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HOW A ROAST FOR AN EX-NETMINDER GREW INTO THE WARMEST OF TRIBUTES
Jack Falla
June 02, 1986
What seems at first a cup of sorrow is found in the end immortal wine. THE BHAGAVAD GITA
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June 02, 1986

How A Roast For An Ex-netminder Grew Into The Warmest Of Tributes

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Reece was calling from the Trinity-Pawling School in Pawling, N.Y., a prep school where he is the hockey coach and director of admissions. Ostensibly, he was trying to finalize the guest list, but he obviously was also letting me know that this affair had his imprimatur.

"Why would anyone want to subject himself to this?" I asked Doc as we pulled onto the Mass. Pike for the three-hour drive from Boston to Pawling.

"Maybe he's trying to bury it," said Doc, who, having exhausted his capacity for analysis and compassion, added, "We come not to praise Reece, but to bury him. I got my shovel ready. Heh, heh."

I had known Reece since he came to the now-defunct AHL Boston Braves in 1973, an All-America from the University of Vermont who had his eye on one of the two Bruins' goaltending jobs. He was sure it would only be a matter of time.

"I think next season," he had said one night in February 1975 when I showed up unexpectedly at his Rochester, N.Y. apartment. We drank beer and talked far into the morning. At the time, he was tending goal for the Rochester Americans, and I was working for a pro soccer team that was teetering on, and would soon topple over, the edge of bankruptcy. It is embarrassing to recall that I felt our friendship tainted by envy as Reece sketched out what seemed to be his secure future: Bruins, new contract, marriage, house, family. "And I'd like to see Europe next summer, after the playoffs," he said. Sure. After the playoffs.

He did make the Bruins the next season and played creditably, with a 2.68 goals-against average through 13 games until Sittler's scoring outburst in the 11-4 Toronto win on that fateful February day in 1976. Four days later, Reece was sent down to the Springfield (Mass.) Indians. He would finish the season there, return to Rochester and then Providence for part of the next season, play for the U.S. national team in the 1977 world championships and retire. He never played another game in the NHL.

I thought of calling him the day after the Sittler debacle, but I didn't know what to say. Besides, we hadn't seen much of each other that year. In the next 10 years we talked on the phone twice and communicated sporadically through Doc, who, like Reece, is a private-school administrator. I never saw Reece again until the day of the anniversary party when Doc and I walked into the frigid Trinity-Pawling rink. He was on the ice running a practice. We got what I figured was a more or less standard Reece greeting. He skated to the boards, hoisted a leg up on the dasher, began climbing the chain link fence, all the while shouting a hyped-up commentary: "And it's a wild brawl, with the players trying to get at the fans...."

"Happy anniversary," I said, extending my hand over the fence after he had climbed back down. I noticed he was wearing goalie skates.

"You hosehead," he said—only maybe he didn't say hosehead. His team skated through 3-on-2 line rushes. The players were fast but small. "I'm experimenting," he said. "I'm not taking postgrads. We're going with the kids we've got. You bring in PGs and you win, but so what? What does that do to the kid who's been here three years? I mean, you going to crush kids just to win?"

Three seasons ago Trinity-Pawling was 12-9, more than respectable considering it plays some of the best prep schools in the country. This year's team, made up largely of ninth-and 10th-graders, finished 3-15-1 and was 2-10 at the time of my visit. "I don't care," said Reece. "I did it the other way and won. Now I'm going with my principles. Stay for practice. I'll be through in an hour-and-a-half."

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