By Tom Coakley, with Dick Stanton
Note from Athletic Director Bill Porter: It is with great C.C.S. Golden Bear Pride that I welcome the following article written by Mr. Tom Coakley. Tom may be better known by many as “Nellie’s Husband” as the pair continues to walk the sidelines at soccer games, sit in on basketball games and of course, attend MANY hockey games in Canton. Tom, along with input by Dick Stanton, has put together a very memorable overview and historical perspective regarding the early days of ice hockey in Canton. His reflections take us back to a time when many local legacies, winning streaks and legends began. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I did.
Editor’s Note: Anyone who has a connection to hockey in Canton owes it to themselves to read this account of the sport’s early history here. Reading this historical documentation, I laughed, I learned, and I realized how special it is to be part of the rich history of Canton hockey. We are all privileged to wear the Gold and Brown. I want to thank Tom Coakley and Dick Stanton for their thorough and engaging account of the Golden Age of hockey in Canton and invite them or anyone else to continue to treat us to these invaluable peeks into the past.
Hockey is a major part of our culture and lifestyle across New York State’s North Country, reaching particularly deep in our village of Canton. Today our small village of 5,000 is home to two collegiate teams, a High School team, adult clubs, youth clubs and three indoor ice surfaces. And of course, hockey has blossomed as a women’s sport as well. Many would label hockey a religion, some with great pleasure and others in vain. Case in point, at one Christmas Eve mass my then three-year-old grandson stood at the aisle end of the pew patting each parishioner approaching for communion, young and old, on the bum, repeating “nice game, nice game.”
But hockey is relatively new in the long history of sport in Canton. While there were outdoor rinks, pick up games and even college teams back to the early 1900’s, hockey literally exploded onto the Canton scene in the early 1950’s with St. Lawrence University constructing Appleton Arena as the home for the SLU Skating Saints of today, the Larries of that time.
While the purpose was to provide the best in competitive and recreational facilities for its student body, the University generously offered Saturday and Sunday morning ice time to the village of Canton and with the hard work of Canton parents and citizens, the Canton Pee Wee hockey program and the St. Lawrence Figure Skating Club were formed. With the creation of a nationally competitive college hockey team and dependable, available artificial ice for our youth, the ground was set for the Golden Age of hockey in Canton.
My search for that Golden Age began with my long held understanding of a 56-game undefeated streak set by the Canton High School Golden Bears in its first decade of the team’s existence. We who came later were in awe of this feat and I finally set out to learn more. The newspaper research material was spotty at best and contradictory to the folklore we held to in the sixties, but what began as a 56-game streak could only be proven to be a 43-game undefeated streak over four seasons, 1955-56 through 1958-59, which with another highly successful 12-3 year in ’59-’60, the five years totaled 57 wins, 7 losses and 4 ties, unquestionably a Golden Age by anyone’s definition. There may well have been a 56 -game undefeated streak in this period as the folklore holds, and it may have been a streak of regularly scheduled (non-tournament) games, but that would be difficult to substantiate today. Many of that time swear by the 56-game streak, one player noting “well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.” The number really doesn’t matter as much as the excitement created by the streak. We will stick with the 43-game streak substantiated by newspaper articles from the time. Sadly Canton does not seem to have the records necessary to cover this period well.
It is possible only one player was actually part of the streak from start to finish. Very few players played Varsity hockey from the freshman year through the senior year in those days, but Dick Stanton was a freshman second liner in ’55-’56, playing all four years, captaining the Bears in ’58-’59 when the streak came to an end. He has been instrumental in capturing these days both in direct input and by sharing his thoughts and feelings of the time.
Pee Wee Hockey
Of course athletic achievement doesn’t just happen. With the completion of Appleton arena in ’51-’52, very excited and dedicated parents and coaches, Paul Patton, Buck Barton, Earl Coseo, Ike Noble and many more formed the Canton Pee Wee Hockey program, and 10-year-old Dick Stanton and friends were there from day one. With his skates, mittens, a broken St. Lawrence hockey stick and magazines under the pant legs for shin “guards,” Dick and his friends and the very dedicated adults were the pioneers of local hockey in Canton. Another early-on coaching pioneer was Jack Klemens who probably coached for nearly 40 years. To the little ones he was known as the man with the blue skates gently urging “skate, skate glide…skate, skate glide!” To those of us who had the fortune of his coaching in our teens, we learned so much, not the least of which was his standard reminder and the sentiment of the organization, “now remember boys, first it is your family, then it is your church, then it is your education, and then it is your hockey; and hockey is very very important.”
