The Golden Age of Golden Bear Hockey - The Streak

Editors note: This amazing story of the birth of hockey in Canton will be presented in two parts.

CANTON — Hockey is a major part of our culture and lifestyle across New York State’s North Country, reaching particularly deep in our village of Canton.

Today our small village of 5,000 is home to two collegiate teams, a high school team, adult clubs, youth clubs and three indoor ice surfaces. And of course, hockey has blossomed as a women’s sport as well. Many would label hockey a religion, some with great pleasure and others in vain. Case in point, at one Christmas Eve mass my then three year old grandson stood at the aisle end of the pew patting each parishioner approaching for communion, young and old, on the bum, repeating “nice game, nice game.”

But, hockey is relatively new in the long history of sport in Canton.

While there were outdoor rinks, pickup games and even college teams back to the early 1900s, hockey literally exploded onto the Canton scene in the early 1950’s with St. Lawrence University constructing Appleton Arena as the home for the SLU Skating Saints of today, the Larries of that time.

While the purpose was to provide the best in competitive and recreational facilities for its student body, the university generously offered Saturday and Sunday morning ice time to the village of Canton and with the hard work of Canton parents and citizens, the Canton Pee Wee hockey program and the St. Lawrence Figure Skating Club were formed.

With the creation of a nationally competitive college hockey team and dependable, available artificial ice for our youth, the ground was set for the Golden age of hockey in Canton.

My search for that Golden age began with my long held understanding of a 56 game undefeated streak set by the Canton High School Golden Bears in its first decade of the team’s existence.

We who came later were in awe of this feat and I finally set out to learn more. The newspaper research material was spotty at best and contradictory to the folklore we held to in the sixties, but what began as a 56 game streak could only be proven to be a 43 game undefeated streak over four seasons, 1955-56 through 1958-59, which with another highly successful 12-3 year in 59-60, the five years totaled 57 wins, 7 losses and 4 ties, unquestionably a Golden age by anyone’s definition.

There may well have been a 56 game undefeated streak in this period as the folklore holds, and it may have been a streak of regularly scheduled (non-tournament) games, but that would be difficult to substantiate today.

Many of that time swear by the 56 game streak, one player noting’ “well that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

The number really doesn’t matter as much as the excitement created by the streak. We will stick with the 43 game streak substantiated by newspaper articles from the time. Sadly Canton does not seem to have

the records necessary to cover this period well.

It is possible only one player was actually part of the streak from start to finish. Very few players played varsity hockey from the freshman year through the senior year in those days, but Dick Stanton was a freshman second liner in 55-56, playing all four years, captaining the Bears in 58-59 when the streak came to an end. He has been instrumental in capturing these days both in direct input and by sharing his thoughts and feelings of the time.

Pee Wee Hockey

Of course athletic achievement doesn’t just happen. With the completion of Appleton arena in 51-52, very excited and dedicated parents and coaches, Paul Patton, Buck Barton, Earl Coseo, Ike Noble and many more formed the Canton Pee Wee hockey program, and 10 year old Dick Stanton and friends were there from day one.

With his skates, mittens, a broken St. Lawrence hockey stick and magazines under the pant legs for shin “guards,” Dick and his friends and the very dedicated adults were the pioneers of local hockey in Canton. Another early on coaching pioneer was Jack Klemens who probably coached for nearly 40 years. To the little ones he was known as the man with the blue skates gently urging “skate, skate glide…skate skate glide!”

To those of us who had the fortune of his coaching in our teens, we learned so much, not the least of which was his standard reminder and the sentiment of the organization, “Now remember boys, first it is your family, then it is your church, then it is your education, and then it is your hockey; and hockey is very very important.”

Looking at the rosters year to year it is clear that the hockey bug was geographically contagious with the brand new Appleton Arena being the epicenter.

Early High School teams were clearly dominated by kids from the university end of town who I would as a group call the Miner Street Boys, but to include Maple, Lincoln, Mechanic, and Buck Streets, addresses within easy walking distance to the Arena.

A couple years later one could see an influx of kids from the north side of town, I affectionately call the State Street Boys, to include Goodrich, and Power streets and surrounding area.

