Greenfield’s Pond Hockey Team, Part 1: Establishing the program in 1926

  • The 1930 Greenfield High School outdoor ice hockey team, led by head coach James Hayes (top right). FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/23/2020 5:11:52 PM

(NOTE: This is the first in a series of stories on the history of the Greenfield High School outdoor hockey team. Thanks to local historian Mike Cadran for his research and contributions.)

When the Greenfield hockey team held off Lunenburg to capture the MIAA Division 3A state title earlier this month, it was a milestone victory for the program. Since establishing a hockey team in 1970 under athletic director Ralph Collins, no Green Wave team had ever hoisted a state championship trophy, and just one (2008) had also claimed a sectional title to its credit.

Going back through the history of the team, however, there have been great successes in the 50 years since Collins and Greenfield founded their program. But to truly understand the long-standing history of hockey at Greenfield High School, you’d have to go back much farther in time.

And you’d have to look outdoors.

While Greenfield’s history as an indoor ice hockey program began in 1970, for nearly two decades beginning in 1926, the school sponsored a varsity program in outdoor hockey. Playing home games on the pond rink constructed at Highland Park, the Greenies endured nearly 20 years of games against all comers, in just about every climate.

The torrid tales of those outdoor hockey teams were captured throughout the pages of the Recorder, and no stones were left unturned. Games were often canceled due to poor ice conditions, as Greenfield’s fate was almost exclusively at the mercy of Mother Nature. Players were suspended or kicked off the team for all sorts of reasons, and fluctuating roster numbers were often the difference between comfortable victories and lopsided defeats.

It was indeed a different time, when coaches blamed losses on “too much etiquette and not enough fight.” When some teams asked for postponements out of “fear.”

The 1920’s were roaring, and hockey was a sport on the rise. The Boston Bruins joined the National Hockey League, still in its infancy, in 1924, becoming the first American club into the organization. Prior to the 1926-27 season, they purchased a 24-year-old defenseman named Eddie Shore, and he suited up in the No. 2 sweater to begin a lifetime relationship with the hockey fans of New England.

With that in mind, let’s hop in our time machine and travel back to November 1926, when Greenfield decided that outdoor hockey, played on the pond, would become the sixth varsity sport in school history.

To begin with…

The headline in all capital letters broke the news: “HIGH SCHOOL TO START HOCKEY TEAM.”

It was Nov. 26, 1926, and Greenfield High School made its intention known to the public.

“Through the personal efforts of James Hayes, member of the faculty of the junior high school, hockey, a new winter sport, will be taken up at Greenfield High School this year.”

Hayes was the man to pioneer the outdoor program. The young educator was an experienced hockey man. He saw time on the semi-pro circuit, and “on professional and college ice rinks as well as pond hockey,” according to reports.

Under his guidance, the program gained the support of Greenfield administration and the School Committee. Hayes would serve as head coach, and the Greenies would appoint Fran Lawler as manager to put together a schedule of games for the 1926-27 season.

The initial announcement in the paper listed a call for candidates on Dec. 7, and the team would begin practicing on the rinks on Highland Avenue as soon as they were ready for the season.

In the Springfield Republican, reports from that first meeting on Dec. 7 were encouraging. “Greenfield has never been represented on the ice and under Coach Hayes, who has had a great deal of experience as a hockey player, the school should turn out a good sextet.”

A large pool of candidates turned out that first day, in the gymnasium at the school for blackboard instruction on the finer points of the game of hockey. There was a lot of work to do, and not much time to do it. Just one month until the season opener, and Hayes needed to get his boys outside on the ice in a hurry.

The initial schedule put together for the inaugural season? Orange (Jan. 8), Springfield Tech (Jan. 15), Keene (Jan. 29), Springfield Tech (Feb. 12), Keene (Feb. 19), Williams College freshmen (Feb. 26).

That first season turned out to be anything but smooth. Greenfield would come to find out that getting a program off the ground from scratch — and a weather-dependent sport at that — was not an easy endeavor.

Check back for Part 2: “First season blues” in Wednesday’s Recorder.

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