HYANNIS, Mass. — In a community known for its love of summer college baseball, is college hockey all it needs to fill the long winter void?
Interestingly enough, the first ever Division I game to be played on the peninsula located just over 50 miles southeast of downtown Boston pitted two schools from the state of New York as host Colgate topped the U.S. Military Academy 3-1.
It all began when Colgate athletic director Dave Roach took a short side trip on the suggestion of an athletic department employee, after droppng his daughter off at summer camp in nearby Sandwich, to tour the 1,500-seat Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Memorial Skating Rink and the accompanying facilities at the brand new Hyannis Youth and Community Center.
From there, the athletic department teamed up with the Colgate Alumni Association to put together a weekend full of events for Columbus Day weekend, traditionally seen as the culmination of the tourist season on the Cape when many experienced vacationers take advantage of the relative lack of congestion which plagues the summer high season.
The Raiders already had Army traveling to Starr Rink in Hamilton to open the season, and when coach Don Vaughan reached out to his counterpart Brian Riley at Army to suggest a change of venue, it was a welcome suggestion from an old family friend. Vaughan had been recruited to play at St. Lawrence thirty years ago by Brian’s older brother Rob before the latter succeeded their father Jack as the bench boss at West Point.
The Black Knights have a Cape connection of their own, not only due to the local population of service men and women from Camp Edwards and Otis Air Base, but also because of the local connection to the Riley family coaching dynasty at Army. Altogether, with Brian now starting his seventh season at the helm, a Riley has led Army hockey for 59 consecutive years.
The longest tenured of the three was the father, Jack, who led the cadets for 36 campaigns and coached the USA Olympic team in its undefeated run to a gold medal at the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Games, before retiring to Marstons Mills, a village just to the northwest of Hyannis. The 90-year old Riley was greeted by a standing ovation as he walked onto the ice to drop the ceremonial first puck.
The HYCC is the home of the highly successful Tier III Junior A Cape Cod Cubs of the IJHL, who won their league’s Super Elite title in just their first year of existence.
“It’s really fast,” was the sentiment heard around the packed arena during the first intermission after a scoreless but energetic opening period from those used to watching the high school and junior games played here.
ECAC Officiating Supervisor Paul Stewart, who had been a member of the Cubs before the team’s original encarnation disbanded over thirty years ago, was the leader of the group, which also included Jack Riley, that brought them back to the ice in 2009 after the HYCC officially opened its doors. Both he and ECAC Commissioner Steve Hagwell were on hand for what was billed as the “inaugural” Cape Cod Classic.
Now, the word inaugural connotes the first edition of what is to become a perennial event. This all begs several questions.
Is that the case? If so, will it always include Colgate, Army, or both? Is there a possibility of creating a four-team tournament and/or showcase, possibly sponsored by the ECAC, Atlantic Hockey, and local business? Is such a multi-game format not the only financially enticing long-term option given the limited capacity of the building? Certainly other teams can attract their alumni for a hockey-themed vacation in an otherwise popular destination.
Both coaches gave every part of the event high marks, from the support of the local Chamber of Commerce all the way to the ice quality. Beyond that, nothing for the future is set in stone, yet. By packing 1,595 patrons inside, all those involved proved the idea was a success and there is no reason to believe that it will not continue to be no matter what future editions bring.
“I thought it was a great atmosphere, said Vaughan. “Our guys have had a great time. To see Coach Riley back at the beginning of the game to drop the puck was pretty special. The crowd was fantastic and I thought they saw a pretty good hockey game. We had a lot of alumni down and we had a golf tournament with a great turnout. You couldn’t ask for better weather and we are staying over and having a team outing tomorrow so our guys can enjoy the Cape.”
“It was awesome,” echoed Riley. “Everything from the hospitality that was extended to us, the facility, the atmosphere. It was a great experience and the people on Cape Cod did a great job so I’m hopeful we will have a chance to come back. We haven’t [discussed the future], but Coach Vaughan and I go way back so I’m sure this is something we will talk about.”
Colgate will hit the ice again in a week for a home exhibition against Brock next Saturday before heading to Sault Ste. Marie for a pair against Lake Superior State on Oct. 22-23. Army will be back in action next Sunday when it plays its home and Atlantic Hockey opener against Holy Cross.