Thursday, April 19, 2012

Breakout Past: The Manure Rink of 1922

It's very easy to fall into a certain trap when talking about the history of Penn State hockey, particularly with two very distinct eras of teams - the first varsity team that traces its roots to early 1938 and lasted until 1947 and the non-varsity period beginning in 1971 (of course, more recently, we've learned of an aborted attempt at hockey in 1909-1910). The trap? Neglecting the in-between periods. You might say 'idiot, there wasn't any team in those years,' and of course, you'd be right. That, however, doesn't mean that there weren't important, or at least interesting, developments in those years. Last summer, for instance, we looked at 1954 and the origins of the facility that eventually became the Icers' first home.

This time around, we'll hit a similar story, minus the happy ending. Under the leadership of Hugo Bezdek, Penn State's athletic director from 1918-1936 (and also, at various times, the head football, basketball and baseball coach) a number of attempts were made at building an outdoor rink in the 1920s. The following story appeared in the January 13, 1922 Penn State Collegian and outlined the first of these (as always, click to enlarge the articles):

Some of the highlights:
  • The rink was to be on Old Beaver Field, the one behind where Osmond Building is now and used by the football team from 1893-1908 (I've always had trouble even picturing that), not to be confused with New Beaver Field, which was completed for 1909 and now rests underneath the Nittany Parking Deck. Osmond was built in 1938 which, as far as I know, rendered the old/new distinction moot (in other words, attempts to create a rink on "Beaver Field" during the first varsity era took place at what was previously called "New" Beaver Field. But in 1922, "old" has to mean the one behind Osmond, as this 1930 campus map seems to verify.
  • Manure was piled along the edges to retain water. Oh Central Pennsylvania...
  • It was to be lit at night. If it wasn't for the manure, I'd say this is high-end stuff.
  • "In one or two years, the Blue and White colors may appear on the ice as well as on the gridiron, track or mat."
  • "It is too early to make predictions as to the possibility of Penn State being represented by a varsity hockey team but such a step may be taken next year. There is an abundance of good hockey material in school at present and a well balanced aggregation could be selected. An Intercollegiate Hockey League already exists in the east."
Four days later, the Collegian published an editorial supporting the idea.

By January 31st, everything was still going well...other than the fact that Old Beaver Field wasn't flat, and that prevented some areas from freezing. Still, Bezdek remained enthusiastic both about the present and the future of the rink (although we're apparently calling it an "experiment" now).

Nearly one month later, on February 28th, another editorial makes it seem clear that the "experiment" has not been successful this year (an assumption confirmed by a letter to the editor on December 5, 1922 that discusses "the failure" of "last year"), but that "the ball has been started rolling in the right direction...Bezdek will be on the job and Penn State students can count upon results."

How did that turn out? Other attempts at a rink (at minimum) followed in 1923, 1925, 1927 and 1928, none of which really went any better than 1922's two-month journey from "varsity hockey next year" to "failed experiment."

To me though, that's precisely what makes these in-between periods so fascinating - the sheer number of times Penn State tried to get it right, tried to have a rink and a varsity hockey program, and still somehow failed. It's not at all farfetched to see how more success in the 1920s could have meant PSU having one of the most traditional programs in the NCAA today. Instead, hockey finally took hold in what turned out to be the worst possible time since the sport's invention to try to start a program, just prior to the outbreak of World War II - but that's a whole different chapter in PSU hockey's 100-year run of teases and bad luck.


  1. To clarify, they were hoping that winter would freeze the ice? No pipes or artificial cold?

  2. I don't believe so with any of these...the outdoor rink in the 1950s (which later gained a roof and walls, became the original Ice Pavilion, was converted to a fieldhouse in 1978, then razed for the now-infamous Lasch Building - I know you know all that, I just like saying it) had pipes underneath. They may have tried to rig something up in the 40s for the one verified home game played by the original varsity team, but I'll have to go back and re-read that stuff. I'd have to say no on anything before that though. Seems like something that ambitious would have gotten a mention right around the piles of manure.