Green Bay has had a long tradition of amateur hockey starting with the Green Bay Hornets, a senior men’s team that was formed in the 1930s and played in the Wisconsin state league until the Green Bay Bobcats of the United States Hockey Association was established in the 1950s.
Green Bay Hornets 1949–1950 Season
In mid December, coach Larry Martindale welcomed 20 players to practices at Fisk Park. The season opened on Wednesday, December 28 with an 11-4 win over Appleton. A week later, the team traveled through ice and snow to Eagle River to drop a 10-0 decision to the semi-pro Falcons.
That Christmas, the Press-Gazette sports department included in their annual letter to Santa a request for a city auditorium that could house semi-pro basketball and hockey teams. (Before the next decade was over, the Brown County Arena was built and the hockey fortunes in the community would take a giant step forward.)
The 1949–50 Green Bay Hornets played in the Class B Wisconsin State Hockey League. Teams in their division included Green Bay, Appleton, Menasha, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac. Most teams in the state were classified as Class B. The only Class A teams were the Eagle River Falcons and the Milwaukee Flyers that were in reality semi-pro outfits having imported players. Most Class B teams relied on home grown talent.
On Sunday, January 8, Green Bay and Fond du Lac battled to a 3-3 tie. The Wednesday match versus Oshkosh resulted in a 9-2 win. The Sunday, January 15 game in Menasha was postponed. The following Wednesday, Green Bay spanked Appleton 7-2. On Sunday, ice packed roads forced Wausau to postponed their trip to Green Bay.
Wednesday’s January 25 game with Fond du Lac was also postponed. On Sunday, January 29, Oshkosh, led by goalie Bob Kinderman upset the Hornets 5-4. The Monday, January 30 Press-Gazette reported that injected into the play were “a few uprisings staged by a trio of Green Bay scoundrels who near the end of the fracas found themselves tossing Oshkosh players over the boards.”
On Wednesday, February 1, Green Bay edged Menasha 7-6 in a bitterly fought contest witnessed by 300 spectators at Joannes Park. Four hundred spectators watched Wausau beat Green Bay 2-1. Thirteen-year old goalie Pat Patton had to replace injured goalie Pete Ellis. Patton played admirably in the losing effort. A week later, Wausau took another one goal contest downing the Hornets 4-3.
On February 15, Fond du Lac shut out Green Bay 1-0 to claim first place in the league standings with a 5-1-1 record. The Hornets were 4-2-1 in league play and needed a win over Menasha to tie Fond du Lac. By late February, the game with Menasha had been postponed five times. The final time both teams were set to drop the puck, fog rolled in and ended the contest. Fog, thaw, winter storms, and Menasha’s reluctance to reschedule left the Hornets in second place.
For state tournament play, the state was divided into the north and south. Green Bay was set for the northern tournament at Eagle River March 4–5. Two weeks earlier, Fond du Lac won the southern division title in Milwaukee. The Hornets anxiously entered the northern tournament with hopes of meeting Fond du Lac for the state title. The state winner was invited to the national Class B tournament to be held in New York’s Madison Square Garden in late March.
Green Bay downed Mosinee 4-2 in the first round of the tournament only to fall to Rhinelander in the semi-finals 7-2. A return game with Mosinee resulted in a 5-0 loss. The 1949–50 Green Bay Hornets ended the season with a 5-7-1 record. The leading scorer was Orv Stankevitz. Three sets of brothers played on the team – George and Bob Tochtermann, Jim and Bill Wagner, and Curt and Vince Oettinger.
Stankevitz, George Wrobel, and Don Brueckner, all teammates on the 1949–50 team, were later inducted into the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame.
Meanwhile, the weekend following the northern division playoff, Rhinelander led by the four Jaroski brothers and Canadian playing manager Larry Dahl won its first state title with a 10-3 thrashing of Fond du Lac.
