Beanpot: The Origins

(This is an interview with late Northeastern athletic director Herb Gallagher, who was the last surviving member of the founders of the prestigious Beanpot Hockey Tournament. The session was conducted at the annual Beanpot luncheon held in the Blades & Boards Room of the late, lamented Boston Garden back on Jan. 31, 1991. Gallagher passed away Oct. 25, 1992 at age 81).

“I had to do a little research myself because I’ve been retired 17 years from Northeastern and … this thing started in 1952. That isn’t exactly yesterday,” said Gallagher with a laugh. “So before going to the meeting, I logically thought of a few things.”

“The first thing that came to my mind was the original committee that formed this thing,” Gallagher said. “We were in the habit back in those days, all four teams, of playing all of their games in Boston Arena with the exception of Harvard, which used to play a few of them at the Boston Skating Club.

"We put a clock rotation on it, rather than try and seed the teams. We agreed to rotate the clock and each successive year we would play one of the other three. And whatever that first rotation was to be it would be maintained. And it has been maintained to this day."

— Herb Gallagher

“And we met Mondays and Tuesday nights as a rule. And then we gimmicked some sort of a Christmas tournament. So to get to here — that was ’52 — I think, I’m not positive, but I think it was the day after Christmas. For two nights consecutive. Like we played Monday and Tuesday nights frequently.

“So I have to think who were the administrators … of course, Walter Brown was manager of the Boston Garden-Boston Arena corporation. With him were Bill Bingham of Harvard, the athletic director. There was ‘Buff’ Donnelli, who coached football [at BU] and became athletic director before going to Columbia. There was Jack Curley [athletic director] of Boston College.

“And because of my experience and work in professional hockey, as well, my athletic director had me represent Northeastern. We were the five. So we sat around the table. It took us, oh, maybe, an hour-and-a-half or two hours and we said, ‘Why not!’.

“And we put a clock rotation on it, rather than try and seed the teams. We agreed to rotate the clock and each successive year we would play one of the other three. And whatever that first rotation was to be it would be maintained. And it has been maintained to this day.

“So for 39 years we’d rotate the opponent. The only seeding that’s done is for the gate receipts. We don’t try and seed the top two teams. We rotate the clock and the opponent. But today, it doesn’t matter what the second game is. The place is sold out anyway.”

Gallagher was asked if he ever felt the ‘Pot would evolve into the storied spectacle it is today.

“Yes, I did,” he said. “See, I dealt with the Olympics back in 1936 at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. I played for the United States team.

“I turned professional and coached Austria. Not as the coach, but as one of the four of us coaching there. They had teams in each of the major cities. So I was one of the coaches of the Austrian team in the ’36 Olympics in Gamisch-Parkenden.

“In 1932, I was at Lake Placid but someone had to get sick [for me to play]. All I did was tape sticks. Then when I came back prior to World War II, I would have stayed there coaching in Austria. But the American consulate told me to get out of there. That there would be a war there in six months. I came home and turned to a Canadian government job I had. Then Northeastern hired me to teach in the business college and coach.

“The reason why I came down to Northeastern was not for more money. I wanted my first child [Joyce] to learn to speak English. Because my locale was French population. Sorel, Quebec.”

“I was born in Boston. My dad [Herb] was born in New Brunswick. But my dad had me playing hockey by the time I was three years old and playing baseball. I got into Sorel through baseball. When I was in college, I pitched every year in outlaw baseball. In fact, I started in high school. I pitched for Falmouth in 1929. I graduated from Newton High in 1930 but I was in Falmouth in 1929 in the Cape Cod League. I went down as a bat boy and batting practice pitcher.

“Some of their pitchers came up lame and I won a few games and I was in it for life. But I went to Sorel for baseball. They gave me a Canadian government job, more money than a professor makes today.”

Gallagher never had doubts about the Beanpot’s success.

“They knew we wanted something in that Christmas, New Year, vacation time,” he said. “Why not take these four schools that play one another anyway and match them up. Each of us is going to play the other fella anyway. So we could dovetail it and get rid of one of those assignments and count it each year.

“It was coincidentally great. Some other institutions wanted to get into the act after it became so popular that we also played in the Eastern Massachusetts district. I won’t name a particular institution but they felt they were being discriminated against. And we sure as hell discriminated because we had too good a thing going.

“This is better than all the NCAA championships. You go to the Olympics, I gave my tickets to the figure skaters at Squaw Valley because I could walk in, my wife [Geraldine] and I. They knew who we were because I was on the hockey committee. I mean our seats, we just strolled around. There were plenty of places to sit. You can’t walk into the Beanpot and find anywhere to sit. That’s for sure.

“Now the NCAA is a little different today. Even in the regional games it’s filling out. I’m talking back when this really became strong. You’re getting sellouts in the Western leagues. Some of these intersectional games aren’t soldout.”

Gallagher tabbed the 1980 Beanpot as his most memorable.

“Of course, the first one that our team won it,” said Gallagher. “We won it three times in the 1980s. [Wayne] Turner was the kid that won it for us. Of course, I should have won the first tournament.

“I had the best goalkeeper, the two best defensemen, I believe. I had Ray Picard that went with the Bruins and [NU captain] Buddy Purcell from Waltham and I had Len McNamara from Norwood. Those three could have played pro.

“The only one that did turn pro was Picard and he didn’t stay long. His little girl had a problem and the Bruins wanted to move him somewhere. But the interesting thing about Ray Picard was, in those days, the All-America team was not one in the West and one in the East. It was all one team. Picard was All-America two years running.

“I think going into the games we were 5-and-1. But we didn’t win them. I think [Dick] Rodenheiser, who was a great player at BU, had [some goals]. But today you can’t say who’s going to win this Beanpot.

“I know Northeastern two nights ago lost to BU, 4-3, we have a very weak won-loss record and we may win it. People that look at statistics and say, ‘No chance!’ But if you play a 4-3 hockey game you’re certainly in the hockey game.”

This article is courtesy of the Boston Herald, © 2002.