Thursday, 5 August 2010
The House That Smith Built
The venerable Smith Rink at West Point was completed in December 1930 on a site along Mills Road near the Lusk Reservoir. At 112 feet in width and 242 feet in length (of which 90 feet x 232 feet was ice), it was considered the largest indoor hockey and skating rink in the United States at that time. It later was named for West Point’s superintendent from 26 February 1928 to 30 April 1932, MG William Ruthven Smith, Class of 1892, who had it built. Smith was a classmate of Dennis Mahan Michie, after whom the football stadium about a quarter mile up the road is named, but while Smith graduated 10th in his class of 62 (despite ranking 62nd in French as a Yearling and 56th in Spanish as a First Classman), Michie graduated 53rd. Although Smith lived to command the 36th Division in World War I and relieve the city of Rheims, Michie was killed at San Juan Hill, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War.
In 1921, before Smith Rink was built, hockey was played out of doors at West Point. In that year, Superintendent Douglas MacArthur, Class of 1903, initiated discussions with the Commandant of the Royal Military Colleges of Canada regarding an exchange of cadets and a possible sports competition. Hockey was the national sport of Canada but only a minor sport at West Point; nevertheless, the first RMC-West Point hockey game was played at West Point on 23 February 1923. To the surprise of almost no one, RMC won, 3-0, and took the next ten games as well. In a master stroke of psychological warfare, or gentlemanly sportsmanship, RMC provided a silver cup—to be retained by the loser of the annual game, not the winner. It was not until 1935, in Smith Rink, that Army tied RMC, 4-4. RMC won the next three, and Army desperately needed a first, real victory. Enter Marshall S. Carter, West Point Class of 1931.
Because his father was a West Point professor, Carter grew up at the Academy and was the hockey mascot in his youth. He then lettered in hockey as a cadet and was selected to be the officer-in-charge of the hockey team when he returned as an instructor in 1936. Nevertheless, Army continued its losing ways through 1938. By this time, the rivalry was considered unique enough to provide one of the high points in the 1938 motion picture, The Duke of West Point. Perhaps the stirring Army victory over RMC in Duke, especially the scene in which an injured West Point cadet returns custody of the cup to the RMC hockey team captain, provided the impetus for Jacob L. Devers, Class of 1909 and Graduate Manager of Athletics, to call Carter to his office and tell him that he wanted to beat RMC in hockey in 1939. Carter said that the team was almost good enough to win, but he would need some special funding and priority to increase their chances. Devers agreed to provide several thousand dollars of athletic funds.
The first order of business was to build a low wall to reduce the Smith Rink playing surface to the size of the RMC rink, since the 1939 game would be played there. Next, Carter needed funds to invite the New York Stock Exchange hockey team, mainly floor runners who were Canadian or had adopted the Canadian style of play, to spend ten days at West Point to practice against the Army team. Then, instead of going up to Kingston two days before the game to socialize with their Canadian counterparts, Carter insisted on bringing the team up on Saturday, the day of the game, and also bringing West Point drinking water. Finally, he wanted the Cadet uniform shop to tailor RMC uniforms for the NYSE team—and two days off for his team after the game. Devers agreed. Later, the Army hockey coach, Ray Marchand, went up to scout the RMC team five days prior, while Carter stayed behind to run hockey practice. In an exciting game, Army won 3-2. The victory cost about $6,500, but the string had been broken, and many more West Point victories followed. This rivalry ended with the 2006 game, due to scheduling conflicts and the use of a few non-undergraduate players by RMC. The series ended at 75 games, with West Point boasting a winning 39-29-7 record and Canada issuing a $100 gold coin commemorating the 75th Anniversary (actually the 75th game, because of wartime interruptions) of this longest international hockey series.
The sometimes mercurial Jack Riley began coaching Army hockey at Smith Rink in 1950 and passed the reins to his son Rob in 1986. Another son, Brian, took over in 2004. Although Jack Riley was a member of the 1948 Olympic team (fourth but disqualified because two US teams appeared), player-coach of the 1949 national team, and on the committee that selected the 1960 Olympic hockey team, he had not sought the coaching position and had not requested permission from West Point. It is rumored that Superintendent Garrison H. Davidson ‘27 told him not to come back if he lost. Instead, Riley’s team won seven straight games at Squaw Valley, CA, defeating powerhouses Sweden (6-3), Canada (2-1), and the Soviet Union (3-2). In the final game, the US team scored six goals in the final period to come from behind and defeat Czechoslovakia, 9-4. They had trained hard indeed under Riley at Smith Rink. The 1980 team of Miracle on Ice fame also won the gold dramatically but only tied Sweden and never had to play Canada. Although the response upon Riley’s return to West Point from Squaw Valley was epic, the 1960 team now is the “forgotten miracle.” And so is Smith Rink, demolished to make way for Herbert Hall, home of the West Point Association of Graduates, after being replaced as the home of Army hockey by the modern Tate Rink in the Holleder Center in 1985, Jack Riley’s last year as coach. Tate Rink memorializes brother hockey players, Joseph ’41, goalie in 1940-41, and Frederic ’42, captain of the 1941-42 team. Both were Army Air Corps pilots killed in action in Europe.
Thanks to the late COL (Ret.) George Pappas ’44 for the text of an interview with LTG (Ret.) Marshall S. Carter concerning the 1939 Army-RMC game preparations.
Your humble servant, J. Phoenix, Esquire.
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