Baldwin-Woodville High School Hockey

With two high school programs on the opposite ends of a hockey organizations life cycle, the Baldwin-Woodville Blackhawks program did not exist, as it was not

With two high school programs on the opposite ends of a hockey organization’s life cycle,
the Baldwin-Woodville Blackhawks crossed the St. Croix River and into West Saint Paul to take on the Henry Sibley Warriors.
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The History of Milwaukee Hockey

This article was written in by Frank Mazzocco in 1980 after ten years of the Milwaukee Admirals program. It traces the Milwaukee senior amateur/semi-pro hockey

This article appeared in the October 1980 issue of Hockey Exchange.

Last year, the Milwaukee Admirals celebrated their 10th anniversary. Frank Mazzocco, Admirals Director of Communications, looks at the teams, the people and the events that preceded the creation of the Admirals.

Any birthday, anniversary or milestone gives cause for celebration. In a society where even change itself is changing at rapidly increasing rates a 10th anniversary is of special significance. Given the on again, off again history of hockey in Milwaukee, the 10th anniversary of the Admirals is a landmark – a remarkable accomplishment.

The Public Library reports that the Schlitz Polo Club gave the city its first look at hockey during a demonstration staged on the Milwaukee River in 1887. The first organized games were played some 30 years later by the Milwaukee Drueckers, a team founded by Robert Pierre Druecker. The team made its home at Gordon Park Locust Street and Milwaukee River. Judging that the sport was catching on, Druecker built the 5,000 seat Castle Ice Gardens for $300,000 at 35th and Wells. Both the hockey team and the Gardens folded shortly after the facility was opened in 1926. (The building is now being used by the Wisconsin Telephone Company.) The Drueckers played as amateurs from 1918 to 1922 and for four seasons as professionals from 1922–26.

In the late 1930s, the Luick Dairy Company sponsored a semi-pro team that had many former college players. In their five-year history, the Luicks faced teams from Chicago, Detroit, Muskegon, Wausau, Eagle River and Waukegan. One member of that squad was John Dunn, now the captain of minor officials at all Admirals games. Dunn, who also played with the Drueckers, is a member of the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame.

No team saw the start of their third season until the Admirals

Organized hockey returned to Milwaukee after World War II with a parade of teams, none of which saw the start of their third season until the Admirals. The first of four International Hockey League teams in Milwaukee was sponsored by the Clark Oil Company. The Clarks played at the old Coliseum at State Fair Park. They lasted only one season (1948–49) and finished third in the South Division with a 16-15-1 record. In the playoffs, the Clarks won the best of seven opening round, 4-2 over the Louisville (Ky.) Blades. They just missed the advancing to the league playoff championship when they were defeated by the Toledo Mercurys in a two-game total-goal series 9-7. In that year, the Clarks Alf “Red” Carr, Sandy Air and Ralph Warburton were among the top scorers in the division.

In 1950, the Seagulls had a brief life, playing in what has since become known as the United States Hockey League (then the American Hockey League). The Seagulls, the first team to play hockey at the Arena were a farm team of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Chiefs had the league’s leading scorer in Alex Irving

Milwaukee had its second try in the IHL with the Chiefs from 1952–54. In the first season (52-53) the Chiefs finished sixth out of six teams in the circuit (15-42-3) but had the league’s leading scorer in Alex Irving. Irving piled up 103 points (46 goals, 57 assists) in just 59 games. He was joined by two other Chiefs in the top ten Don Poile (76 points) and Rod McElroy (73 points).

When the league expanded to a nine team, single division format in 1953–54, the Chiefs finished ninth. They had a 13-48 record and no one was among the top ten scorers. It was their last season.

The Falcons became the third IHL team in Milwaukee folding early in their second term. The team played most of their games at the Coliseum in their first season (1959-60). They finished third out of four teams and did not make the playoffs. The Falcons suspended operations the following season on November 26, 1960 with a 1-15-1 record.

The Metros were not as fortunate as the Falcons and did not finish their first year in the United States Central Hockey League (another forerunner of the USHL). Former Admiral General Manager and defenseman Barney Loomis, a West Allis native, was a member of that team in 1961. Goal judge Paul Dowd who works the Admirals games today was also on that squad.

It was nearly a decade later before the sport strained its head above water (or ice). A new rink in town at Wilson Park attracted players from northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Unknowingly they were the foundation of a team that would become the Admirals and make hockey history in Milwaukee.

