Albert Pudas

Al Pudas was born in Siikajoki, Finland. When he played 4 games with the Toronto St. Patricks (later renamed the Maple Leafs) he became the first NHL player who was born in Finland.

He may have been born in Finland, but he moved to Ontario with his parents when he was a little kid. He learned to play hockey on small frozen ponds and became a pretty good player as a youngster, eventually graduating to the Port Arthur Ports in 1922-23.

Pudas did very well there, scoring more than a goal per game (17 in 16 games). He continued to play for Port Arthur until 1926 (they were named the Bearcats later on). In the 1924-25 playoffs Al exploded for 21 points (11 goals and 10 assists) in only 10 games, and the following playoffs in 1925-26 he led all playoff scorers with 13 points (including 7 goals) in 9 games.

His fine performance during the playoffs gave him his shot at the NHL. The Toronto St. Pats signed Pudas as a free agent on November 10, 1926. He started out with a farm team, playing for the Windsor Hornets in the Canadian Professional Hockey League. Al played so well there that the St. Pats called him up on December 28, 1926.

Two nights later, on December 30, Al made his NHL debut, playing left wing against Boston, making him the first Finnish born player to skate in the National Hockey League. Boston's legendary coach and GM Art Ross protested Toronto's use of Pudas, believing that he was ineligible to play. The NHL ruled Pudas was indeed eligible to play, and Toronto won the game 4-1.

Pudas played the next three games for the St.Pats - a 3-0 loss to the Montreal Maroons on January 1, 1927, a 2-1 win against the Detroit Cougars on January 4 and a 3-1 win against the NY Americans on January 8th. He was held pointless in all four games.

Pudas was sent back to Windsor on January 10th, and never made it back to the NHL. Instead he bounced between Hamilton, Stratford, London and Detroit in the Can-Pro league for the next couple of seasons.

He eventually retired in the late 1920's and went on to be a successful coach. Al coached the Port Arthur Bearcats where he once had played. The Bearcats lost the 1935 Allan Cup finals to the Halifax Wolves. This meant that Halixax were designated as the 1936 Olympic colour-bearers, but before the 35-36 season began, several members from the Halifax team had jumped to other teams. So the CAHA (Canadian Amateur Hockey Association) decided to send the Port Arthur Bearcats to the Olympics

By doing so Pudas made another historic first, as he became the only European born coach for a Canadian national team. His Bearcats were strengthened by five good Montreal players and one from Port Colborne, Ontario. Unfortunately for Pudas and Canada, Great Britain controversially won the Olympic gold, with Canada left in second place for the first time in Olympic history.

The controversial British team had a team full of native Canadians. Five players were originally from Ontario and another three players were from Winnipeg, including the sensational goalie Jimmy Foster who at that time was heralded by many as being the best goalie to come out of Winnipeg behind only Charlie Gardiner.

Canada lost to Great Britain in the preliminary round, but fully expected to get another crack at the British squad in the four-team final round as teams always had in the past. But the general secretary of the British Ice Hockey Federation and the future IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) president John Francis "Bunny" Ahearne, who was a known Canadian hater for many years insisted that a return match in the final round wasn't necessary. The uproar was so furious that Paul Loicq of Belgium, the president of the IIHF at that time, was obliged to call an emergency meeting to deal with Canada's protests. Ahearne managed to outmaneuver the Canadians and Al Pudas. When the vote came, five countries, including the USA, sided with Ahearne. Canada's only supporter was Germany.

The Silver medal was a great disappointment for both Al and Canada. But Pudas will go down to the history books as the first Finn in the NHL as well as the first and only European born person to coach a North American national hockey team.


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