Growth of Green Bay Hockey
Modern day men’s hockey thrived during this era with names like Mayasich, Dougherty, Buchmann, Coppo, Mattson, Curran, and Riutta starring for the Bobcats, the U.S. National team and the U.S. Olympic teams. In 1959, over 6000 fans in the Brown County Arena watched the Bobcats defeat Japan’s Olympic team. Later that year, John Mayasich helped lead the Americans to a gold medal in Squaw Valley. The Green Bay Bobcats operated as a senior men’s team from 1958 until 1979 when the USHL became a junior development league. After two years as a junior team, the Bobcats folded.
Through the early 1960s, the United States Hockey Association League was the premier amateur league in the United States. Green Bay was a powerful force averaging over 3000 in attendance. Youth programs sponsored by the Bobcats, however, were quite small and confined to the ice available in the arena. Two of those players, Mike Gleffe and Matt Tochterman, did go on and play for the Wisconsin Badgers. In 1966, a small group met around a kitchen table and formed the Brown County Youth Hockey Association. Its purpose: “To provide more area youth with an opportunity to play hockey.”
From that small group of hockey advocates representing DePere, Ashwaubenon, Howard, Green Bay (east and west), beginners groups, Squirts, Pee Wees, Bantams and high school teams were formed, all sponsored by the Brown County Hockey Association. Acquiring indoor ice was a problem. A committee established negotiations with County officials in an attempt to expand the ice availability. At the same time, the programs were expanding and ice was at a premium.
The concept of County teams was short-lived but valuable. The top-level teams needed a competition level which required extensive travel in three states and Canada. Too much of the association’s resources were being directed to one level. However, those teams served a purpose; they greatly increased the public awareness of youth hockey in Brown County. Pictures in the Press-Gazette showing a team that was going to participate in U.S. Nationals, practicing in the Curling Club on a 20-foot wide section of ice, highlighted the need for additional indoor ice.
Meanwhile, programs grew and the communities formed separate associations under the auspices of the Brown County Association. Those initial associations were Ashwaubenon, De Pere, Howard, Green Bay East and Green Bay West. The County teams disbanded and the local association sponsored their own teams. Instead of 100 area youth playing hockey, over 1000 were enrolled.
The Fort Howard Foundation stepped forward to build a new facility for the county with the Brown County Youth hockey Association operating and maintaining the arena. In 1972, the youth facility opened across the street from the Brown County Arena. Enrollments increased and ice was again at a premium. With much volunteer labor and donated materials, a second ice arena was built in De Pere.
Youth teams were organized throughout the Fox River Valley that kept travel and cost to a minimum. One of the highlights was the Midwest high school tournament that drew 16 select teams from four states. It was considered one of the most prestigious high school tournaments in the Upper Midwest. At the time, only Green Bay Premontre high school sponsored a varsity program. Other Green Bay teams were club programs. But the area did produce a number of talented players who went on play college hockey. Mark Mazzoleni, Kevin Humphreys, and Gary Harpell were a few of those.
By the 1990s, hockey continued to grow and thrive in the Green Bay area. The DePere ice arena continues to this day, but the Brown County youth arena has been replaced by a state-of-the-art, three-rink complex – the Cornerstone Community Center. In 1994, junior hockey returned to Green Bay with the advent of the Green Bay Gamblers. In 2002, the newly built Resch Center with seating for over 10,000 became the new home for the Gamblers who have developed into one of the top junior programs in the country, winning two national junior titles.
Green Bay Premontre is now Green Bay Notre Dame and the team won a WIAA state championship in 2012. The club high school programs are WIAA varsity programs at DePere, Ashwaubenon, Green Bay and Bay Port high schools. The Bay Area girls’ team won the WIAA championship in 2014.
The St. Norbert college men’s team is a perennial national tournament team having appeared in 16 national tournaments since 1997. The program has won four national titles and been runners-up four times.
Back row: Norm Kolbus, unknown, Len Ernst, Orv Stankevitz, Bob Tochterman, Jim Kramer, Jim Ryan
Front row: Mark Trowbridge, John Tourville, Mike Wallace, Pat Patton, Tom Tochterman, Mickey Oettinger, Dick Nier