I was one of the State Street Boys who in about 1954 had to be driven to the arena for my first Saturday morning skate, only to arrive with two left skates. Mom said get out there anyway and I did!

Formal ice time at Appleton was limited to about one hour a week, but, in support of the geographic contagion of the hockey bug, the Miner Street boys, those within walking distance of the arena found

ingenious ways to increase ice time significantly.

They discovered a multitude of ways to sneak into Appleton and skate at all hours. One player and significant contributor to the Golden Bear success was uncanny at finding new ways to enter the “locked down” Appleton. For his great sense of “access” he was affectionately known as “King Rat” among his friends and admirers.

Three a.m. skates in the dark were not uncommon. In those days it was a badge of honor to state how many times one was thrown out of Appleton, all for the new found love of hockey.

Once the hockey bug took hold, kids found ice or at least a slippery road surface in their respective neighborhoods, either on skates or running and sliding in boots. Mechanic Street, Dick Stanton’s street (and King Rat’s street) was a prime location for the Miner Street Boys, low traffic, well lit, and close to home.

State Street Boys would gather on a frozen swamp near the present high school, a challenging trudge across a field of deep snow. As many as a dozen kids would skate and play on a very sketchy 30 by 30 foot slab of ice that we for some reason called “the polliwog”. Ice size and conditions distinctly gave advantage to the big and the slow!

More civilized, volunteers maintained an outdoor ice surface about the size of a regulation rink (or so it seemed) on Priest Athletic Field, then the site of the village grammar school and now the site of the Judson Street county offices.

This ice was flooded each night by volunteers and was bounded only by snowbanks with a snowbank down the middle to separate the skaters from the hockey players, that being the only rink rule I can recall. The skater side was civilized and the hockey side was a zoo, a goal carved out of the snow at each end with as many players as had arrived dividing themselves into two opposing teams.

Newcomers just chose a side to play for and everyone played on. With some frequency an extra puck or two would find its way into the melee and a great argument would break out as to which was the “official” puck. And yes we kept score and everybody’s score was a little different.

On very busy days one learned to keep his head up, to be sure. There was a changing shack with a woodstove, a welcome comfort after an hour or so of “shinny.” More often than not we all would walk home, eat dinner and find our way back to the neighborhood street hockey game under the brightest streetlight with the least amount of traffic.

The diligence of the organizing adults quickly brought organization and opportunity to the Pee Wee program.

From Dick Stanton, “They taught us the game of hockey and formed four Pee Wee hockey teams. The Lions Club, The Rotary Club, The Youth Commission and the Little Larries. We practiced and played games every Saturday morning. They put us on the ice before the St. Lawrence games so people could see us in action. My parents came to the games and I loved it. Somebody bought us uniforms and I played on the Little Larries with the bright red colors and Buck Barton was my coach.”

Very quickly the adults organized trips and tournaments in other cities across the state for the boys, many of whom had not been far beyond St. Lawrence County.

Perhaps the greatest feat, they arranged for little Canton New York to play a game in the Montreal Canadian’s Forum, possibly the most famous arena in North America at the time.

Again, from Dick Stanton, “As an 11 year old boy I played in the Montreal Forum, a thrill I cherish to this day. I remember the Montreal kids outskated us badly but the score was only 5-4 and a young blonde-haired kid named Wayne Mousaw had all of our goals. From that day on Wayne was my idol on the ice and I still feel that way. The sky was the limit and we just kept getting better and better not knowing how good or bad we were. The men from Canton kept teaching and traveling with us and we began to believe in ourselves. Through all this we were becoming young men and Canton formed a High School Hockey Team when I was in 8th grade.”

In a few short years upon the completion of Appleton arena the hockey bug set deeply into the souls of these boys and those of us yet to come. Stanton said it so well for so many Canton kids, then and to this day, “Hockey was my life. I loved playing it, I loved watching the St. Lawrence Hockey Team, I loved being a rink rat at their games, I loved everything about Appleton Arena and being on the ice.”

Editor’s note: Coming next week — The Streak

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