A new rink attracted the Wings

The list of hockey franchises in the city of Milwaukee had grown long by the time a group f men, mainly from Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula, arrived in town to begin playing at a newly built indoor arena. Some of the first team shad moderate success. Many had none at all. The following is a rundown of the seven teams that gave Milwaukee its hockey foundation.

Team                              Years                    League

Drueckers                              1918–1922                   Amatuer

Drueckers                              1922–1926                   Professional

Luicks                                     Late 1930s                   Semi-pro

Clarks                                     1948–49                       International (IHL)

Seagulls                                 1950                             American (now USHL)

Chiefs                                     1952–54                       International (IHL)

Falcons                                   1959–60                       International (IHL)

Metros                                     1961                             US Central (now USHL)

In the fall of 1969, the county opened the Wilson Park Recreation Center, with a 2100 seat hockey arena. The rink needed a team and the group of players from the north needed a home. On January 24, 1970, the Milwaukee Wings were formed, led by General Manager Warren Fansher and Coach Paul Dowd. In an abbreviated 15 game season, the team won 8 and lost 7.

The Wings became Admirals

To undertake another season of hockey the team had to be restructured financially, and two Milwaukee businessmen stepped forward. They were William Chimo of Badger Outdoor Advertising and Erwin Merar, the Admirals appliance distributer for the state of Wisconsin. With the reorganization, the Wings became the Admirals.

They were classified as a Senior Intermediate team and in that first season (1970–71) opted not to join any established league, specially the Wisconsin State League. In order to provide a more attractive list of opponents for the fans, they played an independent schedule. Their earliest opponents included the Detroit Oak Leafs, St. Paul Parkers, St. Paul Johnny Whites and the Calumet Wolverines.

Fansher, a native of Stambaugh, in Michigan Upper Peninsula, stayed on to become the club’s first general manager. The Admirals first coach, John Chandik, was an all-American goalender at Michigan State. Chandik became a Milwaukee TV meteorologist and is now working in Green Bay. Those first Admirals played F.L.O. (For Love Only). They included a draftsman, a railroad engineer, two teachers and three civil engineers. Yet, they played a 24 game schedule and worked out twice a week.

Among those on the first roster were goaltender Don Signoretti , Milwaukeean Bill Marsh, Roy Salmela, Norn Rand, Chuck and Dale Kennedy (no relation), Paul Dowd, Duke Nettle, Tony Scozzfave, Tim Janoska, a West Allis goalie, and Jim “Beaver” Lowney.

Others who played that first season were Barney Loomis and Sandy McAndrew. Loomis, a West Allis native had starred for the amateur West Allis Flyers. He later became the Admirals general manger for five seasons (1971–76). McAndrew was the Admirals all time leading scorer for several seasons. Wire service reporter Chris Peppas once described both men as “immortals” in the minds of Admirals fans.

The Admirals first game on November 8, 1970 was a benefit for youngsters in the Southeastern Hockey Association. The Admirals were charitable that night in bowing to the Rockton, Ilinois Cardinals 13-2. Three days later a news conference was held to formally announce the formation of the team, which played its first regular game on November 14.

A crowd estimated at 1600 was on hand at Wilson Park to see the Admirals defeat the Madison Hawks 7-4. Records from that era are sketchy but it appears likely that Scozzfave scored the first Admiral goal. Signoretti registered 47 saves while Dale Kennedy and McAndrew each scored twice that night. McAndrew went on be the Admirals leading scorer.

The first Admirals sailed to a 16-7-1 record capturing the championship of the first Milwaukee Invitational tournament. After defeating the Chicago Chargers 16-3, the Admirals downed Madison 8-4 for the crown.

The year was a good one for Milwaukee hockey. Attendance figures were encouraging. The franchise was on its feet. Paced by Chimo’s leadership, there was no air of confidence about the organization. In 1971–72, the team elected again to play as an independent despite getting an invitation from the United States Hockey League to join that circuit.

Eventually, the Admirals joined the USH, became league champions and advanced to the International Hockey League.

Updates

The author Frank Mazzocco moved to the Twin Cities and became the radio voice of the Minnesota Gopher hockey team. Today, he runs a photography business and continues to broadcast Gopher hockey.

