The Seeds of Hockey

by Chuck Eckels

How did the great sport of hockey migrate from Canada to the United States? Some would argue the case for the St. Nicholas Hockey Club founded in New York City in 1896  as the party responsible for giving birth to the sport in this country. Others would claim St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire since they have been playing the game since the 1870’s. (Experts agree that it was ice polo that was played at the school not hockey. Ice polo uses a ball and a curved stick.) Some would argue that Harvard and Brown are responsible for brining the game to this country when they played each other on January 19, 1898. Brown won this sanctioned match 6-0. Or does someone else have a valid claim to bringing the game to the U.S. From Canada?

In the summer of 1894 a group of American and Canadian college students got together in Niagara Falls, New York for a tennis tournament. Plans were made for the Americans to bring their game of ice polo to four Canadian cities. The Americans quickly learned their game was inferior to the Canadian version. In spite of the pounding the Americans took in that tournament, it caused an increase in enthusiasm for the game. The seeds of ice hockey had been planted in the Northeast as a result of that tournament.

On February 1, 1896 Yale University, represented by the previously mentioned tennis players, played a game of ice hockey against John Hopkins University. As a result of this contest,  Yale University is the oldest collegiate program in the country. This gave me the impetus to want to collect Yale game worn hockey sweaters and jerseys. I scoured the various auction houses to see what had been sold in the past. There are not a lot of vintage college jerseys that have been sold in the past. I’m not sure why. Are there very few available? Do people not realize they have value or are people reluctant to sell ? I picked up a Yale road blue dureen and then looked for others. To my surprise and amazement I was able to locate a road blue Yale sweater. I couldn’t believe my luck. I don’t think I have ever been more excited to get mail. I watched that stinkin’ mail box like a hawk. Once I got it, I wanted to know who had worn it and how old this sweater was.

Once again the databases available online proved to be inadequate. I purchased Dan Fleschner’s book “Bulldogs on Ice”. The book provides a thumbnail biography of all the significant athletes in Yale’s hockey history. It is a great photographic reference to the various style of uniforms the players have worn through time. The blue sweaters of the 50’s have larger white shoulders than those that predate them. Therefore, I was able to conclude that this sweater was worn in the 30’s or 40’s. I had to figure out who wore number 11 in that time period. I shot off an e-mail to Yale University and they responded with a ton of photos but nothing I could use as a photo match. I believe this sweater was worn by Bill Barnes from 1938-40. It has a ton of wear and repairs as well as some moth damage.

This is my first wool sweater so I had no idea how to take care of it. My biggest concern was to stop any current moth activity. I didn’t want any future damage as well. I was given a number of solutions for care but the one a veteran collector suggested was the best. He told me to lay the sweater flat, wrap it in a plastic bag and then freeze it for a week, then  repeat the process. I have done that once a year and I keep the jersey in a display case closed up.

I would like to continue to add vintage sweaters from this country’s first collegiate program to my collection. Now if I could just find a vintage Yale sweater with the letters H, T on it for hockey team……..



Roland Betts 1968