On the snapping-cold morning of Jan. 19, 1898 seven young men of Brown University boarded the train for Boston at Providence carrying bulky equipment bags. On arrival, they took a trolley car to Franklin Park in suburban Dorchester, and there, on a crowded pond, played Harvard in the first college ice hockey game on firm record in the U.S.
The term "firm record" is significant because there are several claims in varied publications to a similar first. All the claims, however, are vague in setting down definite teams, dates and places; they are tales as fragile as ice shavings.
Some of them refer to a game known at the time as "ice polo." This game, which was played with a ball, was popular toward the end of the last century, but was essentially different from hockey in the number of players per side and in the equipment they used. Other claims refer to matches of one kind or the other between amateur clubs rather than colleges, and still others are unquestionably nothing more than myths.
The Brown-Harvard game at Franklin Park is thoroughly documented and pedigreed. To trace its ancestry one must go back a few more years still, to the doings of one Malcolm G. Chace, a young man from Rhode island who has been referred to as the "father" of ice hockey not only at Brown and at Yale but throughout the entire U.S.
Chace, who began his college career at Brown and later transferred to Yale, was a championship tennis player but merely a dabbler at ice polo. In the early fall of 1892 he went to Niagara Falls, N.Y. to play in an international tennis tournament. Among the participants were a number of Canadians, and they and Chace spent considerable time talking about winter sports in their respective regions. Among other things, they discovered that they were all playing different versions of more or less the same game on ice, though some of them called it ice polo, others hockey. As a result, members of the Victoria hockey team of Montreal invited Chace and Robert Duffield Wrenn of Harvard, another ice polo player (and later national singles tennis champion) to visit Montreal for a firsthand look at Canadian hockey.
The two made the visit the next winter. Chace by then was a freshman at Brown and Wrenn a junior at Harvard. About the same time George Wright of Boston, a sportsman who was later to become the Wright of the Wright and Ditson sporting goods firm, first saw the game of ice hockey as the Canadians played it. All three, each in his own fashion, were taken by its possibilities. Chace and Wrenn tried to transfer their new enthusiasm to their ice polo colleagues. The effort was not an immediate and entire success.
Wright fared little better. He came back with an armful of hockey sticks and several pucks, and early the next winter dumped the lot in Providence, where Brown University's ice polo team was practicing on Railroad Pond east of the city. He invited the players to try the equipment.
"All afternoon the polo players pushed the puck around the rough ice," an unnamed reporter wrote later of the experiment. "Darkness found not one of them enthusiastic over the new game."
By that time Malcolm Chace had transferred from Brown to Yale. And in the fall of 1894, while his ex-classmates were scoffing in Providence, he was energetically pushing ice hockey in New Haven. Indeed, from that base Chace organized the coup that probably, as much as any one incident, lifted ice hockey above ice polo at this critical stage of development. With Wright's help, Chace managed to gather together a group of college students who favored the newer game, and arranged for them to go to Canada for a series of hockey matches during the Christmas holidays of the school year 1894-95.
Chace served as the captain and also the player-coach. Wright was a sort of manager. From Yale, along with Chace, came A. C. Foote. Harvard was represented by F. H. Clarkson. From Columbia there was William A. Larned (another later tennis champion), and from Brown came three—William A. Jones, George Matteson and Alexander Meiklejohn. Also on the roster was Byron Watson of Brown, who had to withdraw before departure time, and C. M. Pope, a nonplaying New York newspaperman.