The Oatman family’s hockey legacy

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The photo of the 1905 Tillsonburg Juniors in the Oct. 21 newspaper sparked some interest and led to some very interesting hockey information.

Archie and Grauces Oatman’s family in Springford included five boys who were all active in hockey. Archie himself was credited in a 1929 article as “one of the greatest sport boosters that Tillsonburg every had.”

The 1905 photo showed Edward Eddie Cole, born in 1889, who became very famous, and ‘Tuffy’ Oatman. Checking their genealogy Tuffy could have been Arthur, born in 1888, or Elmer Ross born in 1894. Ross was very active in hockey although never gained the fame. However, much younger brother Warren Russell who was born the same year the photo was taken, also became celebrated.

Hockey was a fledgling sport in the early 1900s and Eddie was determined to make it his life. He started playing hockey, mostly in the winter, with a branch for a stick and no skates. He was soon on the Tillsonburg Juniors, but left in 1909 to play in the OHA league at Simcoe, signing his first professional contract with Waterloo in the 1909-10 season.

Next year he was on the Stanley Cup-winning Quebec club in the old National Hockey Association (predecessor of the NHL).

After that he played professional hockey back and forth from the east, then west coasts in both Canada and the U.S.

His teams included the Portland Rosebuds, 228th Battalion (1916), Victoria Aristocrats, Victoria Cougars, Calgary Tigers, Minneapolis Millers, Boston Tigers, Buffalo Americans (Majors), and St. Paul’s Saints. He played won league championships, four Stanley Cup finals (although he never played in the NHL), and was on a dozen all-star teams.

In the 1916-17 season, during the First World War, the 228th Battalion had ‘hockey star Eddie Oatman’, but when the team was to go overseas, Eddie was discharged for “special circumstances”.

When this story broke it made Eddie look bad as it implied he was hired to play for them when only enlisted men were supposed to be on the team. It was also illegal to wear the army uniform unless entitled to do so. Eddie rebutted, noting he had enlisted and had his physical, etc. His enlistment papers (#1007011) are available, showing he signed in Toronto, Nov. 1, 1916.

He also noted he was to get paid for playing hockey and claimed he was fully expecting to go overseas, suspecting he was discharged so the Battalion would not have complete his payment.

Interestingly, his discharge papers were not found. Thirteen days after he enlisted, so too did his brother Ross.

Eddie played hockey so long that Ripley’s Believe It or Not honoured him, publishing that Eddie played professional hockey until 1941, a total of 32 years! Longer than anyone else at that time.

His brother Russell grew up to become an outstanding hockey player as well. At age 19 in 1924 he was with the Minneapolis Rockets, and like Eddie hopped around North America playing with the Victoria Cougars, Detroit Cougars, Montreal Maroons and Windsor Hornets, New York Rangers, Hamilton Tigers and Niagara Falls Cataracts by 1929. Unfortunately he was in a bad car accident and received a very bad leg injury. That ended his career in March 1930.

The one thing that stood out in his career was that he was on the Victoria Cougars in 1925 when they defeated the Canadiens, three games to one and won the Stanley Cup!

lbeechey@rogers.com

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