Ed Diamond, AB’47, AM’49 (left), and Leon Gabinet, PhB’50, AM’53, brake to a snow-flying halt as they fight for the puck near the board.

Mayhem on 56th Street

From our print archive: In an essay from 1950, Ed Diamond, AB’47, AM’49, explains how nature and its whims—including a pair of frozen glasses and the birth of a baby—almost “de-iced” the UChicago hockey team.

Every dyed-in-the-wool sports fan likes a sports quiz. For example, what sport can be in season and out of season at the same time? Answer? Outdoor ice hockey. How come? Well, if the weatherman predicts freezing weather, you’re in season; and if he says warm for tomorrow, you’re out of season. Therein lies the story of how ice hockey at the University of Chicago began. The University hockey team was born in 1947. Always ready to send a team to the athletic wars, the department rounded up the necessary equipment and the boys were outfitted. Arrangements were made to use Stagg field for more than just a site for atomic research: the ice rink under the north stand was secured. It was a natural site for it’s usually 20 degrees cooler there than any other spot in Chicago. The stands blot out the January sun while the north wind funnels straight down the ice surface. A student veteran of rink-war cajoled students into trying out for the team. He promised the students bruising warfare. About 20 capitulated. The team began strenuous practice sessions. There was no doubt it was prepared to die for the Old Maroon. The team soon discovered there is not always any relation between practicing for games and playing them—at least, in outdoor hockey. January and February blew hot and cold—with less of the latter—and ice and hockey were strangers. A frozen playing site never “crystallized.” Then, nature intervened again. The manager-captain-goalie Bill Pfender, AB’47, became a father and left ice hockey for bottle duty at his wife’s request. The coming of the Pfender baby and the temperamental weather closed a season, which never opened.

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"2367","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"399","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"460"}}]] Goalie Brockie Dilworth, AB’53, AB’55, AM’57 (back to net), is determined to keep the opposition from scoring as Leon Gabinet, PhB’50, AM’53 (coming up from the rear), Bill Bissell (front center), and Bob Lindblom, SB’50 (far right), fight for the puck.

The next year was more successful. The weather was uniformly cold and the new squad took upon itself another captain—this one also a goalie. The new captain, Dave Rendleman, AB’48, was not indiscriminately selected. The squad could not cope with nature and its whims, but it could be sure that Rendleman was unmarried! He handled his administrative duties well. But the squad that season was to learn even more about selection of goalies. Rendleman wore glasses and the cold caused them to frost; opponents scored almost at will. The University hockey team of 1948 finished the season ingloriously—no victories and five defeats. The squad, dejected, noted mentally that no future captain-goalie would be married or wear glasses— especially if the glasses frosted up when opponents were in scoring position. The following year, last season, the hockey team came into its own. Playing a full six-game schedule it dropped only two contests. Several of the scores were respectable—even by professional standards: 4-2, 8-7, 7-2. To show how in this sport it is easy to rise from obscurity—one athlete who had scored only one goal in two previous years of regular and practice sessions, netted three goals in the opener against Wheaton College. He finished the season with seven more. Then came the announcement of the 1949–50 season. As this story is written the personnel of the squad is almost determined. Only the weather can prevent fulfillment of the schedule. The team’s outlook this season is somewhat dimmed; one outstanding veteran has taken leave for Canada and a government job. Another, a blonde athlete known only as the “Flying Finn,” has returned to Finland on an expired visa. But, on the favorable side, and this is not according to precedent, last year’s captain, unmarried and minus glasses, is ready for action. And so are many others who come from such icy sectors as Minnesota and Canada. There are some Chicagoans on the squad (and even some Southerners). The names of this year’s opponents reads like a sandlot league: Southwest Falcons, 75th Street Buzzards, Oak Park Acorns, Dante Lions, Polish-American Flyers, Chi-Guys, and Back of the Yards Aces. The average fan might assume that hockey is inherently a “dirty” game. On the contrary, it’s a clean, hard game that produces surprisingly few injuries. The only ones incurred are minor—cut lips, bruised ribs, and bloody noses. In hockey, these injuries must be accepted as minor. Players are interested in skillful, hustling hockey. Fighting is the exception rather than the rule. All realize that these tactics have no place in the game. Any mix-ups, which do develop, are broken up by cooler heads—or by the half-dozen or so spectators who watch the games. On one occasion, in a particularly hard-fought night affair against the Polish-American Flyers in Stagg Field, fisticuffs broke out in the last five minutes. Flurries spread even to the bench. The “fun” was quickly dissipated when the rink-attendant turned off the lights. Unable to distinguish between friend or foe, the rhubarb ended. Several minutes later, at game’s end, players of both teams were shaking hands and chatting amiably in the locker room. It was noted that this technique of lights out served as a guarantee to quell disturbances during night contests.  

Out of the past

To several members of this year’s squad certain contests of the past loom as standouts. For example, last February when a match was played in weather ten degrees below zero. And the time when the Wheaton College team arrived short handed and filled in with some “Wheatonites” from the stands. Wheaton won! For ice hockey here there are no crowds in the stands, no letters or numerals as in organized sports, no professional contracts waiting, no recruiting by alumni, no radio hookups, or Bowl bids or marching bands, not even a Maroon reporter. Yet on Monday and Wednesday nights—and Saturday afternoons—about 25 students and alums have one heck of a time, zero weather permitting.