Looking at the rosters year-to-year it is clear that the hockey bug was geographically contagious with the brand new Appleton Arena being the epicenter. Early high school teams were clearly dominated by kids from the University end of town who I would as a group call the Miner Street Boys, but to include Maple, Lincoln, Mechanic, and Buck Streets, addresses within easy walking distance to the Arena. A couple years later one could see an influx of kids from the north side of town, I affectionately call the State Street Boys, to include Goodrich, and Power Streets and surrounding area. I was one of the State Street Boys who in about 1954 had to be driven to the arena for my first Saturday morning skate, only to arrive with two left skates. Mom said get out there anyway and I did!
Formal ice time at Appleton was limited to about one hour a week, but, in support of the geographic contagion of the hockey bug, the Miner Street boys, those within walking distance of the arena, found ingenious ways to increase ice time significantly. They discovered a multitude of ways to sneak into Appleton and skate at all hours. One player and significant contributor to the Golden Bear success was uncanny at finding new ways to enter the “locked down” Appleton. For his great sense of “access” he was affectionately known as “King Rat” among his friends and admirers. Three a.m. skates in the dark were not uncommon. In those days it was a badge of honor to state how many times one was thrown out of Appleton, all for the new found love of hockey.
Once the hockey bug took hold, kids found ice or at least a slippery road surface in their respective neighborhoods, either on skates or running and sliding in boots. Mechanic Street, Dick Stanton’s street (and King Rat’s street) was a prime location for the Miner Street Boys; low traffic, well lit, and close to home. State Street Boys would gather on a frozen swamp near the present high school, a challenging trudge across a field of deep snow. As many as a dozen kids would skate and play on a very sketchy 30-by-30 foot slab of ice that we for some reason called “the polliwog.” Ice size and conditions distinctly gave advantage to the big and the slow!
More civilized, volunteers maintained an outdoor ice surface about the size of a regulation rink (or so it seemed) on Priest Athletic Field, then the site of the village grammar school and now the site of the Judson Street county offices. This ice was flooded each night by volunteers and was bounded only by snowbanks with a snowbank down the middle to separate the skaters from the hockey players, that being the only rink rule I can recall. The skater side was civilized and the hockey side was a zoo, a goal carved out of the snow at each end with as many players as had arrived dividing themselves into two opposing teams. Newcomers just chose a side to play for and everyone played on. With some frequency an extra puck or two would find its way into the melee and a great argument would break out as to which was the “official” puck. And yes we kept score and everybody’s score was a little different. On very busy days one learned to keep his head up, to be sure.
There was a changing shack with a woodstove, a welcome comfort after an hour or so of “shinny.” More often than not we all would walk home, eat dinner and find our way back to the neighborhood street hockey game under the brightest streetlight with the least amount of traffic.
The diligence of the organizing adults quickly brought organization and opportunity to the Pee Wee program. From Dick Stanton, “They taught us the game of hockey and formed four Pee Wee hockey teams. The Lions Club, The Rotary Club, The Youth Commission and the Little Larries. We practiced and played games every Saturday morning. They put us on the ice before the St. Lawrence games so people could see us in action. My parents came to the games and I loved it. Somebody bought us uniforms and I played on the Little Larries with the bright red colors and Buck Barton was my coach.”
Very quickly the adults organized trips and tournaments in other cities across the state for the boys, many of whom had not been far beyond St. Lawrence County. Perhaps the greatest feat, they arranged for little Canton, New York to play a game in the Montreal Canadian’s Forum, possibly the most famous Arena in North America at the time. Again, from Dick Stanton, “As an 11-year-old boy I played in the Montreal Forum, a thrill I cherish to this day. I remember the Montreal kids outskated us badly but the score was only 5-4 and a young blonde-haired kid named Wayne Mousaw had all of our goals. From that day on Wayne was my idol on the ice and I still feel that way. The sky was the limit and we just kept getting better and better (not knowing how good or bad we were). The men from Canton kept teaching and traveling with us and we began to believe in ourselves. Through all this we were becoming young men and Canton formed a High School Hockey Team when I was in 8th grade.” In a few short years upon the completion of Appleton arena the hockey bug set deeply into the souls of these boys and those of us yet to come. Stanton said it so well for so many Canton kids, then and to this day, “Hockey was my life. I loved playing it, I loved watching the St. Lawrence Hockey Team, I loved being a rink rat at their games, I loved everything about Appleton Arena and being on the ice.”
