Blades of Yore

The day Hobey Baker knew defeat

Here we see the skates and stick (blade left) of Leverett Saltonstall ’14, LL.B. ’17, LL.D. ’42, who made at least one notable use of them before he became a Republican governor of Massachusetts and a United States senator from 1945 to 1967 (and, incidentally, an incorporator of this magazine until his death in 1979). With them is the goaltender’s stick, white to mimic the color of ice, of teammate Gouverneur M. Carnochan ’14, who inscribed on it the scores of four winning games in the 1914 season.

Photograph by Jim Harrison

Warren M. “Renny” Little ’55, curator of Harvard’s collection of athletic memorabilia at the Murr Center, says that the Harvard hockey team in 1914 had an undistinguished record overall, although they did beat Yale in two out of three games. Refreshing his memory by reference to the H Book of Harvard Athletics, its successor volume, and Crimson in Triumph, by Joe Bertagna ’73, Little reports that on January 24, 1914, Harvard played Princeton in the Boston Arena. The legendary Hobey Baker was the star of the Princeton team. A charismatic three-sport athlete, Baker captained Princeton’s football team in 1914 and as a sophomore in 1912 led its hockey team to a national championship. But on January 24, Harvard’s icemen kept the great Baker in check, and at the end of the two 20-minute periods, the score stood at 1-1. The play went into sudden death and continued for more than another 40 minutes until Saltonstall, a senior spare, scored the winning goal, banging a rebound off the stick of classmate Paul Smart. Undemoralized by this flash of Crimson triumph, Baker went on in 1914 to take Princeton to another national hockey championship. (Today the Hobey Baker Memorial Award is given annually to the top American college hockey player.)

Hockey was young when Saltonstall scored his goal: Harvard athletic officials did not recognize hockey as a major sport until 1913. Undergraduates took up ice polo in 1895, knocking a hard rubber ball around a pond with a short stick rounded at one end. But they soon tried the Canadian game of ice hockey and played their first game of intercollegiate hockey in 1898 against Brown, losing 6-0.

At first, the team practiced and played outdoors, wherever ice could be found. Coats or stones served as goal posts. “Clothes and shoes were left piled on the shore,” noted a participant, “and if the team did not have a very energetic, faithful manager who would not allow the fair sex to decoy him from his duties, some members of the team would be forced to go home minus a portion of their wearing apparel.” At last, in 1910, the team could play on what it considered “home ice” when the Boston Arena, with its gilded lobby, opened on St. Botolph’s Street.

Throughout this period sticks and skates evolved. The sticks grew longer, and the heavy, straight-bladed Canadian skate with a broad blade gave way about 1910—with much care about the proper radii of the blade’s different curves—to the light skate with a narrow blade and raised heel sported by Saltonstall, the latest in hockey technology.

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