Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Piecing Together the Past

Over the last week or so, I've had a fantastic time digging into some of the Daily Collegian archives hosted by University Libraries and for no reason other than living for stuff like this, I decided to piece together a game-by-game account of Penn State's hockey team that existed from 1937-1947.

As you may have noticed, that link is a permanent stand-alone page, and as you may have also noticed (but probably not), it's been added to the list of such pages just below the Twitter stuff to the right.

I believe I've covered some new ground here, so let's start with this history as reported in the Icers program from this past season, followed by a couple things I picked up from reading what I believe to be every published article on the team during this time.

The first season was 1939-1940...or was it? The February 4, 1938 Penn State Collegian (its name at the time) reported that members of the Sigma Pi fraternity had started an informal team. After a couple failed attempts at scheduling games (recurring theme alert) the team, with A.G. (Al) Hook as coach, met Pittsburgh at Duquesne Gardens on February 22, 1938, falling 4-0. While a second game with Penn was tentatively scheduled for March 4th or 11th, there is no evidence that this game took place.

In 1938-1939 the team, now armed with $100 of the university's money (but no varsity status), a new coach (the more-familiar A.F. (Arthur) Davis), and occasional ice practices at Whipple's Dam, chalked up its first win (versus Lehigh on February 9, 1939) against three losses. The team was still considered "informal," but then again, so was the 1939-1940 team, which is included in the program.

The Collegian archives corroborate the published records for 1939-1940, 1940-1941, 1941-1942 and 1942-1943, and you can see how these records were built on the page I created.

Developments during the first of those seasons were numerous. First was a push to finally get some ice on campus, and after rejecting a Beaver Field location for fear it would ruin the grass, nearby tennis courts were flooded. Soon after, the first-ever on-campus hockey game took place, a loss to the Hershey Jr. Bears on January 27, 1940.  Unfortunately, this may have been the only true home game ever played by these "hockeymen," (as you'll see, there's some doubt about one other game) as the outdoor tennis court rink was completely at the mercy of the weather. Many other home games were scheduled, none were played. Road games were affected too as other teams, notably Cornell, also used outdoor rinks - in fact, games at Cornell were scheduled and cancelled at least three times before the two teams finally got together on February 5, 1944. Ice practices were frequently separated by weeks, and this uncertainty was eventually a major factor in the program's downfall.

When this is your home ice, you have problems. Photo: University Libraries

Scheduling was extremely haphazard in those days even beyond weather factors, making it pretty difficult to piece things together. One example: On February 17, 1940, Penn State lost to Duquesne 4-1 at Shaffer Ice Palace in Johnstown. The Ice Palace manager, noting that Carnegie Tech had lost to Duquesne by the same count, suggested that PSU get together with the Tartans, and sure enough, that game took place just over two weeks later, with the Lions victorious by a 4-0 score.

Following 1939-1940, the Athletic Association (forerunner to the Athletic Department) voted to make hockey a letter-awarding varsity sport. However, in sort of an interesting distinction, it wasn't considered a "fully supported" sport. Hockey still had to handle its own scheduling and budget, while the AA handled those things for most sports, finally taking it over for hockey in February, 1941.

That positive was balanced by the negative of the dissolution of the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Hockey League, which had helped Penn State with both scheduling and a stable home ice, at what is now called Hersheypark Arena. Both of these things gradually eroded over the next couple seasons - curiously, PSU declined at least one subsequent conference invitation, stating that the program was not yet developed enough for conference play.

The Icers program states that "World War II and declining enrollment force[d] the team to disband" after the 1942-1943 season. This is inaccurate on a couple counts. First, the team played three games in the 1943-1944 season - the aforementioned Cornell tilt (corroborated by their media guide), as well as losses to an Army Air Corps team and the Jr. Bears.

Second, while the reasons given were both cited by a Collegian article on July 14, 1944, the article also stated that hockey, along with five other sports were "dropped for the duration [of the war]." To me, this implies an intent to restore the sports in question following the war, which runs contrary to the connotations of the words "disband" and "comeback," at least in my opinion. Further supporting my point is the fact that Dr. Davis was still considered a current PSU coach in a March 15, 1946 piece discussing the tenure lengths of the various varsity coaches. Also, as mentioned in a December 19, 1946 article, swimming, skiing, rifle, fencing and gymnastics were brought back at roughly the same time as hockey - this was no grassroots surge for hockey forcing the administration's hand, as with the initial founding of the program.

Hockey's last gasp for a while was in the 0-3-0 1946-1947 season, a year later than what the program says. For reasons unknown (to me, anyway), Davis was out as coach sometime between November 8, 1946 and January 10, 1947, replaced by Jim O'Hora (not O'Hara), a man better known to students of Penn State football history. Not to impugn O'Hora, who was a great man and a great Penn Stater, but losing Davis had to be something of a fatal blow for hockey, as he was a true warrior of the program. "Lack of facilities" (the main reason given for hockey's discontinuation) was always an issue, but only became an insurmountable one after he left.

Oh, and that Dufford guy? Yeah, he was pretty good. But why blow all my material now?

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