The national passion gives way to a sense of duty as Canadian men trade their hockey sweaters for military uniforms and head overseas. Among them is Conn Smythe, the scrappy captain of the University of Toronto hockey team, who joins an artillery battalion made up of some of Canada's finest hockey players.
By the end of 1917, the "chronically lucky" Major Smythe is the only senior officer in the so-called Sportsmen's Battery who isn't wounded or dead. But his fortunes come crashing down when, after joining the Royal Flying Corps, he is shot from the sky and presumed killed.
As more Canadian men head off to fight in Europe, women are called to fill in gaps both in the workforce and on the rink. With the men's pro game suffering a serious talent drain, women get their first chance to play before crowds for money. Pleasantly surprised by the high caliber of play, hockey-hungry fans open their wallets to see stars like Ottawa's Eva Ault and Cornwall's Albertine "The Miracle Maid" Lapensee.
Looking for their own Miracle Maid, the Montreal Westerns scour rural Quebec, eventually discovering a 17-year-old prodigy calling herself Ada Lalonde. But before her first game, Lalonde reveals a secret: underneath her skirt is a jockstrap, and "she" is actually a young boy desperate to play top-level hockey.
Unlike Lalonde, women's hockey enjoys a few years in the spotlight. But when the First World War comes to an end, so do the careers of the first female pros. Like the game she dominated, the Miracle Maid disappears without a trace.
Canada's soldiers return from Europe victorious, but a team of Icelandic-Canadians discovers wartime service isn't enough to crack the old guard in Winnipeg. After being barred from the city's top leagues due to their ancestry, Frank Frederickson and his "Goolie" teammates win the respect of their community by winning the Allan Cup, earning the right to represent Canada at the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.
In Belgium, the Winnipeg Falcons play a fast, tough game with which their European opponents are not familiar, easily winning the first-ever Olympic hockey gold medal. The victory earns Frederickson and his teammates a hero's reception when they return to the town that once shunned them.
With big-time pro hockey starting to take shape, Leo Dandurand, the brash new owner of the Montreal Canadiens, lures a reluctant Howie Morenz to the NHL. Despite his crisis of confidence, the Stratford Streak quickly establishes himself as the crown jewel of the newest incarnation of the Flying Frenchmen.
Looking to tap into the lucrative American sports market, Dandurand convinces fellow tycoon Tex Rickard to outfit the brand-new Madison Square Garden with an ice rink and bring hockey to Broadway. With Morenz the star attraction, the Canadiens defeat the newly minted New York Americans as the Manhattan glitterati take in the first hockey game at what will become the world's most famous arena. The buzz from New York lands the NHL teams in Boston, Chicago and Pittsburgh as pro hockey takes hold in the States.
Meanwhile, a building boom is changing the face of Toronto, and Conn Smythe returns from the dead (actually, a German POW camp) to earn a fortune in the sand and gravel business. After a brief stint as coach of the New York Rangers, Smythe cashes in on some big sports wagers, rounds up a few investors and buys the NHL's Toronto St. Pats. Deciding the nickname is too Irish-Catholic, Smythe rechristens them the Maple Leafs.
Not even the Great Depression, which brings Canada to its knees in the early 1930s, can quell Smythe's ambitions. While most of the country sits idle, he builds one of the world's greatest arenas - Maple Leaf Gardens � by paying contractors on margin.
In a hint at the future of hockey, the new building contains a small steel box suspended high above the ice, from which a young man named Foster Hewitt sends descriptions of the action below over the radio.