liked best. While fly­ing out of Gul­lane, he ex­pe­ri­enced the oc­ca­sional hair-rais­ing land­ing but suf­fered noth­ing worse than bruises and lac­er­a­tions.

Nov. 11 brought the end of the war. Fredrick­son had come through.

He re­turned to Canada in time to re­sume play­ing for the Win­nipeg Fal­cons in 1919-20. He hadn’t lost a step, once again lead­ing the league in scor­ing with 23 goals in just 10 games. Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing them­selves as the best team in Man­i­toba, the Fal­cons took on the Univer­sity of Toronto for the Cana­dian am­a­teur cham­pi­onship — and the Al­lan Cup. They won eas­ily, outscor­ing U of T 11-5 in a two-game se­ries.

On the strength of that vic­tory, the Fal­cons earned the right to rep­re­sent Canada in the first Olympic Games that in­cluded hockey. Fredrick­son and the Fal­cons trav­elled to An­twerp, Bel­gium, for the 1920 Games. In the quar­ter-fi­nal against Cze­choslo­vakia, the Cana­di­ans won eas­ily, 15-0. The semi­fi­nal was tougher, as they were fac­ing Moose Go­heen and his fel­low Amer­i­cans, but the Cana­di­ans won, 2-0.

The gold medal game against Swe­den was a cake­walk: a 12-1 vic­tory.

Ice­land could take as much pride in the gold medal as Canada did: the Cana­di­ans were al­most en­tirely sons of Ice­landic im­mi­grants, men named Jo­han­nes­son, Halder­son, Fridfinn­son and Fredrick­son. The boys with odd-sound­ing names had turned them­selves into world cham­pi­ons.

As this great ad­ven­ture was draw­ing to a close, Fredrick­son was of­fered an­other. He learned that an Ice­landic com­pany was look­ing for an eth­nic Ice­lander to in­tro­duce peo­ple to fly­ing. Fredrick­son seized the op­por­tu­nity to travel to the land of his fore­bears and take Ice­landers into the air in a 504K Avro. While in Ice­land, he crash-landed — and sur­vived — again.

One more great ad­ven­ture lay in store. Mulling his op­tions at age 26, Fredrick­son was con­tem­plat­ing a ca­reer in the Royal Cana­dian Air Force. Then Lester Patrick made him an of­fer he couldn’t refuse: $2,500 to play a 24-game sea­son with his Vic­to­ria club in the PCHA. Fredrick­son agreed.

What fol­lowed was a sto­ried six-year ca­reer in Bri­tish Columbia’s cap­i­tal. The pride of Ice­landic Win­nipeg led his club in scor­ing all six years and was a league all-star in all but one of those years. In 1922-23, he scored 39 goals and added 16 as­sists to win the league scor­ing ti­tle by 18 points over the sec­ond-best scorer. In 1925, he led the Vic­to­ria Cougars to a Stan­ley Cup vic­tory over the Mon­treal Cana­di­ens. It was the last time a club not part of the NHL would have its name in­scribed on the Cup.

Fredrick­son had one more kick at the cup the fol­low­ing year, 1925-26, but this time the Cougars lost to the Mon­treal Ma­roons. It was a fi­nale for the league too; the West­ern Hockey League folded af­ter the Stan­ley Cup se­ries.

In 1926-27, Fredrick­son and sev­eral of his Vic­to­ria team­mates found them­selves re­con­sti­tuted as the Detroit Cougars of the NHL. Fredrick­son reached an­other pin­na­cle: earn­ing $6,000 for the ’26-27 sea­son, he was the high­est-paid player in pro hockey. He played only 16 games in Detroit be­fore he was par­celled up and shipped to the Bos­ton Bru­ins for Gor­don Keats.

In his 30s by this time, Fredrick­son would not shine in the NHL as brightly as he had done in Vic­to­ria. He played three years in Bos­ton and liked his sit­u­a­tion there, but in 1928, he was dealt to the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates. He played two sea­sons there be­fore re­turn­ing to Detroit for one fi­nal go-round in 1930-31. By age 35, he was done.

In 1929-30, while still a player, Fredrick­son had taken over as Pitts­burgh coach. The new role was not re­ward­ing: the Pi­rates won only five times in a 44-game sched­ule and fin­ished 21 points be­hind next-worst Detroit. The fol­low­ing year, the fran­chise was moved to Philadel­phia and Fredrick­son was re­placed as coach by none other than Cooper Smeaton.

In 1933, Fredrick­son ac­cepted a job as coach of Hobey Baker’s alma mater, Prince­ton Univer­sity. There was an­other Prince­ton rookie that year, a physi­cist math­e­ma­ti­cian who had de­cided that Adolf Hitler’s Ger­many was no longer a tol­er­a­ble place to call home. The learned man had some­thing in com­mon with Fredrick­son: he, too, was an ac­com­plished vi­o­lin­ist. They struck up a friend­ship and of­ten walked to cam­pus to­gether. The other vi­o­lin­ist? Al­bert Ein­stein.

When the Sec­ond World War erupted in 1939, Fredrick­son stepped for­ward again. He joined the RCAF, com­manded an air force fly­ing school, and coached an air force hockey team, the Sea Is­land Fly­ers, from 1940 un­til 1945. Af­ter the war, he took over as coach of the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia and was highly re­garded by the Thun­der­birds who played for him.

An­other mem­ber of the Hockey Hall of Fame class of 1958, Frank Fredrick­son lived long and well. He died two weeks short of his 84th birth­day, in Van­cou­ver, in 1979.

• All are wel­come to at­tend a free talk by author Alan MacLeod at 2 p.m. on Sat­ur­day, Nov. 24, at the Vic­to­ria Pub­lic Li­brary Cen­tral Branch.

Win­nipeg-born Frank Fredrick­son was an all-star hockey player, Olympic gold medal­list, gifted vi­o­lin­ist and val­ued air­man with the 223rd Bat­tal­ion/Royal Fly­ing Corps/RAF, in which he served from 1916 to 1919. His story is one of 30 pro­filed in a new book about the im­pact of war dur­ing the early years of pro hockey in Canada.

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