By Paul Post
Some of hockey’s most revered memorabilia and artifacts, including the Stanley Cup, were displayed at a Fan Fest during the Jan. 17-18 ECHL All-Star Classic hosted by the Adirondack Thunder in Glens Falls and Lake George, New York.
Fans got to meet and obtain autographs from stars of tomorrow on 27 teams from Alaska to Florida, plus hockey luminaries such as Neil Smith, general manager of the 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers. Smith, whose front-office career started at Adirondack, gave the keynote address during ECHL Hall of Fame ceremonies.
The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto provided a dozen glass-enclosed exhibits of iconic items, ranging from early 1900s skates and jerseys, to equipment used by the 1980 U.S. men’s “Miracle on Ice” team that stunned the world by defeating a heavily favored Soviet squad at the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
“It’s a good cross-section of everything,” said Frank Westgate, Hall of Fame outreach coordinator. “We’ve been working with the ECHL the last five years, coming to their annual event. We’ve got a great relationship with the league. We bring a little bit of ECHL artifacts and memorabilia as well as a mix from different eras of the NHL. Not everyone can make it to Toronto, so this allows us to bring some of the Hall on the road so people can experience it.”
The Hall of Fame does nearly 100 such events of all different sizes throughout the world each year.
“We do big set-ups like at a World Junior Championship or a World Championship; we do stuff in Europe and we’re always collecting artifacts at events we go to as well so we can build these displays,” Westgate said. “The big things are championships. We try to get stuff from all the championship teams at all the different levels. Any milestones or records that get set, we’ll work with the leagues and teams to get things; pretty much any significant occasion in hockey that’s worth representing we’ll try to make sure we get stuff from.”
At the Fan Fest, people were greeted by four prestigious trophies – the Kelly Cup and Calder Cup, championship trophies of the ECHL and AHL, respectively; plus the Vezina and Hart trophies, given annually to the NHL’s top goaltender and Most Valuable Player.
Meanwhile, people waited in long lines to have their picture taken with the Stanley Cup. Bill Poganowski and his son, Roman, of Lake George, New York, were among those on hand.
“We just got a nice family picture with the Stanley Cup,” Bill Poganowski said. “That was neat. We’ve never done that before. It’s nice to have the Vezina and Hart trophies here, too. We’re kind of like a hockey family. We always watch the Legends of Hockey so this is cool for us.”
Thunder team Captain Peter MacArthur was overwhelmed by the exhibits.
“It’s awesome, I didn’t expect this,” he said. “I didn’t think they were going to have all the memorabilia and historical artifacts from the NHL, the American League and our league. It’s exciting for sure.”
Thunder Head Coach Cail MacLean made a point of turning out early with his young daughter, Ashton. He’s seen the Stanley Cup previously on several occasions, but still gets a thrill from it.
“My little one had a class pet, a stuffed animal that she’s taking care for her school class this week, so she got a picture of it in the Cup. I think I was more excited about it than she is,” MacLean said. “She was like ‘Dad, What’s the big deal?’”
The Hall of Fame tells the whole story of hockey, from youth leagues and juniors right up through the NHL, and women’s hockey, too.
“That’s one misconception sometimes, that we’re the NHL Hall of Fame and we’re not. We’re the Hockey Fall of Fame,” Westgate said.
As a rule, players, teams and leagues are quite cooperative about donating things to the Hall.
“There’s times when they want to keep this stuff,” he said. “From our perspective as a museum, we just want to make sure everything is preserved and kept somewhere and not lost in time. So as long as the player’s keeping it and he knows it’s there, maybe he’ll change his mind down the road and give it to the Hall. Most of the time, though, they’re pretty receptive and willing to part with something.”
Westgate is originally from southwest Ontario. Like everyone who loves the game, there’s one particular collectible that really strikes his fancy. His is the goalie stick used by Hall of Famer Percy LeSueur who played from 1903-16.
“He used this goalie stick all those years, won multiple Stanley Cups with it and played an All-Star Game with it,” Westgate said. “Every picture we have of him, which are few, shows the exact same stick that we have. It’s got the same tape job. It’s got wood burn markings in it. I just think that stick is incredible because of who he was, what it was and how long he used it.”
The oldest artifacts displayed at Fan Fest were a Montreal Wanderers sweater worn by team captain Cecil Blachford during the 1908-09 ECAHA season. The Wanderers held the Stanley Cup during most of 1906, ’07 and ’08, successfully defending several challenges before losing rights to it in March 1909, in a loss to the Ottawa Senators.
The same display case included a jersey worn by goaltender Harry “Hap” Holmes, who won the Stanley Cup an unprecedented four times with four different teams including the 1917 Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association.
The Stanley Cup originated in 1893, long before the NHL was formed on Nov. 26, 1917. Pre-NHL years are considered the Challenge Cup era when the Cup would be contested by the winners of different leagues within Canada.
“Originally, the Stanley Cup wasn’t for one league,” Westgate said. “There was a Dominion of Canada Amateur Hockey Championship. Even when the NHL first started, for the first five or six years the NHL champion would play the Pacific Coast champion. Those two winners would play for the Stanley Cup.”
Display cases captured people’s imagination with equipment used by the sport’s greatest players. Some unusual items were made available, too, such as a New York Rangers jersey worn by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. On the back, his name is misspelled – Gretkzy!
Apparently, the faux pas didn’t affect his performance as he still picked up an assist in the game he wore this shirt in.
The ECHL All-Star Classic game and skills competition were played at the Thunder’s home arena, Glens Falls Civic Center. The Fan Fest and ECHL Hall of Fame inductions were in Lake George, a popular resort town 10 miles away. The Classic has an important economic development role by allowing teams that host it to showcase their region, encouraging future visits.
It also helps create new fans by teaching young people about the game’s history. Adirondack is celebrating its 35th season of pro hockey this year. It began in 1979 with the Adirondack Red Wings, an AHL affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings, which won four Calder Cups in the franchise’s first 12 years of existence.
The Thunder, a “Double-A” ECHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames, are the fifth franchise to play at Adirondack.
“For kids to be exposed to this does a lot for hockey in this community,” said Bob McNamara, Quad City Mallards team president. “I played in the American League for Rochester, so I know the history here. To do something like this is significant for exposing new people and young people to the history of the game and how important this stuff is.”
“It’s good to see things from the Hockey Hall of Fame and interact with all the players,” said Andrew McCartney, an avid fan from nearby Ballston Spa, N.Y. “I’ve been to a couple of All-Star Games before. It’s an excellent experience. Usually when they have All-Star events they bring out the best things.”
Paul Post is a freelance contributor to SCD and can be reached at email@example.com.