They didn't arise
singly but en masse. All 2,543 of them were suddenly on their feet, cheering
madly, applauding, as the worst hockey team in Princeton's history left the ice
for the last time. I caught a glimpse of Copper. Despite the loss, he broke
into a grin from ear to ear and had a shine to his eyes that nearly brimmed
I suppose Vince
Lombardi might have said that the 1970-71 Princeton hockey team had a 1-0
season. The Eastern College Athletic Conference records show it as 1-22, but
the ECAC operates under the premise that winning is not the only thing and that
losses also count. Whatever, Princeton lost a lot.
But the team didn't
lose because of a lack of talent. I would not be writing this if it had been
the worst team on the ice in 22 of its 23 games. It lost because there is a
kind of art to losing, and the Princeton players excelled in that art. There is
also an art to quitting, but they never discovered that. We waited and waited,
but they never quit. They never figured out why they lost, either, which I
guess is why they kept plugging.
My roommate was the
goaltender. His first name was Copper—I don't know why. I worry about Copper
sometimes, worry what suffering through such a season at the tender age of 19
might have done to him. But he's all right. He hasn't played hockey in five
years, which is part of it. I asked him once to write down his thoughts on
Here's what I got:
"Losing teaches a person humility. It also teaches him that not all the
goals in life are to be gained—that to try and try again is often man's fate.
That's worthwhile to know.
"But there's a
difference between losing and never winning. Never winning is wicked. Never
winning teaches a man about injustice. It makes him question God. We practiced
just as hard the year we went 1-22 as we would have had we gone 22-1. Harder,
because it wasn't fun. Because it was torture. I had always thought that hard
work was rewarded. That practice made perfect. It wasn't, and it didn't. Never
winning is for the birds, if you hate birds."
hockey team in 1970-71 was not supposed to never win. It began the season with
high hopes. A solid core of lettermen had returned, supplemented by a wave of
sophomores from such Canadian hockey hatcheries as Moose Jaw, Sask., and
Kapuskasing, Ont. The coach was Bill Quackenbush, former Boston Bruin and
Detroit Red Wing defenseman, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Preseason
scrimmages went well, and the players looked forward eagerly to the opening
They lost it. They
lost their first six.
I draw a line at
six not because they were to win their seventh, but because they were reprieved
by Christmas vacation. Those first six games were different from the rest of
the year, because the team had yet to achieve that losing attitude. The players
were appalled by those early defeats. They were playing good hockey and losing
made them angry. Quackenbush fumed and raged.
That was before the
holidays. Somehow, the respite gave the players time to accept the idea of
being winless. An 0-6 record did not seem so bad after eating roast goose at
Christmas dinner. The team's troubles seemed trivial when compared to, say,
those suffered by Joseph and the Virgin. Or the goose.