The Milwaukee Admirals moved from Wilson Park to the Milwaukee Arena and eventually into the Bradley Center. The team plays in the American Hockey League and is an affiliate of the NHL Nashville Predators. For the 2016–2017 season, the Admirals will return to the Milwaukee arena for its games as the Bradley Center will no longer be available.

A Game Lost in Memories

This short story written by Bruce Brennan recalls a senior men’s hockey game between Wausau and Green Bay in the early 1960s. The facts may not follow the actual

This short story written by Bruce Brennan recalls a senior men’s hockey game between Wausau and Green Bay in the early 1960s. The facts may not follow the actual events, but the game is seen in memories through the eyes and enthusiasm of youth.

I recall certain events from a memorable hockey game long ago when the Wausau Vets played Green Bay at Marathon Park’s outdoor rink. At the time I was barely a teenager, all excited to see my heroes play again. It was Sunday; a dark, cold day deep in February. I was standing on top of the packed snow banks along the boards to watch the game with my friends. The snow banks helped support the boards and gave fans a better view. However, you had to be attentive to avoid an errant puck or getting clubbed by a swinging stick.

Mr. Andringa from Rib Mountain took care of the rink and always had it ready for play. He used a farm tractor with attachments for sweeping off the rink after each period. He whisked the snow into windrows against the boards. Volunteers (including my friends and me) would then go slipping and sliding out onto the ice in our street shoes to shovel the windrows over the boards so the players could resume the game with a clean sheet of ice. If someone back then would have mentioned “Zamboni” to me, I wouldn’t have known what they were referring to and probably would have thought it to be an Italian dish with a hambone!

The Park had two separate antiquated warming houses; one for our team and one for the visitors. Each was equipped with a potbelly stove. Seasoned hardwood logs were always jumbled into a precariously high pile near the stove. Saw dust and bark remnants filled the cracks of the wood floor. Usually you could see neat trails of fine wood particles and dust made by an ineffective worn out witch’s broom that testified to someone’s futile attempt to tidy up. The smoky scent of burning wood drew cold individuals nearer to the glowing stove with hands held out as if worshipping it.

The warming houses had an unmistakable odor that all hockey players and fans could identify, even if blindfolded. The smell of black-fibered electricians’ tape wrapped around the blades of Northland sticks was the epitome of everything “hockey” to me, both aromatically and visually. A good hockey stick was expensive, so you had to protect the business end the best you could.

There were several great players on the Wausau team. I recall names such as Danny Ristow, Billy Melanson, Wayne Walters, a guy named “Jughead” Jorgensen, the Pergolski boys, Bill Huntington, and others whose names have faded from memory. George, Neil, and especially Turk Flory were the most outstanding players in our minds. All the players and us young-uns looked up to them both on and off the ice. We thought Turk had all the makings of a pro player. His abilities, hustle, demeanor, and plain presence on the ice commanded the attention of all players and spectators.

There were also three ruggedly talented Ringwelski brothers (Dickey, Junior, and Buddy) playing on the Wausau squad. They lived down the street from my family. We all grew up playing hockey in driveways, on any frozen pond and down the banks onto the ice of the secluded sloughs of Lake Wausau. My pa forbade me to play hockey and threatened to not sign baseball and football authorizations, but I could not resist sneaking off to play whenever I got the chance. That was not nearly enough practice to become good at the game. I regret now that I did not pursue honing my skills like the Ringwelskis did. Eventually, I came to love the sport of hockey more than any other.

On this particular Sunday night, Green Bay came to town seeking revenge for their last loss to our hometown boys. They had a very good team but in our minds they had to play dirty to win. Of course, Green Bay’s fans probably thought the same of our team! The visitors had one particularly skilled player that was slightly balding, about 5′ 11″, and well built for those times. He had a mouthy, insulting attitude and did a lot of nasty things to his opponents in close quarters when digging for the puck. For instance, he was well known for using the butt end of his stick as a weapon to inflict pain on opposing players.

Back then the only sane ones that wore helmets for Wausau were Bill Huntington and Neil and Turk Flory. Sometimes, opposing team players would poke fun at their sissy helmets. After a couple shifts, they seemed to forget about any Wausau players being sissies.