By definition, unbeaten streaks must begin with one, with no fanfare and no conception of what is to come. But in its second year of existence, 1955-56, the Bears had concluded its season unbeaten in its last six games, and that would be the beginning. At the realm from the beginning was Coach John Oliver, nicknamed “the Fox” somewhere along the line. In his colorful presence and profound influence on perhaps thousands of Canton children he deserves a biography, but at least a quick commentary here can suffice for now. I don’t know how many years the Fox coached at Canton but I do know he coached my father in three sports from 1930 through 1934 and he was still coaching me in the sixties. His favorite elementary school exercises were “Simon says do this!” and “twist and turn and turn and twist.” I remember so well.
For reasons unknown to me, Coach made a mid-to-late career switch from basketball to hockey providing some adult guidance to these hockey kids who were showing so much promise. As one player from those teams told me, “Coach didn’t know up from down about hockey but he would go to the St. Lawrence University practices and we would be doing the very same drills the next day.” But he did know how to motivate kids and kids from age 5 to 18 loved him. Though there are pictures of him skating, at this stage of his life he did most all of his coaching in practice walking up and down the rink on top of the boards (before protective glass), hollering to the boys on the ice. Never one for waste, every broken hockey stick went home with him to appear as supports for tomatoes in his beautiful summer gardens. And at least one stick intact would go home to be used as his “teaching aid” and life saving equipment if necessary as he taught virtually every Canton kid of the time to swim.
Back to the streak, the ’56-’57 season came on with great excitement. The previous season was a real success and almost every team member was returning. While no one was thinking yet in terms of winning streaks the kids had confidence in their play and that great love for their game. St. Lawrence University’s team was generating excitement as a perennial national contender and the village was deep into hockey mania. Note that this was an era when Canton had not felt the pull of many other sources of entertainment. Television had barely arrived with one-to-three possible channels depending on the reception of a given night.
Now allowed to play 15 games each year the boys put together a 14 wins, zero losses, and one tie. The team was still led by that blonde-haired four goal scorer in the Montreal Forum, Wayne Mousaw now a Junior who along with his linemates Al Thorbahn, and Tom Warner tallied 51 goals all together. Then Sophomore Stanton had 26 goals and freshman Paul Wicks had eleven goals. This offense was backed by a senior defense duo of Dave Barlow and Jim Dean and a very successful “acrobatic” junior goalie, Joe Fadden. These leaders were backed by several youngsters now coming into their own.
One bit of folklore from this season… an outdoor game was played against Alexandria Bay in 40-degree- below-zero weather. So I am told Tom Warner was taking warm-up shots when his shot hit the goal post and literally exploded into a dozen or more pieces. Coach Oliver assessed the situation and chose a highly unusual strategy. Understanding that the severe cold was more dangerous to those not in the game but standing on the sidelines in the snow, he sent everyone but the first line, the goalie and one spare to the warming room. As the story goes, the seven played the whole game, scored often and goalie, Joe Fadden was forced to make one save. The streak was beginning to be a serious consideration as the ’56-’57 season came to a close, now 21 games without a loss.
The ’57-’58 season began with great promise and increased pressure on the kids. The town was most in tune with what the Golden Bears might accomplish in the new season. Following the success of the previous season they would lose only three regulars to graduation, the first defense pair, Dave Barlow, and Jim Dean, and winger, Bob Ruddy were the losses. All the returnees were a year older and stronger. The ’56-’57 high scorers, Mousaw and Thorbahn now seniors and junior Stanton would make up the first line. Paul Wicks would lead the second line after his 19 point freshman year performance. Al Bloomer and David Bartlett would move into the first defense pair position. Tom Warner, aka “King Rat,” was back for his senior year and he played very well everywhere. And the very successful Joe Fadden, the acrobat, was back in the net for his senior year. There was no reason not to be excited and optimistic as the season began.
