The Tale of the Unfrozen Pucks
By Brian M. Henry ’75
This is a story about the only SLU men’s hockey team manager in college hockey history who, through his glaring incompetence, positively affected the outcome of a game.
I shared manager responsibilities in 1973-74 with Kevin Arquit ’75. A primary responsibility that we rotated each week was to go to the coaches’ office on Thursday afternoons before a weekend of home games and place 30 to 35 shiny new pucks in the freezer. They would be removed just before game time, deposited into buckets of crushed ice, and then handed to the officials during the game as needed.
It was mid-February 1974, and Boston College was coming to town for a Saturday game. I got to Appleton around five o’clock that afternoon and checked the puck freezer.
It was empty.
My eyes grew wide as saucers (reminds me now of Christopher Lloyd in the “Back to the Future” series) -- I had forgotten it had been my turn to freeze the pucks. Hastily, I dumped 35 pucks into the freezer, but I knew it was too late and that our head coach, the late Bernie McKinnon ’57, would kill me.
My sole objective was to make sure that Bernie did not find me out. On the other hand, it occurred to me that my absent-mindedness could perhaps help us upset BC, as we had upset BU, ranked number one in the nation at the time, a month earlier.
Coach McKinnon gave the most passionate pre-game speech I’ve ever heard, emphatically and repeatedly proclaiming that the late BC coach John “Snooks” Kelly was NOT going to win his 500th game in our building. In those pre-Internet days we had no idea how many wins the guy had, but Bernie was inspirational.
Bernie left his fired-up team in the locker room. At this point I asked the team to listen up and promise not to tell Bernie, but my absent-mindedness could help us. I confessed before the entire team that the pucks were not frozen and would bounce like crazy all night, so “keep your sticks above the ice and not on it!” To my knowledge, nobody else was made aware of the situation.
The game starts and the pucks are bouncing all over the place. Bernie starts yapping about what’s wrong with the ice; the players smile but never say a word (thanks, guys!). Snooks and his players remark that bad ice is impossible because Appleton always has the best ice. (I can hear the BC guys complain because the benches back then were adjacent to one another on the east side of the rink, and the managers/trainers stood in a runway between them.)
It’s the third period and we’re up by a goal when BC is awarded an extended two-man advantage. BC is all over us and misses three or four glorious chances with a yawning net because (surprise!) the puck hops over their sticks. The Saints go on to win 5-2. Snooks and his team are infuriated, and Bernie is puzzled, by the “bad ice.”
Bernie and the manager(s) were always the last to leave Appleton, and Bernie always offered to drive me back to my dorm. On the way, I said I had a confession to make and was doing so only because we had won and I had tipped off our team. He was not a happy camper at first and gave me a well-deserved lecture, but then started cracking up. He told me he also had a confession to make: “Snooks was going for number 499, not 500.” We both laughed all the way to the dorm. SLU had one more victory thanks to one manager’s incompetence.
Brian Henry is an internal auditor who lives in Johnstown, N.Y. Still an ardent Saints hockey fan, he now entrusts puck-freezing to others.