During the first period of the game, Danny Ristow assisted in two quick goals. Danny had a rare finesse while handling and passing the puck. The player from Green Bay with the attitude decided to go after Danny to slow him down. He used the butt of his stick as accurately as a pool cue and chipped one of Danny’s front teeth. There was just one referee on the ice that game. It was hard enough for the one ref to monitor all the action, let alone this guy’s dirty antics. “Mr. Little Attitude” got away with the infraction. The same player was later called for a blatant slash on Ristow and went to the penalty box. Danny stayed out on the ice, making a pass to Ringwelski skating in on the goaltender. With a deke and a quick backhand flip, Mike Ringwelski scored and Danny got his third assist. This guy from Green Bay flew out of the penalty box and right up to Danny, trying to antagonize him to drop his gloves and fight. Turk Flory jumped in with the ref and broke it up. Wausau led 3 to 2.

In the second period there was a lot of hitting as Mr. Little Attitude followed Ristow around trying to intimidate him for everyone to witness, like the bully at a school playground. It worked, as Green Bay tied the score. After that goal there was more pushing and shoving and provoking by Little Attitude, directed mostly toward Ristow.

The period ended shortly after and the teams separated to their respective warming houses. We kids were always allowed into the warming house so we wanted to be there to take in all the excitement as the coach and players discussed the play and that devious player from Green Bay.

We watched Danny as he sat on the bench far from the stove, loosening his skate laces, then staring at the wood floor. It seemed to us that his normal composure was competing with and building up ANGER. Surely this was due to the uncalled-for physical intimidation and the bold confrontations for two periods. Finally, one of the players spoke up, then others joined in accusing the opposing player of getting away with too much and “someone needs to set him straight.” This was all said in vulgar language that caused us kids to be ejected by one of the players who thought our young ears should not be taking in these unusually colorful, animated tirades!

We reluctantly headed for the cow barns now converted to a curling rink because we had not yet had a good chance to get warmed up. We used to go there to get out of the elements only as a last resort. Once warmed up, it was time to get back, shovel up windrows on the ice and position ourselves to watch the third period.

After the faceoff, and some neat passing, Turk Flory skated into the open. He did a head fake, got around the goalie and scored the fourth goal as the netminder strained to look back at the unguarded goal. After spotting the puck in the net, he fell flat on his back in disgust. The hometown cowbells were clinkity-clanking and we were pounding and kicking on the boards in a complete frenzy. Wausau was ahead 4 to 3, as our anticipation for a win was exercised with unrelenting noise and an array of verbal encouragement!

Unfortunately, Green Bay immediately scored to close the gap. Within 12 minutes, Green Bay rampaged with four straight additional goals, now leading 8 to 4! This really took the wind out of our sails. But then, we got new life as Turk Flory and his brothers managed the puck down low along the boards as Turk slammed home his second goal! An additional goal by another Wausau player made it 6 to 8! The Vets were facing an impossible comeback.

With only seconds left on the clock, Danny Ristow skated out to center ice for the ensuing faceoff. The Green Bay player with the attitude skated out to challenge him for the toss-down. Before the puck was dropped, the two of them got very vocal and were pushing each other back and forth. The ref warned them and quickly got them positioned and dropped the puck before anything could escalate. Danny won the draw and turned toward the boards to hopefully receive the puck from a wing and take it quickly across the blue line.

The puck was nowhere near Danny when Little Attitude glides over and cross-checks him in the back and knocks him face-first onto the ice. With time expired, Danny got up, dropped his gloves and they squared off in boxing fashion. Danny ducked a big round-house right and then hit him with his own right cross and then a left and then another right that put this guy to his knees. The ref and everyone else were letting them fight, hoping to get rid of the tension. Unfortunately, that was not gonna happen. The Green Bay player quickly got back up with a bloody nose and comes at Danny, grabbing each side of his sweater collar. In turn, Danny grabbed the other guy’s sweater. They both freed their right hands as they skated in tight circles punching and faking punches at each other’s face. Danny was missing some but getting in mostly clean punches. The other guy tired and resorted to trying to use knee blows because Danny was ducking most of his jabs. Our players and most of us spectators were furious to witness such a cowardly ploy. The guy finally slipped and fell to the ice and we thought that would be the end of the fight.

