Hamline News

Hockey Glory Returns to Hamline

hockey article

Hamline was on the verge of making history. After a disappointing 3-13 conference record during the 2006-07 season, the men’s hockey team had a chance to win the MIAC championship for the first time in sixty years. The Pipers simply needed to win the season’s final game. Tim Ostroot wanted to be there. But Hamline’s assistant coach was driving to Green Bay, Wisconsin, on a recruiting trip. He’d instructed three friends who were watching the game to call him when the Pipers scored goals.

So far, that had meant a quiet trip for Ostroot. With time running short in the second period, St. John’s was winning 4-1. But then the Pipers went on the power play and scored three goals in less than two minutes—an amazing feat in any hockey game.

“My phone was lighting up like a Christmas tree,” Ostroot said.

The Pipers continued the rally, fighting back to earn a 6-5 victory, winning the MIAC championship for the first time in sixty years. Two Piper players—co-captains Joe Long and Dustin Fulton—were named Division III first team All-Americans for their outstanding play during the season, an honor held by only one other men’s hockey player in Hamline’s history—John Sarafolean ’83. Long, a defenseman from Dayton, Minnesota, scored thirty-one points (nineteen goals, twenty two assists) and Fulton, a forward from Brooklyn Park, led the Pipers in scoring with fifty points (twenty-one goals, twenty nine assists). The pair were high school stars and played together in the United States Hockey League, a popular pre-college stop for talented players.

When Scott Bell became head coach three years ago, he had one goal: Convince Long and Fulton to enroll at Hamline. But that was no easy task.

Hamline hadn’t won an MIAC championship since before Long and Fulton’s parents were born. Bell was determined to turn that around. If the pair would come to Hamline, he promised they would be co-captains as first-years, get plenty of ice time, and they’d build a future winner together. “I told them they’d be my ‘dynamic duo,’” Bell said.

During their first two years, the Pipers won only three conference games each year. The 2007-08 season also got off to a less-than-promising start. University of Wisconsin-Stout trounced the Pipers 7-1 in the season opener. In its second non-conference game, the team trailed 3-0 after the first period against University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

According to the Star Tribune, that’s when Long riled up his teammates with a speech.

“I’m so sick of losing!” he shouted. “We’re not doing this again. We’re not!”

The Pipers rallied, scoring four goals in two periods. The team ended up losing that game 5-4, but the near comeback gave the men a boost.

“We got sick of losing and being the doormat,” Long said. Soon, the Pipers were skating with confidence and winning contests. Before the December 15 game against the University of Minnesota-Crookston, Hamline honored the 1947-48 Piper squad that won the MIAC conference championship.

Tom Purcell ’50—one of only seven surviving players from the undefeated team of sixty years ago—was overjoyed that hockey is thriving again at Hamline.

“They made our championship more legitimate,” Purcell said. “Now people know that Hamline sports isn’t just about basketball. It’s hockey, too.”

Winning takes dedication, of course. But the 1947-48 team had to be committed just to practice. Players built their own rink on campus, putting up boards, flooding it with water, and shoveling off snow. At night, many of the women from Manor House watched as the men worked to perfect the ice. Then, the women would lace up and join them for a late-night skate. “Many a romance started on that rink,” Purcell said.

So did a lot of fights. The stars of the 1947-48 squad were Al and Bill Saari, brothers from Minnesota’s Iron Range. Dan Goette ’49 remembers the pair scoring most of the team’s goals. Purcell said they liked to rough it up on the ice.

“They were nice guys,” Purcell remembered. “But give them skates and sticks, and they were holy terrors.”

Getting enough equipment was another hurdle for the post-World War II squad. Hamline couldn’t afford hockey jerseys, so players wore hand-me-downs from the football team. When a player approached Joe Hutton, the legendary Piper basketball coach and athletic director, with a budget that included purchasing thirty-six sticks, he encountered skepticism.

“How many guys do you have on the team?” Hutton asked.

“Seventeen,” replied the player.

“Then why do you need thirty-six sticks?”

The answer is obvious to any hockey player of that era—sticks sometimes snap. Hutton eventually agreed to the budget request and Hamline toughed it out, even when temperatures dropped below zero and all the Pipers had for a bench was what Old Man Winter provided.

“When you changed shifts, you climbed over the boards and sat in the snowbank,” Goette said. “In between periods, you went into the student union and warmed up.”

Like the 1947-48 team, the more success Long, Fulton, and their teammates had on the ice, the more attention they received from fans.

“During our first year (2005-06), it was mostly parents and a few kids in the stands,” Long said. “But now we’re playing to sold-out crowds. That’s exciting for us going from what we had to what it is now.”

Next season could potentially be even more thrilling. Long and Fulton return for their senior year. Two talented newcomers—Jared Hummel and Chris Berenguer—will have a year of college hockey experience under the belts. The team’s other athletes are also improving.

All of which makes Coach Bell optimistic.

The Pipers’ goal for the 2008-09 season is not just to capture another MIAC conference, but to win the playoffs and compete in the national championship tournament.

Although head coaches usually receive kudos when teams catapult from worst-to-first in a single season, Bell is reluctant to take credit for the turnaround.

“Coaches don’t win games, players win games,” Bell said. “I didn’t score one goal and I didn’t stop any either.”

Luckily, he didn’t have to.

There were a talented bunch of young men who did it for him. And they’re ready to do it again when the 2008-09 season gets under way in November.

Just don’t expect them to make their own ice.

By: Todd Melby