The team did not disappoint. They ran a perfect15 – 0 record and with every win adding to the streak both the excitement and the pressure. Above all, however the boys had great fun on the ice while enjoying their growing notoriety around town. The team would score 108 goals that year and 70 of those goal would be scored by the first line (Mousaw Stanton an Al Thorbahn). An interesting story from that year, the high goal scorers were all vying to be the scorer of the 100th goal. As it happened after goal 99, third liner Bill Day (Bascom in later years) got on the ice and of all improbabilities, scored the memorable 100th goal, and nonchalantly skated back to the bench taking his seat on the second row of the bench. Stanton, “It was fitting that Bill [Dick’s best Friend] scored that goal because now, as I am older, I realize that we were not a group of big heads. We were not a high strung bunch, we were a team, a damn good team and it took every one of us to make up that team, a great reminder of the importance of every member of the team.”
The townspeople were thrilled with the Bears’ accomplishments. Parents and townspeople raised money to buy the players custom leather sleeved Bears hockey jackets, possibly the beginning of a Bears team tradition existing to this day. The ’57-’58 team was inducted into the Canton Athletic Hall of Fame, along with Wayne Mousaw individually, for their part in the historic undefeated streak, their conference championship and their championships in the Clarkson and Lake Placid tournaments. This team handed over to the next team a 36-game undefeated streak to carry on.
As songsters Chad and Jeremy warned us in “A Summer Song,” “All good things must end my friend, autumn leaves must fall.” This is inevitably true with winning streaks and the end would come in the ’58-’59 season. Stanton, “The ’58-’59 season is a blur to me and was full of stress. We were such a young team, with a lot of pressure on us to keep winning. We had just graduated our outstanding group of Senior leaders who were mostly 18-19 year olds. Wayne Mousaw, Alan Thorbahn, Tom Warner, Mike McKenny, Joe Fadden and others, outstanding players. Our 1958-59 team lacked Seniority, maturity and I, as our Captain, was now a 17-year-old Senior with admittedly no leadership skills. Our outstanding Junior classmates were 16-17 years old also. They were a talented group of hockey players but, as a talented team we lacked maturity and cohesiveness.” Losing Mousaw, Thorbahn, Tom Warner, and McKenny represented the loss of almost half of the team total goals and assists from the previous year, a stalwart defense in Warner and McKenny, and the stellar, goaltender, Joe Fadden, who had defended the streak from its beginning in ’55-’56. All told of the 215 goals and assists from the ’57-’58 season the team would lose 103 points to graduation, while 57 of the remaining points were produced by two returning players, senior captain, Stanton (39) and junior forward Paul Wicks (18).
Part two of the Bears demise was happening just down Route 11 in Potsdam where Canton’s arch-rival in everything, was retaining intact its great forward line of Manley, Riggs and Fisk, now three mature seniors. They also had a new and most knowledgeable coach in Bill Sloan, who, just a couple years past, was St. Lawrence University’s All-American goalie and part of Canton’s war-chest in the Canton, Potsdam rivalry. Potsdam would end the streak that year with their offensive powerhouse and new coach, but not before the Bears would extend the streak by beating the Sandstoners earlier in the season.
Before the end however, there were some valiant defenses of the streak with the attention and strain of the success increasing with every victory. Defenseman Al Bloomer notes that Sports Illustrated had taken an interest in featuring the Bears in their column, “Faces in the Crowd.” That possibility lost its promise with the end of the streak, possibly the beginning of the famous “Sports Illustrated Jinx.”
The greatest defense of the streak came with the Clinton game, “the Pride of Central New York.” Dick Stanton recalls, “Clinton High School visited our little Village of Canton to once again play hockey with us. I am sure they came to take revenge [losing to Canton 7 to 1 the previous season]. During that visit the Clinton players stayed overnight in our players’ homes. Anyway, there was a big crowd in Appleton Arena at game time. I could feel the tension and the butterflies. To make a long story short, after the first 2 periods the score was Clinton 4, Canton 0. I felt sick to my stomach when we went into our locker room after that 2nd period. Then all hell broke loose. Coach John Oliver, normally a very congenial and quiet man, started ripping into us about our pride. One by one other Canton men, like Buck Barton, who had been associated with all of us since our Pee Wee days came into our locker room and had their say. There was nothing mean or derogatory said to us individually, but they made it very clear what was expected of us and they expected us to get it done right there and right now.”