That is when I saw the worst, intentionally evil thing ever on ice. While Danny was leaning forward struggling to pull his sweater back over his shoulders, this guy (now lying on his back) takes several wild kicking swipes at Danny’s head with his razor-sharp skates. Some of them missed when suddenly one powerful downward slash connected! The blow knocked Danny out while the blade edge followed through and sliced the center of his head wide open. This all happened very fast. I do not believe anyone expected even this guy to use his skates as weapons to intentionally inflict injury! Danny fell and laid facedown, motionless while his blood gushed and melted deep into the ice. The ref and all the players from Wausau rushed over to Danny as “Mr. Small Attitude” skated away without anyone paying much attention to him.

Danny was in big trouble! It was rather chaotic and hard to see who was attending to him other than the ref. Soon the ambulance showed up with two police squad cars. The Green Bay players were in the warming house undressing by now. To us, they did not show much concern or emotion for this criminal act. We all watched the ambulance speed off with lights flashing and sirens echoing off the fairground buildings. It was very eerie as the sirens’ urgent shrills faded away into the city.

Sadness turned to rage in the hometown warming hut. Turk Flory chucked his helmet in the corner, headed past the police and entered the Green Bay warming house. The other Wausau players and we kids followed after Turk. When someone opened the door, it became a loud signal for the Boys in Blue to get into that warming house… and fast! Turk had punched Mr. Small Attitude and he was down for the count. We got to see Turk standing over that vile slug in triumphant retribution before the cops removed Turk to avoid a real donnybrook! I turned toward a bunch of shouting voices as the police lead “Mr. Attitude” off in handcuffs.

Fans gathered in groups, discussing the gruesome circumstances. I was speechless and finally wandered back onto the rink. To my disgust, there was a spot of Danny’s bright red blood flash-frozen deep into the ice, resembling a huge extra faceoff circle dot. The blood stayed there for the rest of the season under several layers of ice as an ominous warning to players.

Danny recovered but did not play anymore that winter. He came back the next season and skated his game like nothing unusual ever took place. The red spot of course, was gone with the spring thaw, so he never had to look at it like the others did. Every time he got close to the boards during a game, fans focused on his scar; a long angry scar of courage. Turk was the real valiant one in our eyes. We all admired him even more, not only for his fantastic play and durability but also for the potential to mete out fearless, justifiable punishment to any future despicable violators.

Every time I attended the Wisconsin Valley Fair in those years, I went over to the area where the hockey rink had been located six months earlier. As I stood there sweating in the August heat, I happily envisioned that in a few months this patch of ground would transform again with cold ice and hot-spirited excitement. It seems unfair that such a memorable era has been lost for local sports fans. But, that is how our lives work. Good memories can only last so long and are rarely chronicled. At least now in a small sense, I’ve made this event “historic” to the best of my recollection.

Bruce Brennan grew up in Wausau from 1950 until entering the Air Force in 1969. He played football for Win Brockmeyer and baseball for Jack Torresani at Wausau Senior High School. His career with the Air Force started off in Air Operations at Patrick AFB, Florida involving Apollo 12 through 17 missions, the first Skylab, and myriad launches testing ICBMs supported by specialized aircraft. He then spent one year with the 4th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Udorn Thani, Thailand. His final tour was at Kincheloe AFB, Michigan with the Strategic Air Command Air Operations 449th Bombardment Wing.

He returned to Florida, working for the Department of Defense at Patrick AFB. He retired in 2012 as an Operations Engineer with a combined total of 33 years of government service. He continues to live with his wife Sandy in Satellite Beach, Florida and enjoys his lifelong passions of hunting, fishing, writing, painting wildlife scenes, woodcarving, and sculpting. The above story is the one that inspired Randy Zarnke to look up his hometown heroes.

 

 

Hometown Heroes

This article written by Randy Zarnke appeared in the The Wausau Vets and the Early Day of Wausau Hockey that was published in 2015.

This article, written by Randy Zarnke, appeared in the book Wausau Vets and the Early Days of Wausau Hockey  that was published in 2015. Zarnke also wrote a book about the Fairbanks, Alaska hockey program entitled Fairbanks Hockey Pioneers, which is a tribute to those who developed that program.

A couple months ago, I was given the opportunity to go back to my hockey roots. I reconnected with two of my first hockey heroes.

I grew up in central Wisconsin in the 1950s. Most of the larger communities in that area had a hockey team consisting of men in their 20s and 30s. Most of those men had served in the military during World War II. As a result, the Wausau team was known as the “Vets,” but we referred to them simply as the “town team.” There was a league of sorts, but it was pretty informal compared to the way things are organized today. Financial support was marginal. Teams would form and disband based on the local economy.

