A Short History of Hockey in Lake Placid
The game called "hockey" arrived in the United States in the 19th century with the immigrants. The first hockey team in Lake Placid was organized for boys in 1901. However, it was more popular in Canada until the teams started traveling to the northern states to compete in the Collegiate Tournaments.
The games were played with two teams of six members each, one goalie, two defense men and three wingers. Although the equipment then was skates and gloves and little protection, rules and regulations now insist now they don skates, wool stockings (held up by garter belts), knee pads, hip pads, cup, elbow pads, shoulder pads, neck braces, gloves, and helmet (including mouth guard). All under shorts, held up by suspenders and a heavy jersey blazoned with the team's logo. The object of the games is to hit a three inch black "puck" down the ice with a curved stick, past the goalie and into the net for a "score". Skating skills are a necessity as well as agility. The game is kept in control with a Referee and a Linesman who call all the penalties such as elbowing, off sides, etc. There is no age limit, kids start as young as four and continue into at least the fifties.
During the years hockey has been a prominent draw in Lake Placid. The early years brought many teams to the area for weekend competitions. Before the construction of the Olympic Arena, hockey games were held on Mirror Lake. There were hockey boxes erected in the middle of the lake, with the other skaters staying on the outside in the oval. The Lake Placid Club constructed several hockey boxes on the area known as their tennis courts. The snow was plowed off with horses and a wooden plow and then watered down to make the smooth surfaces for the skaters. College Weeks were known to bring in hundreds of students and their families for rigorous competitions. An area in front of the high school was also flooded for local team exhibitions.
In the late 1940's a group of locals started an organization called: "The Lake Placid Pee Wee Association" which was established for the youth of the community. Thereafter, every winter weekend was full of hockey games, speed skating meets, etc. The climax of the year was completed with what was named, "The International Tournament". Teams across the U.S. and Canada met from Thursday to Sunday in hockey games for all ages. One year there were 72 teams competing. This tournament is still active and in 2011 there were fifty-nine teams from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts with five teams from Lake Placid competing.
The Roamers a semi-pro hockey team was organized in 1946. At that time the team was mostly Canadians, however, during the next ten or more years, local young men joined the team and the Lake Placid community had the opportunity to enjoy hockey every weekend at the Olympic Arena.
The highlight of hockey in Lake Placid, of course, is the Miracle on Ice during the 1980 Olympics. The Olympic team was made up of various college men pulled together by a dedicated coach to form a tight, fast skating, correct passing and medal hungry team. When faced with the older, more talented, more experienced Russian team as the underdogs, they were ready to prove everyone wrong and come out of the fray with a win. To the cheers of USA, USA and the announcer hollering, "Do you believe in miracles?" they did just that with one of the most exciting hockey games of the century. However, the medal wasn't in their hands yet. They had to beat the Finn's on the next Sunday morning to achieve the coveted Gold Medal. Again they proved what an awesome team they were and battled their way to a 4-2 win. It is an Olympic experience that will be talked about in the hockey families for years to come.
There are lots of opportunities for hockey around town. One venue is the relatively new Hockey Box, located on the Southeast corner of the Olympic Speedskating Oval property. Entry is free and rules are posted. This rink is refrigerated and was donated by Ironman USA to the people of Lake Placid. The North Elba Park District plows a couple of skating areas on Mirror Lake, one of them being at the Lake Placid Public Beach. There are hockey nets there for the using and that, too, is free. Sometimes when there is little or no snow on top of the ice, one can skate from one end of the lake to the other and pick-up hockey games can be seen all over the place. There are also several ponds along the hiking trails where one can see locals playing a game of hockey on occasion.
Pond Hockey is becoming a popular organized sport around North America lately. In fact, Lake Placid and Can/Am Hockey sponsor an annual Pond Hockey Tournament in mid-January every year. Ten hockey rinks are cleared on Mirror Lake and a round robin tournament elapses over the course of the weekend.
On the inside rinks, hockey games are plentiful in the winter season. The Pee Wee program sponsors games regularly, as do the local high schools. Both Can/Am Hockey and Canadian Hockey Enterprises hold tournaments on most weekends in the fall through spring seasons.
---Bev Reid, North Elba Town Historian