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E.M. Swift
January 16, 1978
For the 1970-71 Princeton hockey team, the reward for all its hard work came to one victory and 22 defeats
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January 16, 1978

Practice Didn't Make Perfect

For the 1970-71 Princeton hockey team, the reward for all its hard work came to one victory and 22 defeats

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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 over.

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 losing.

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."

The Princeton 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 game.

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.

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