The team in my hometown had several sets of brothers. My father was friends with many of these men, especially the Flory brothers (Neil, Turk, and George). All three were good skaters and stickhandlers. They didn’t start many fights, but they ended a few. It was widely known by other teams that you never fought one of the Flory boys. You might start with one, but the other two would join the fracas within seconds. Because they were my dad’s friends and because of their on-ice ability, the Flory brothers were my first hockey heroes. The “town team” disbanded in the 1960s when many of the players hit their mid-30s. I grew up, went to college, and moved to Fairbanks. I lost contact with the Flory brothers.

A high school classmate, Bruce Brennan, sent me a detailed story of an incident during one of the Wausau games back in the 1950s. That story prompted me to search for the brothers during a visit to my hometown in early 2013. With a little detective work, I was able to locate them. George and Turk are well into their eighties (Neil has passed away).* We met to reminisce about the “good old days.” Both brothers had successful careers and families; additional reasons I respected them, even in my youth. They had fond memories of their days playing hockey. I was inspired by their clear recollection of events. Over the next few days, I shared those stories with friends and relatives, who almost unanimously lamented that they had missed the session. I pledged to organize a similar gathering the next time I was in town so that others could enjoy the stories first-hand. George and Turk were eager to participate.

I was back in my hometown in October 2013. A group of nine guys ranging in age from 60 to 80 gathered to reminisce about the memorable people and places and events which made the 1950s era of Wisconsin hockey so special. The Flory brothers spun tales that kept the group hanging on every word. They laughed about the good times and groaned about the bad. They seemed genuinely gratified that we still recognized that significant stage in their lives. At the end of the evening, George commented, “I could talk about those days all night long.”

Those two recent sessions with my first hockey heroes have stuck with me longer than expected. I think about them often. I’m convinced that the success of the Flory brothers both on and off the ice was linked to the strong values they learned in their youth, the same values that their generation passed on to mine (hard work, respect, teamwork, etc.). It felt good to reconnect with my hockey roots. I’m confident that George and Turk would feel the same.

 *George Flory passed away in November 2014.

Randy Zarnke grew up in Wausau and developed a love for hockey there. He has lived in Alaska for over thirty years, where he worked at the Department of Fish & Game before retiring. He became active in the Fairbanks hockey program and authored a book.

Hockey Greats

Bob Rompre of Beaver Dam and Pinney Dittman of Watertown were two of the premier hockey players in the state during the 1950s and 1960s. Their paths crossed on occasion as competitors and once or twice.

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The History of Wisconsin Hockey

Written by Don Clark of Cumberland, this article which was in the December 1982 issue of Wisconsin’s Hockey Exchange, does a great job tracing all aspects of hockey development in the state.

This article written by Don Clark of Cumberland, appeared in a December 1982 issue of Wisconsin’s Hockey Exchange. It does a great job of tracing all aspects of hockey development in the state. Don Clark was inducted into the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame in 1978. He was also instrumental in promoting hockey in Minnesota and throughout the United States and was inducted in the United States Hockey Hall of Fame also in 1978.

From the records available, it appears the first organized hockey in Wisconsin was played in Superior in the late 1890s. Superior assembled a club and played against Duluth and Two Harbors teams. Apparently the game of ice hockey in the Head of the Lakes was an outgrowth of ice polo, a very popular game in St. Paul and Duluth as far back as the mid-eighties.

By 1911 Eau Claire was icing a team and met teams from St. Paul and eastern Minnesota in competition. In 1916 Green Bay had organized a 4-team city league and also on occasion met other teams from the Fox River Valley area.

Milwaukee was the first Wisconsin city to play hockey on a big time basis, when in 1923 they joined the USAHA, the other strongest circuit in the United States at the time. Other members of the league were: Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Paul, Eveleth and Duluth. The Milwaukee team, an imported aggregation, proved to be a poor draw and the sport died following the 1923 season.

Fox Valley League Formed

In 1923, the Fox River Valley league was formed with teams from Oshkosh, Neenah, Menasha, Fond du Lac and Appleton as members. Oshkosh was the perennial champion in the early years of the league. About the same time another league was formed in southern Wisconsin known as the Rock River league and composed of teams from Madison, Janesville, Jefferson, Fort Atkinson and Watertown.

