Getting to the Frozen Four in Lake Placid may be a new sensation for many members of the Hobart Statesmen, but for the seven seniors on this team it provides the opportunity to learn from the past. The Statesmen will be looking to improve upon their National Semifinal loss to St. Norbert in 2006.
Building on lessons learned might be the best way to describe how Hobart College hockey has conducted business since 1970. While this recent run of great success out of Geneva may give some players and fans a skewed view of where the program has come from and how hard things have been – the story runs a lot deeper than most fans even across Division III might understand.
Larry Carle was a center for perpetual bottom dweller Hobart College in the Finger Lakes Collegiate Hockey League in the early 1970s. In his junior season in 1972-1973 he was co-captain of the Statesmen in what you might call the lean years, and his views on this yearâ€™s Statesmen fill him with reverence and a lot of pride for where the program has come from.
â€œThis program for how far it has come, itâ€™s a miracle,â€ said Carle.
During his time at Hobart, the Statesmen icers earned a 10-39-1 record and given their situation in Geneva, itâ€™s pretty amazing they did that well.
â€œWe were really a self-supported program back then. We did fund raisers to make some money so we could try to build a practice rink at the very least, and we made about $6,000 and built a blacktop rink right on campus outdoors. It was beautiful and it was great except that it didnâ€™t work. Every time the sun came out and hit the blacktop under the ice, it would melt.â€
Suddenly playing at Geneva Recreation Center (aka: The Cooler) doesnâ€™t seem quite so uncomfortable, but it was thanks to guys like Larry Carle that â€œThe Coolerâ€ was even built.
â€œWe all did our best to work with the town of Geneva to help get a rink built at the end of the lake and it was always rumored it would happen but it wasnâ€™t until we were gone. We all did our part to help build the program and get the school administration to focus on us even a little bit.â€
Carle gives all the credit to guys like Charlie Boswell, a Hobart College admissions staffer, who helped found the hockey program and to the teamâ€™s volunteer (read: unpaid) coach Joe Bascom for getting things started.
â€œThese guys took the time out to help start something and didnâ€™t get money or real credit for doing it. They were pretty lean years back then. We had to fight to get ice time at all during the week and when we played against R.I.T. and Oswego it really showed. Those guys would always beat us.â€
Along with hockey, Carle also played football and baseball for the college. Fighting to keep the hockey program alive was a big deal for him, especially once Title IX was put into action and saw baseball get cut to help the womenâ€™s programs at partnering William Smith College get started.
â€œHockey was something we really stressed to the administration, especially with all the effort us guys were putting into it, it really meant a lot to us and I think the administration saw that and appreciated what we were doing,â€ Carle said.
Carle checks out the current Statesmen team whenever he can these days. Working as the head football coach at Newport High School in New Hampshire, the trips donâ€™t happen so often, but with Hobart in such a big game it was a no-brainer for him to come out to Amherst, Massachusetts to see the quarterfinals win against Amherst College.
Sure, hockey as it is played today is certainly much different than it was, even ten years ago, but after 30 or more?
â€œThese guys all have better speed and better size than we ever did and theyâ€™re superior skaters,â€ Carle says. â€œThat kid theyâ€™ve got now [Keith Longo], boy is he good. Nothing rattles that guy. Amherst had a few wide open looks at the net, especially late, and he knocked them all down or gloved them easy.â€
After a pause and a smile, Carle adds, â€œThese guys are so much better than we were and itâ€™s great to see. Itâ€™s great to see this program that all of us old guys helped to found reach these heights.â€
For Hobart these days, success is becoming the norm. Theyâ€™ve earned two Frozen Four appearances in four years; a pretty impressive feat for a program that even ten years ago was fighting for respectability in the loaded ECAC West with Elmira and R.I.T.
Now with R.I.T. off to greener pastures in Division I, Hobart and their conference brethren in Elmira, Manhattanville and Neumann have all seized the day to bring big time success to the conference. A conference that sometimes gets lost in the eastern hockey mix with the attention-grabbers in the SUNYAC and the upper reaches of Vermont.
Battling to get to the top is something Hobart College should be used to by now and itâ€™s something that Larry Carle more than identifies with.
â€œWe made the playoffs in 1972-1973 but the president of the school wouldnâ€™t let us make the trip because we were on the trimester system and the date of the game fell during finals,â€ Carle says.
Talk about a bittersweet accomplishment. Making things more difficult back then meant playing all the games on the road, something that didnâ€™t exactly lend itself to the greatest of atmospheres.
â€œPlaying games in the bigger places like R.I.T. was hard. The home crowd there made it miserable for us but they were a good program there even then and very hard to keep up with,â€ Carle reflects.
Sure â€œThe Coolerâ€ may have four walls now (it didnâ€™t always), but thatâ€™s only allowed the fans of the small liberal arts college in the Finger Lakes to be heard a lot better and given the turnout they had in Amherst for the quarterfinals, the Hobart road show should be strong in Lake Placid.
Knowing the past of the program the way Larry Carle does, he canâ€™t help but beam with pride over Hobartâ€™s successes today.
â€œIâ€™m darn proud to see them make it this far. We had to earn it all from the get-go and look at our success. Some of those older, well established New England schools that had everything built for them, theyâ€™re not there and we are. Good for little Hobart, good for us.â€
After scoring the game winning goal against Amherst, senior forward Jason Merritt couldnâ€™t help but gush, after all, heâ€™s one of those seven seniors looking to help Hobart hockey build on previous shortcomings.
â€œWe played our game: Hobart hockey. This is such a great group, a close knit group that gets along great. The seniors remember the Frozen Four back in 2006 but we want to make our own memories with this team.â€
What Merritt may not know is that thereâ€™s a long and relatively unknown history of players before him looking to share in the moment.