“After that time out, I was very very happy to get back on the ice and when the 3rd period started the puck bounced our way and we quickly scored 2 goals in the first minute. We were back in the game and down by 2. In the next 14 minutes we scored 3 more goals, shut out Clinton and beat that strong Clinton team with a final score of Canton 5, Clinton 4. I found out in later years that the Clinton Team was 14-2 that year. The Canton Pride was in place and I was proud to be part of it. I don’t remember who scored the final 3 goals for us, but I do know for a fact that Doug Thorbahn, [Al Thorbahn’s younger brother] had one of them. Of all the games I played for Canton High School, that one is the most memorable”. Dick does not mention here that he scored the first two Canton goals in the first minute of that third period.
In late January of 1959 the streak would end. It was a 6 to 2 loss which was of course inevitable. But making it more difficult the loss was to the arch-rival, Potsdam, in the Bears’ hometown arena Appleton, where “everything” hockey had started, in a game where Canton outshot Potsdam 23 to 14. “Losing the game to Potsdam really hurt emotionally. Especially Potsdam. I remember how quiet it was in the locker room after that loss. It hurt. It still hurts and I think of it often.” Dick Stanton. Anyone who has played this magical game has felt that feeling, and that feeling remains with us, the price we pay for being part one of the most infectious sports imaginable.
But wait, the undefeated streak of the fifties has a very unlikely sequel. Harold “Doc” Rasbeck, a Russell and actually a Canton Miner Street boy for a time in the ‘20s and a St. Lawrence hockey star in the late 20’s (outdoor ice era), carried the “hockey bug” to southern New York state where he had a career of teaching chemistry and coaching hockey. In the ’64-’65 season, his Sleepy Hollow Hockey team was on the verge of breaking the Canton undefeated record. “Doc” pulled some strings to bring the team to Canton to break that record against the team that held the state record in December of 1964. As reported by locals they caused quite a stir arriving in their coach bus and sporting their classy red jackets around town. Appleton was near capacity for this showdown. They were totally intimidating as they skated onto the ice in all white uniforms. But the drop of the puck revealed an entirely different scene as the Canton boys demolished the visitors 11 to 2 and the Bears in that game will tell you it could have been much worse.
An article in the Tarrytown Daily News reported on the Sleepy Hollow experience. It spoke of Doc’s “job” as a rink rat at the St. Lawrence outdoor rinks, his pay being his admission to the St. Lawrence hockey games, where he would later become a star player himself. While labelling the trip to hockey country as a memorable experience, as for the game itself, it could be summed up by one of the Sleepy Hollow player’s quote, “They were all monsters. I couldn’t tell the difference between any of the three lines. Nuff said.”
That ’64-’65 Golden Bear team was in the midst of its own golden moment with a 15 and 3 record winning the Section X championship in an era before state championships. And these boys of ’64-’65 impressively defended the record streak of the boys who had been their High School heroes as they watched game after game in the late 50s, waiting for their turn.
Canton has had many golden moments at the high school level and the youth hockey level and today the successes are created equally by highly successful girls’ and women’s teams. But none of this would have come to be without those Pee Wee parent volunteers, the incredible Coach John Oliver and all those “snot nosed kids” who just loved hockey for hockey’s sake. For those of us who followed and will follow, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to these pioneers. As Ernie Stretton, one of the ’57-’58 younger stars would say, “it was a magical time in a magical village to grow up in.” And it has led to a continued magic for so many of us over all these years.
ALL Hockey Successes are team efforts. – Other players/managers during “The Streak” Identified by Yearbook team Photos.
Mace, Cunningham J., Dean, Evans Guilmette W., Datush, Olin, Gilson, Santimaw, Eno, Conant McClain, Caneen, Hurlbut, Riley, Perry, Crowley, Gray, Henderson, Chisholm, Dumoulin, Perkins, `Mugglin, DeMarsh, Maher, Arquitt, Lytle, Rood.
Of the those participating during “the streak” at least six players would find their way to DI collegiate hockey, with others playing DII hockey (DIII today), and others having been offered the opportunity, chose another path, often the US Armed Forces.
I could not end this story without a special tribute to “arch-rival Potsdam Sandstoner” Steve Riggs, leader of the Potsdam Sandstoners who would end the streak, later a star at Colgate University, a coach for Canton High School for a year, followed by his service to his country as a US Army Lieutenant., where he was killed in action, truly a great person honored by both Potsdam High School and Colgate University.
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