In February of 1930, the Wisconsin State Amateur Hockey association was organized in place of the old Wisconsin State Hockey league. Officers elected were: President- John Farquhar, Madison; Secretary- A.E. Bergman- Janesville; and Treasurer- Sid Goldstine, Madison. Teams that signified intentions of joining the newly formed association were: Madison, Milwaukee, Janesville, Manitowoc, Jefferson, Watertown, Fort Atkinson, Kenosha, Racine, Beloit, Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Lake Mills, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Rapids, Beaver Dam and Rockford, Illinois.

By the late 1920s hockey was also being played in the northwest section of the state with teams from Rice Lake, Cumberland, Webster, Spooner, St. Croix Falls, Grantsburg, Solon Springs, and Frederic meeting one another in inter-city and tournament competition. Other Wisconsin communities that iced teams by the early 1930s were Rhinelander, Wausau, Eagle River, Superior, Marinette and LaCrosse. Janesville had a well-organized program for the younger boys at this time with 14 teams divided into two leagues- lightweights and middleweights. This was probably the first successful boys’ hockey program in the state. Janesville was also instrumental in introducing the sport to such cities as Beloit, Fort Atkinson and Rockford, Illinois.

Prep Hockey Begins

By 1930, hockey was becoming popular in the high school and prep schools in the state. At this time Shorewood and Country Day of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Lincoln, St. Johns of Delafield, Northwestern Military of Lake Geneva, Appleton, Lake Geneva and Ashland played a regular schedule of games. Ashland played a schedule against Duluth and Iron Range schools from Minnesota. By the late 1930s, the following schools in addition to the above were sponsoring teams: Marquette, Messmer, Pio Nono of Milwaukee, Wausau, Madison West, Medford, Stevens Point, Merrill, Wisconsin Rapids, Wauwatosa, Waupaca, Marshfield, Antigo and Nekoosa.

During the thirties and up until World War II Eagle River and Wausau consistently iced the strongest amateur teams in the state. Eagle River, a small community in northern Wisconsin and possessing at that time the only enclosed rink in the state, captured six consecutive state championships. The teams under the tutelage of Connie Pleban of Eveleth, Minnesota and composed chiefly of players from the Iron Range region of Minnesota, were probably the strongest amateur sextets to represent the state with the possible exception of the 1923 Milwaukee team of the USAHA and the strong Marquette University teams of the twenties.

In this same era Fond du Lac, Marshfield and Chippewa Falls also fielded strong teams, but none had the consistently powerful teams as those representing Eagle River and Wausau.

Any discussion of Wisconsin hockey would be incomplete without some mention of the strong teams representing Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin in the twenties and the thirties. During this period it was usually Marquette and Minnesota battling it out for mid-west supremacy. Marquette’s most powerful teams were during the period when Don McFayden and Clarence MacKenzie, both from Calgary, Alberta were leading the club. Hockey was popular at Marquette University with crowds of 1500-2500 watching the games on outdoor ice. The University of Wisconsin also had some good teams during this period, although they did not attain the success that Marquette attained. During the depression of the early thirties hockey was dropped at both institutions and not revived until the 1960s by the University of Wisconsin.

World War II Interrupts Hockey Activity

World War II, coupled with the lack of proper playing facilities in many areas of the state, dealt a severe blow to hockey in Wisconsin. Most of the high schools and many of the amateur teams suspended operations, many of them never to revive the sport. Appraising the situation, A.E. German of Beaver Dam called a meeting of hockey leaders in Beaver Dam in 1947 for the purpose of reviving the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association. In the next few years, under the leadership of Bud Bellon of Horicon and R.J. Van Adestine of Green Bay, the sport began a slow revival.

In 1960 Joe Leszcynski, Superior and Fenton Kelsey Jr., Madison were elected to the offices of president and secretary, respectively of the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association. Under the guidance of these two individuals WAHA has worked diligently to promote hockey, and has been especially active in the youth category.

Since 1960, WAHA has sponsored state wide youth hockey tournaments. With youth hockey once again developing in the state in the 1960s, a state high school tournament was held. Eagle River won the first invitational tournament defeating Madison West 4-3 in the finals at Madison’s Hartmeyer Arena in 1964. In 1971, the invitational tournament was officially replaced by the WIAA sponsored tournament. From 1965-1980, only three schools- Superior (7), Madison East (6) and Madison Memorial (4) won titles.

