Colby hockey celebrates the legacies of its men’s and women’s programs and looks forward to greatness yet to come as part of the College’s daylong Winter Sports Celebration at the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center Saturday, December 3.
This season marks the 100th anniversary of the men’s hockey program and the 50th anniversary of the women’s program. Both have been on the leading edge of the sport on a national scale. Colby built one of the first indoor skating rinks in New England in 1955, establishing Mayflower Hill as a destination for players, coaches, and fans from across the region. In 1973 the College hosted the first intercollegiate women’s ice hockey game in the country.
Colby teams have won conference titles, and players and coaches have achieved success at the highest levels of competition, including U.S. national and Olympic teams.
“What I love about both of our hockey programs is that they were true national leaders from their inception,” said Mike Wisecup, vice president and Harold Alfond Director of Athletics. “The connection to that rich history is an integral part of the culture of our programs. Our athletes and coaches currently stand on the shoulders of legends in the sport and are responsible for maintaining the feared reputation that our alumni built.”
The College will honor some of those legends and the legacies they helped build during the Winter Sports Celebration, a gathering at Colby’s newest athletics facility that serves as a modern-day community magnet on Mayflower Hill. Saturday’s events include a community reception from 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Other highlights are the dedication of the O’Neil | O’Donnell Forum and the Jack Kelley Rink at 6:40 p.m. prior to the men’s hockey game against Bowdoin, as well as the dedication of the Margaret M. Crook Center during halftime of the men’s basketball game, which starts at 3 p.m. College trustees Jack O’Neil ’77, Timothy O’Donnell ’87, and James Crook ’78, P’11 and members of their families will attend Saturday’s events.
Upward of 3,000 people are expected throughout the day, including a sold-out house of 1,700 fans for the men’s hockey game. “The rest we are expecting as part of the wide variety of competitions that day—a squash double-header, a swimming and diving meet, and men’s and women’s basketball,” Wisecup said. “The Winter Sports Celebration is a one-time-only event made possible because of the confluence of these different home competitions on the same day. However, I hope it is something we can replicate in the years to come. Just as our fall teams have homecoming, it would be great for our winter and spring teams to have a similar experience.”
‘Aware of the storied traditions’
As part of the celebration, Colby will unveil a new mural on the walls of the O’Neil | O’Donnell Forum that tells in photos and text the history of the men’s and women’s hockey programs. Holley Tyng, head coach of women’s hockey, said celebrating the men’s and women’s programs together reinforces the longevity and breadth of their collective accomplishments, as well as the importance of tradition and the relationships among generations of athletes, coaches, and supporters.
“The hockey world is so small, especially the women’s hockey world. Growing up, I was definitely aware of the history and the storied traditions of women’s hockey at Colby,” said Tyng, whose team hosts Bowdoin at 3 p.m. Saturday. “When I took this job, one of my goals was to honor the tradition of this program as a women’s hockey powerhouse.”
After making history by hosting the first intercollegiate women’s hockey game on Feb. 17, 1973, the women’s program has maintained on-ice excellence, winning national and international tournaments and a conference championship in 2008 while placing women on top national teams.
Among the program’s pioneers is Sue Yovic Hoeller ’73, whose energy and commitment spearheaded the team’s beginning in the early 1970s. Another is Lee Johnson ’79, who set scoring records and earned national recognition when Colby women went undefeated in 1976-77 and won the title at the Invitational Women’s Hockey Tournament in Montreal.
In 1994 Meaghan Sittler ’98 led Colby to the finals of the All-American Women’s Ice Hockey Tournament and earned ECAC Rookie of the Year honors. She was named ECAC Co-Player of the Year twice and is still Colby’s all-time leading scorer. Sittler and Barb Gordon ’97 were among four college players chosen for the 1995 U.S. women’s national team.
Reagan Carey ’01 also succeeded on a national scale, serving as director of women’s hockey for USA Hockey from 2010 to 2018 and helping to lead Team USA to Olympic Gold in 2018.
Among the pioneering women hockey coaches is Laura Halldorson. She ran the program from 1989 to 1996, invigorating both the team, the league, and the sport as a whole. She served as president of the American Women’s Hockey Coaches Association and as assistant coach for the U.S. women’s hockey national team development camp.
The winning continues under Tyng. The 2019-20 team achieved a Top 10 national ranking for the first time, and Tyng was named NESCAC coach of the year. “We’ve had some good success these last couple of years with a lot of hard work and a lot of recruiting,” she said.
The women will get the spotlight to themselves Jan. 27-29, 2023, when dozens of players from the past 50 years are expected back on campus. “Normally, we have 10 or 12 players back for our alumni weekend, but our RSVP list is close to 40 already,” Tyng said. “We are so excited. It will be a weekend to celebrate the former players and everything they did to get the program to where it is now.”
Colby hockey unites the community
Blaise MacDonald, the Jack Kelley Head Coach for Colby Men’s Hockey, said the lasting success of the men’s program dates to its roots a century ago, when the Waterville community, with its strong French-Canadian influence, began its earnest support of the hockey team. The Colby men’s ice hockey team played its first varsity game Jan. 20, 1922, defeating the Waterville Athletic Association 4-3. On Feb. 11 that year, Colby beat Bowdoin 2-1, beginning what continues to be an intense rivalry between the schools.
“The people in the town embraced hockey,” said MacDonald, who has coached at Colby for a decade. “Colby hockey became part of the fabric of Waterville.”
The relationship flourished with the confluence of two monumental figures in Colby history, Harold Alfond and Jack Kelley. Alfond, founder of Dexter Shoe Company, made the first of many gifts to Colby in 1955, allowing the College to build a modern indoor rink as a way to lure Kelley to Mayflower Hill and elevate the program. Kelley delivered, leading the Mules from 1955 to 1962 and packing Alfond Rink weekend after weekend with wildly enthusiastic fans who appreciated good, fast hockey.
“Alfond Rink was one of only a handful of indoor rinks in the Northeast when it opened. That allowed Jack Kelley to bring in some really high-end college players, and that’s what started everything,” said MacDonald. “And now here we are in 2022, and we have this amazing new facility and rink funded by the Alfond Foundation that keeps up the standard of excellence.”
In 1961-62 Colby men’s hockey finished first in the ECAC regular season, and Kelley won National Coach of the Year honors. He left Colby to become head coach at Boston University, his alma mater, and later head coach and general manager of the New England Whalers. He returned to Colby for one season in 1976-77 and earned his 300th career win that season. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993 and died in 2020 at age 93.
Colby’s all-time winningest coach is Jim Tortorella, who won 230 games over 16 seasons. Under Tortorella, the 1995-96 team reached the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time. The following year, the Mules won the ECAC title, defeating Bowdoin 3-2 behind goaltender and tournament MVP Jason Cherella ’99.
MacDonald has kept the winning tradition going. The 2018 team enjoyed perhaps the finest season for a Colby men’s team when it won the NESCAC title and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four. MacDonald, who coached at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Niagara University before joining Colby in 2012, won his 300th career game during the season and coach of the year honors from the American Hockey Coaches Association and the New England Hockey Writers. He notched his 100th win for Colby Nov. 26, 2022.
Reflecting on the history of Colby coaching, MacDonald pays homage to “decades of high-quality people and success in any way you want to define it. We can never forget where we came from.”
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