By Sean Dixon
Today’s sports teams commemorate the Super Bowl, World Series, Stanley Cup and NCAA national championships with rings.
However, this tradition was not common practice in NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey until sometime around the mid-1970s. The following story surrounds the history of NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey national championship rings and the earliest known example from the 1959 University of North Dakota hockey team.
NCAA Hockey Championships were first held in 1948, and for the first 10 years took place in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the Broadmoor Ice Palace. The 1948 Championship series began a tradition whereby four teams would compete for the national title, which today, 67 years later, is called the Frozen Four.
NCAA Hockey in the 1940s and 1950s consisted of far less teams compared to today’s seven conferences, which comprise of nearly 60 Division I hockey teams. In the 1940s and ’50s, NCAA Hockey national title winners commemorated their championships with medallions, belt buckles and/or watches, not rings. This fact is also reflected in NCAA Football, where during the same time period several prominent football teams, such as Michigan State, won national championships and did not commemorate the event with a ring.
1959 UND hockey team
The 1959 University of North Dakota (UND) hockey team was coached by Bob May. The 1959 team would go on to capture its first national title in dramatic fashion by scoring an overtime, game-winning goal to defeat St. Lawrence 4-3 in the semifinals and defeating Michigan State in the title game, again in overtime, by the same score of 4-3. May was extremely proud of his players, the accomplishment and what it meant for the university.
May wished to commemorate the win in an uncommon way at the time, with a ring. However, this broke from tradition, and without financing could not be accomplished. May financed the purchase of the 1959 UND championship rings for his players out of his own pocket through authoring a paperback titled The Road to Troy that told the story behind the 1959 UND hockey team on its way to capturing its first national title in Troy, N.Y. It appears by all accounts that the university did not directly purchase the rings, rather, as one former player recalled, “UND provided its players with belt buckles to commemorate the ’59 title.”
The 1959 UND National Collegiate Hockey Championship 10K gold ring was made by Pollack Chicago, a company located in Chicago, which made gold and silver jewelry pieces before and after the WWII era. It is most likely Balfour, a prominent ring manufacturer, contracted Pollak Chicago to produce the 1959 UND hockey ring. Based on the direct and personal knowledge of several former UND players on the ’59 team, the majority of the 1959 UND championship rings no longer exist as a result of either being stolen, lost or simply misplaced.
The pictured ring here belonged to former player Guy E. LaFrance, who was a key member of the 1959 UND hockey team, scoring the game-winning goal against St. Lawrence. Ownership of the ring was transferred to me by LaFrance in February 2015 with a LOA.
The history of the ring is amazing, represents UND’s first NCAA Hockey National Title and is an example of the earliest known NCAA Hockey championship ring.
If you have any information to add regarding the 1959 UND Hockey team, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.