In 1960 only four ice arenas existed in the state- Eagle River, Superior, Madison and Green Bay. By 1970, there were still less than 10 indoor artificial ice arenas. But, the sport of hockey was growing due to many outdoor, natural ice programs. Indoor ice facilities ice facilities increased greatly during the decade of the ‘70s. Indoor rinks numbered 34 by 1980. Most had installed artificial ice.

The University of Wisconsin dropped varsity hockey after the 1934 season and did not revive the sport until the1963-64 season. John Riley, Madison attorney, coached the first few teams. Bob Johnson, a native of Minneapolis who played college hockey at Minnesota assumed the coaching reins for the 1966-67 season. During his fifteen- year tenure at Wisconsin, Johnson amassed a 367-175-23 record. Johnson’s teams won three NCAA Division I titles. His winning record at the University, where his teams perennially led the nation in college attendance, and his promotion of the game statewide has had a great influence on the growth of the sport in the state.

By the early 1980s college hockey was played at Superior, Stout, Eau Claire, River Falls and Steven Point- all members of the Wisconsin State University Conference. Many of the players rostered on these teams advanced through WAHA and high school programs.

It has been through the cooperative efforts of WAHA, the schools/colleges and the dedication of many volunteer individuals that hockey has finally emerged as a leading sport in the state.

Notes:

  1. John Farquhar, the first president of the Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association in 1930, was originally from Winnipeg. He coached the University of Wisconsin from 1927-1930.
  2. Bud Bellon and R.J.(Red) Van Adestine who were instrumental in reviving the state association were inducted to the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988 and 1975, respectivley
  3. Fenton Kelsey (1975) and Joe Leszcynski (1976) were also inducted into the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame. As were John Riley (1975) and Bob Johnson (1987).

Updates

In 1980, there were 34 WIAA boys’ high school hockey programs. In 2014, 90 teams representing close to 130 schools sponsored the sport. During the 1980s, Superior (2), Madison East, Madison Memorial (3) and Madison West in 1983 continued to dominate the state tournament. Only Eagle River (Northland Pines), a school that won the first invitational title in 1964, broke the Superior-Madison stranglehold. But, the Eagles did three times winning in 1984, 1986 and 1989. It wasn’t until 1991 that a team outside of Madison, Superior and Eagle River won a state title. Menomonie claimed the title with a 3-2 win over Superior that year. Since 1991, the titles have been more widely distributed. Twelve different schools have won state titles with Hudson, Eau Claire Memorial and University School of Milwaukee each winning twice but the title did return to Superior in 2015 when the Spartans won their 13th championship. It was Superior’s first title in ten years. In 2016, Appleton downed Hudson 2-1 for its first state championship.

The girls program that began in 2001-2002 had 34 teams representing close to 80 schools in 2015. Hudson won the first two titles and in 2015 University School of Milwaukee beat Hayward 2-1. River Falls won three consecutive crowns from 2009-2011. Central Wisconsin Storm and Fond du Lac also won two titles. Appleton, Hayward, and Green Bay won the other titles. In 2016 Hayward won its second title with a 4-1 win over University School.

In 1980, there were 34 indoor facilities, in the state. By 2015 the facilities numbered close to ninety with over 100 ice sheets.

In addition to the five Division III men’s programs at the state schools, six state private colleges also sponsor the sport. On the women’s side there are four state schools and five private schools with programs.

Did you know that USA Hockey was once known as AHAUS, the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States? Bob Johnson in his short tenure as the executive director of AHAUS in the late 1980s coined the phrase USA Hockey to make the organization’s name more marketable.

For more information on Bob Johnson and his fabulous career as the University of Wisconsin hockey coach check out the book, Shot and a Goal by Bill Brophy which is available through Amazon.

John Riley, the Madison attorney who became the first Badger hockey coach in the modern era was himself a skilled hockey player. For more on John Riley check out the book- Remembering the Madison Cardinals which is available for purchase on this website.

Did you know that the Wausau High School had an undefeated streak of 73 games that spanned eight seasons in the late 1930s and early 1940s. It’s all chronicled in the book- The Wausau Vets and the Early Days of Wausau Hockey. The book also chronicles the intense rivalry between the Wausau Vets and the Eagle River Falcons, the top two amateur teams in the state in the 1930s and 1940s.