Close to 150 alumni and friends of St. Paul's School gathered in Manchester, NH, on Saturday, March 25, to celebrate the great tradition of hockey in Millville.
Specifically, well-wishers and hockey faithful were on hand at Manchester's Verizon Wireless Arena to witness pre-game ceremonies honoring nine new inductees into the New Hampshire Hockey Hall of Fame. Among the hockey greats honored were three alumni of St. Paul's School: Hobey Baker (Form of 1909), Richard P. Ryerson (Form of 1945), and William R. Matthews, Jr. (Form of 1961), SPS Rector. Other inductees included Merrill Fay and Leo Gould of Gilford; Navy Labnon and Roland Lavigne of Berlin; Brian Stone of Manchester; and the late Clarence “Buzz” Littell III.
At the Noon induction ceremony, both Ryerson and Matthews spoke of their experiences in hockey, recalling fondly their days as young players at St. Paul's. When he arrived at St. Paul's from his home in New Jersey as a Fourth Former in the fall of 1942, Ryerson had never before played organized sports. By his Fifth Form year, he was a member of the select SPS interscholastic team. Matthews joked that he arrived at the School as a "hot-shot" hockey player, but made the fifth Old Hundred team initially.
Ryerson played hockey at St. Paul's from 1943-1945, winning the Gordon Medal as the School's best athlete as a Sixth Former. He went on to serve in the US Armed Forces before attending Princeton, playing hockey there for one season and part of another, and then continuing on the ice for the Schenectady Generals of the Interstate League. He eventually graduated from Wesleyan University in 1958, where he played intercollegiate hockey. A longtime hockey coach at both Tilton School and Concord High School, Ryerson was named Coach of the Year in New Hampshire in both 1977 and 1979.
"I started on the eighth [Old Hundred] team. I can remember those days on the pond with eight rinks, and how they made the rinks with the horse and blade. It was just awesome. It was magical. I made the SPS team by junior year and that was a thrill because it meant you made the trip to the Garden in New York City and played in the Christmas game down there," said Ryerson, now retired and living in Hopkinton, NH. "For 65 years I have loved the game of hockey, and I still love it. It all began at SPS."
Matthews graduated from St. Paul's in 1961, excelling in hockey, soccer, and baseball. He went on to Bowdoin College, where he was a three-year starter in hockey, football, and baseball. He captained the Bowdoin hockey team during his senior year, earning co-MVP honors in 1965. In 1973, Matthews launched a 17-year coaching career at St. Paul's, leading the boys hockey team, which included future long-term NHL veteran Don Sweeney '84, to the ISL championship in 1984. The team's undefeated record of 14-0-0 that season remains the only undefeated-untied record in ISL history. Between December of 1983 and February of 1985, Matthews-coached SPS hockey squads won 34 consecutive games. He finished his coaching career with 204 wins and a winning percentage of .609.
Matthews also coached the SPS girls hockey team from 1992-1994, compiling an overall record of 20-11-4. Matthews has served as a teacher, coach, and administrator at St. Paul's School, including his most recent appointment in January 2006 as the School's Twelfth Rector.
"I am very thrilled, very excited. It was a wonderful lunch and a great reception. I am very honored. I said at the luncheon that it was a real privilege for me to wear the St. Paul's School hockey jersey and then to coach hundreds of kids who wore it as well," said Matthews. "The best part about my coaching is the friendships and the great stories. I remain friends with a lot of the players I coached. Many of them were at school when my own sons were there. Tonight, just seeing so many former players, triggered a memory of a game or of a moment in a game and it was great fun to re-live those moments. It has been a great day."
Although Baker was inducted into the Granite State's hockey shrine posthumously, he was certainly not forgotten. Jim Hayes, executive director of the New Hampshire Legends of Hockey, said that Baker's nephew had written a letter on behalf of his uncle, thanking the organization for remembering the hockey legend.
Baker, known as one of the greatest hockey players ever to play the game, entered St. Paul's in 1903 and soon acquired a foremost position among his fellow students. Baker was not at school long before he was noted for his integrity, scholastic ability and sportsmanship. As an SPS student between 1903 and 1910, he excelled in football and hockey. Baker made the SPS varsity hockey team in his Fourth Form year at age 15, and the team went on to play against the best college teams in the East, and often beat them. He was a natural athlete who excelled at whatever sport he attempted. In 1910 he went on to Princeton and had a legendary career there as well. To date, he is the only athlete elected to both the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Hockey League Hall of Fame. He was, by all accounts, a legend in his own time.
Baker, captain of the 141st Aero Squadron died in Toul, France on December 21, 1918 at the age of 26. The Hobey Baker Memorial Award was named after Baker and is given annually to a Division I college player. Criteria for the award include strength of character on and off the ice as well as scholastic achievement and sportsmanship.
Malcolm K. Gordon, known as the "father of American Hockey" said of Baker in 1940: "Twenty years after his tragic death in France, his memory is bright and his life is an inspiration to all who love real sport. This is not entirely due to the fact that Hobey was an outstanding athlete and without doubt the most brilliant hockey player of his day. It is largely because of his character, his simplicity and his love of sport for sport's sake. No one could play with or against Hobey without being influenced by his spirit of fair play."
"I think [Hobey Baker's induction] made it even more special because when I was at SPS, there were so many legends and stories about Hobey Baker," said Ryerson, who was beaming for the entire evening. "To play in the shadow of him there and at Princeton makes it so much better. It is a great day in my life."
Prior to the Manchester Monarchs/Providence Bruins game at the Verizon Arena, St. Paul's School hosted a reception for alumni and friends at the Radison Hotel in Manchester. Matthews presented Ryerson with a new SPS letter sweater while Bobby Clark '61, Gordon Medal winner as a Sixth Former and captain of the SPS hockey team in 1961, was sporting a vintage red Isthmian hockey sweater. Charlie Boswell '44 was also in attendance. He spoke fondly of his days at SPS where "hockey was king" and said that he would not have missed the NH Legends event for anything.
"The outdoor rinks were quite different. Spectators would line the rinks two-to-three deep, and when SPS scored a goal, they would take their sticks and beat them on the side of the boards. The ice on the Lower School Pond was rock hard. If one's skates were not sharp, it was tough skating, so St. Paul's had a little advantage there," said Boswell, recently retired from a long administrative and coaching career at Hobart College, where he started a hockey club that nine years later became a competitive Division III program. "If I had not been a student at St. Paul's, who knows? I might have ended up a basketball player or something else."
The history of ice hockey in New Hampshire is rich in tradition and dates back to 1883 on the Lower School Pond at St. Paul's School, where students played the first hockey game anywhere in the United States. In celebrating Legends of Hockey Night, members of the Monarchs, the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's Los Angeles Kings, donned replica Hobey Baker-era SPS hockey jerseys, complete with a red SPS in the center with hockey sticks crossing through the letters. Jerseys were auctioned off at the conclusion of the game as a fundraiser for the NH Hockey Hall of Fame.
Hayes of NH Legends of Hockey said that Ryerson, Matthews, and Baker were part of the organization's fifth induction class, and have joined an elite group of hockey talent that now includes just 47 members.
"We are really pleased to be able to honor St. Paul's School and their long history of ice hockey dating back to 1883 on the ponds," said Hayes. "It was a great day."