A Century of Hockey on the Hill
The Puck Drops Here
In the fall of 1917, Athletics Director Albert Prettyman convinced the College administration to flood the tennis court (located in front of the Chemistry Building) and convert it into an ice rink. It was the first step in establishing a proud hockey tradition at Hamilton and Clinton, N.Y. A professional team would take shape down the Hill, future Olympians would hone their skills on Sage Rink ice, and countless memories would be made.
Several hundred former players and fans returned to campus in February to mark the centennial milestone. Here’s a brief timeline of hockey on the Hill.
Dec. 11, 1917
The first skating takes place on Hamilton’s ice rink. A horse-driven snow-scraper is secured, side boards installed, and electric lights strung for night games.
Feb. 9, 1918
“Hamilton Loses First Rink Clash” announces Hamilton Life. The score: Nichols School, 4; Hamilton, 1.
Jan. 18, 1921
Hamilton beats Cornell on its lake in front of 3,000 winter carnival fans and goes undefeated on the season (10-0), including victories against Army (once) and Colgate (twice).
Jan. 13, 1922
Sage Rink hosts first game and makes Hamilton North America’s first college to feature a covered ice rink.
Coach Albert Prettyman founds the NCAA Hockey Rules Committee. He would
chair it for 18 years and serve on three Olympic committees.
Ed Stanley ’27 establishes a local competitive team. Five years later, the Clinton Hockey Club plays in the National Amateur Championship at Madison Square Garden.
Prettyman takes a leave to coach the U.S. Olympic hockey team in Germany.
In the Führer’s Face
When the regular goalie on the 1936 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team fell ill, Fran Baker ’36, the Continentals’ goaltender, was invited at the last minute as a reserve player. The Hamilton senior sailed to Europe with Coach Albert Prettyman, who would be taking a break from coaching on Sage Rink ice to lead the U.S. team bound for Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
As luck would have it, the U.S. drew the host team as its first-round opponent. Before the game, Adolf Hitler asked to speak with a member of the U.S. team, and Baker, who had studied German at Hamilton, was asked to do the translating. When the Nazi dictator confidently assured him and his teammate that they could expect Germany to beat them in the upcoming contest, Baker summoned up his courage and mustered his best German to retort, “Die Vereinigten Staaten werden Deutschland immer besiegen” (“The United States will always defeat Germany”).
The game was close, but as the brazen young goalie had predicted, the U.S. won by a score of 1-0. In the end, Great Britain would receive the gold medal, Canada the silver, and the U.S. the bronze. And although Baker never took to the ice because the regular goalie recovered, he did become the first, and still only, Hamiltonian to take home an Olympic medal.
Excerpted from the Spring-Summer 1992 edition of the Hamilton Alumni Review
Stanley works with the local community to build the Clinton Arena. Although the rink burns and is replaced in 1953, Clinton becomes the only small town in America with two indoor rinks. The name Clinton Comets replaces Clinton Hockey Club.
Greg Batt, a former star player at Colgate and for the Clinton Hockey Club/Clinton Comets, becomes Hamilton’s hockey coach.
“Artificial ice” is introduced to Sage Rink after alumni contribute $90,000 for ice-making equipment.
The Clinton Comets affiliate with the Eastern Hockey League.
Following a string of disappointing seasons, Tim Norbeck ’60 leads the Continentals to a 13-5 record. He breaks three Hamilton scoring records and becomes the second-highest scorer in the nation.
Another stellar year — the team posts a 15-5-1 record.
Women’s hockey arrives on College Hill as a Kirkland College club sport.
Hamilton advances to the ECAC East-West finals with a 17-8-1 record (most wins in a season).
Batt selected as the first recipient of the American Hockey Coaches Association’s Founders Award in recognition of “outstanding contributions to college hockey.”
Phil Grady takes over as head coach. He would become Hamilton’s first hockey coach to achieve 300 wins.
En route to a record-breaking 18-7 record and national #8 ranking, the Continentals are led by goalie Guy Hebert ’89, who posts a 92.1 save percentage.
A Great Guy
Hamilton’s most accomplished hockey player, Guy Hebert ’89 earned first-team All-American honors his senior year before playing in net for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and N.Y. Rangers. He represented the U.S. at the 1990 Goodwill games, the 1994 World Championships, the 1996 World Cup, and on the 1998 Olympic team. He also appeared in the 1997 NHL All-Star Game.
Dec. 3, 1993
Sage Rink rededicated after renovations that include an upgraded ice surface and the addition of new ice-making and cleaning equipment, individual seats, a press box, locker rooms, and coaches’ offices.
Women’s ice hockey ushers in its first year as a varsity program by winning 12 games.
After posting a record-setting 19 wins the season before, the Continentals win their first ECAC East title.
Hamilton women make their first trip to post-season NESCAC play — an accomplishment they’ll achieve 14 more times in the following 15 seasons.
Rob Haberbusch becomes the latest head coach of the men’s hockey team.
With an 11-0-2 start, the men become the last unbeaten team in NCAA men’s or women’s hockey. The Continentals go on to win 20 games, a program record, and advance to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals, also a program best. Haberbusch is named NESCAC Coach of the Year, and goalie Evan Buitenhuis ’18 collects both the NESCAC and the American Hockey Coaches Association’s Division III Player of the Year awards.
Unmasking the Origin of the Mask
Hamilton track coach and trainer Gene Long was looking for a way to help Continentals’ goaltender Don Spencer ’59 avoid yet another facial injury. The idea was a mask inspired by work the coach had done in track to prevent heel trauma.
“We started to use a custom-fit, fiberglass heel cup,” Long told USA Today for a piece in 2009 marking the 50th anniversary of Jacques Plante becoming the first NHL goalie to wear a mask. “There is a tremendous amount of shock in converting horizontal to vertical momentum in the long jump. Theoretically, on a custom fit, the shock was distributed over the entire area.”
Spencer’s college season ended before he could give the prototype a try in a game, but it was clear from testing it in practices that the mask had some promise. Not only did it provide protection, but it did so without limiting the goalie’s peripheral vision.
The Hamiltonians were not proprietary about Long’s new mask, and that may be why he is not credited in a more definitive way for its development. After reading a newspaper article about how Plante, the star goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, was interested in a mask, Spencer sent him a letter in spring 1959. “I was thinking I might even get a couple of tickets to the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Spencer told USA Today. “I never heard back from him.”
Yet Plante changed the course of professional hockey when he donned a Long-like mask on Nov. 1, 1959, after being hit in the face in a game against the New York Rangers. And while there’s no way to prove that Long alone is responsible for the mask, we at Hamilton like to say that he had a hand in inventing the technology.
Primary sources include “Hockey on the Hill” by Frank Lorenz published in the Spring 1984 Hamilton Alumni Review and “Thank You, Al Prettyman: Celebrating 100 Years of Hockey” (www.thankyoualbertprettyman.com).