A “love story” between Yale and Pittsburgh
By Joel Alderman
Most of our SportzEdge readers should be well aware by now that Yale hockey reached the pinnacle of success on April 13, 2013, when it won the national championship at the NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
However, it is not generally known that for Yale to play hockey in Pittsburgh is not without precedent. In fact, the Bulldogs have an extensive hockey history in that city going back to 1896, when they were scheduled to have played a series of three games in December at the Shenley Park Casino. Unfortunately, the lavish multi-use building burned to the ground only a few days before Yale would have made the trip.
Earlier, on January 31, 1896, Yale had played the first game in its hockey history, losing to the Baltimore Athletic Club, 3-2. The next day the first all-college hockey game in America took place in Baltimore between Yale and Johns Hopkins, ending in a 2-2 tie.
Hockey was introduced at Yale after two students, Malcolm Chace and Arthur Foote, while competing in tennis tournaments in Canada, saw the game being played and became enthused over it. Shortly afterwards they formed a team. Chace was the captain, and his name is now permanently identified with the position of Yale’s head coach through an endowment by his grandson.
The team traveled to various cities to compete. Pittsburgh would have been among its earliest destinations except for that fire at Shenley Park Casino. But four years later, in 1900, Yale finally did make it to the Steel City and faced the semi-pro Pittsburgh Keystones, Pittsburgh Bankers, Duquesne Athletic Club and Pittsburgh AC. The games were held at the brand new Duquesne Gardens, which then had the world’s largest artificial ice surface of 26,000 square feet.
More games against non-college teams took place in Pittsburgh the next two seasons. Then, starting in 1903, and continuing for several years, Yale’s opponents in Pittsburgh included Princeton, Carnegie Tech, Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh), and Queen’s College of Canada.
In 1915 Yale played three games with Princeton at the Winter Garden, shortly after an ice rink had been installed in its main hall. At the time Duquesne Gardens was not available for hockey because it was catering to a nationwide roller skating craze.
Those games in the Winter Garden must have been exercises in physical endurance. The playingsurface was a massive 300 feet x 140 feet. In comparison, today’s National Hockey League games are on ice measuring 200 x 85 feet.
The natural question that arises is why would Yale hockey teams have to take trains or buses on round trips of over 1,000 miles, and requiring at least 10 hours each way? One explanation is that until 1911 Yale was dependent on out of town sites, having no indoor rink of its own. A few frozen bodies of water, such as Lake Whitney on the Hamden-New Haven town line, were resorted to in desperation.
Another factor was that Pittsburgh had become a “hotbed” of hockey, with many of the locals playing and following the sport. Among them was apparently a large Yale fan base since “Pittsburgh has furnished Yale with more hockey players than any other city.” (Hartford Courant, Dec. 24, 1915)
We have found records of at least 34 Yale hockey matches in Pittsburgh from 1900 through 1939, when the Bulldogs defeated the University of Pittsburgh before an attendance of 3,000.
Last month, after a 74 year absence, Yale returned to where it had established many of its hockey roots. This time each of the Bulldogs’ two contests in Pittsburgh was witnessed by about 17,000, the most by far ever to watch a Yale hockey game in person. In addition, there were millions of viewers on cable television.
Among those at the CONSOL Energy Center last month were members of the Yale Club of Pittsburgh, which hosted pre-game parties attended by several hundred alumni from across the nation. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette quoted Otto Chu, first vice president of the club, as saying:
“We’ve told our alumni that to have a chance to watch Yale’s hockey team play in the NCAA Frozen Four right here in Pittsburgh is almost literally the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Shortly before the title game, Yale’s outgoing president, Richard Levin, said to a reporter for the paper, Ann Rodgers, that alumni told him “they’ve had a fantastic reception. Pittsburgh is putting on a good show for the Yale fans.”
It is doubtful, however, that the vast majority of present and past Yale players, coaches, administrators, students, alumni and ordinary fans could have appreciated or even known about the strong relationship between Yale hockey and Pittsburgh. It is a rather obscure “love story” that has now been richly enhanced by Yale taking the national crown in that city.
For the first time since 1939, Yale hockey was back in its second home amongst the Allegheny Mountains, where it had long ago sewn its hockey roots. And one of its stars, who scored the final goal at the Frozen Four, even has the surname of Root.
Ironically, that player, Jesse Root, hails from “the Burg” as he calls it. He was the only member of the four teams in the Frozen Four who hails from Pittsburgh. Next season Yale’s roots there will be even stronger. For that same Jesse Root has just been given the honor by his teammates of being elected the latest captain of the Bulldogs.
And so a Yale team, with Jesse Root of Pittsburgh, completed a triumphal return to its Pittsburgh roots. What better place and way for Yale to have become the national hockey champions!