First on the Ice: 140 Years of SPS Hockey

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It’s no secret that St. Paul’s has an important claim to fame when it comes to hockey – the first hockey game with rules written down was played right here on November 17, 1883. But the story of St. Paul’s hockey began long before that day in 1883, and one or two things may have happened in the last 140 years since then.

As far back as 1856 – that very first winter of the school’s existence – students made use of the freezing Millville temperatures to enjoy skating on the local ponds. Here is a quote from a December 1856 entry in the Rural Record: “December 1st, the school session commenced. The next day, Little Turkey Pond was frozen over so as to bear the skaters safely.”

The Rev. James Potter Conover, circa 1890

In 1880, the Reverend James Potter Conover (Form of 1876, SPS Faculty 1882-1915) was captivated by the hockey he saw played at a country club in Montreal. Conover returned to Millville with several ‘hockey sticks’ and an octagonal wooden block covered in leather, used as a puck. He also brought back a set of rules which would set the foundations for the modern-day version, often referred to as the “Montreal Rules.”

On the 17th of November 1883, that first old-style game of hockey was played. Two days later, the rules were drawn up at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the SPS Athletic Association. Those rules were published in the November 29, 1883 issue of the Horae Scholasticae.  If you are going to have a claim to fame, you better have something to back up the claim!


The first girl’s hockey team, 1982

Let’s move forward in time a bit, to almost 100 years after that first game! The first 19 girls arrived at St. Paul’s School in January 1971. The next fall, the first full class of girls arrived. They quickly adjusted to classes, dorms, and SPS community life. They also wanted to play sports! The first girls sports team – Field Hockey – was formed in the Fall of 1971. Girls Ice Hockey didn’t get started until the early 1980’s, first as a club team and then as an official varsity sport. This may seem like a long time to wait, but girls hockey did not hit its stride in the U.S. until the mid-1990’s. In keeping with its hockey tradition, SPS was once again ahead of its time.

Visit our exhibit on the third floor of Ohrstrom Library to learn more  – from the New York Game tradition to the evolution of our hockey rinks, from the SPS hockey legends of yesterday to the teams of today. Or come to our Archives Talk on Thursday, January 18th at 6:30 in Room 202 of Ohrstrom Library. Our archivist, Ms. Parsi, will be talking about the history of SPS hockey, as well as sharing artifacts and photographs from the archives. Hope to see you there!

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