The Goal

Let’s say your athletic career is likely to peak in high school (boarding school in my case). You don’t know that when you are a 10th grader (we called them IV formers following the English tradition) because you will only encounter athletes with real skill when they beat you out for teams at college.

But, if you do sense your sports career is nearing its apogee, my advice is to use your few remaining goals wisely.

In January 1962, an unusually enthusiastic 26-year-old teacher appeared at St. Paul’s School after a couple of years of teaching in Melbourne. He had a wife and a very small child, and he must have felt quite out of place arriving midway through the school year.

He had played hockey at Harvard and he was assigned to coach one of three club teams at a level just below the varsity and junior varsity. In the early 1960s, Concord, New Hampshire was still pretty remote. The interstate highway program had begun under President Eisenhower in the 1950s but that did not mean that all of the nation’s highways had been completed. It still took too long to send team buses to Boston where there were other schools to play against, so most of us were divided into Isthmians, Delphians and Old Hundreds. We played against each other. There must have been some 19th-century reason why we were not grouped into eagles, lions and bears but I never asked what it was.

Hockey was a very big deal at St. Paul’s and there were many levels of team for each of the three clubs. We played on rinks that were set up on a frozen pond (pre-global warming). Each team would play the others for several rounds during the course of the winter.

This picture is from a much earlier era. No helmets and seven players a side.

As it happens, at about the time my path as a defenseman on the first Isthmian hockey team crossed with that of the slightly insecure coach who had arrived midway through the year, an article appeared in the school newspaper predicting that our team would be the “doormats of the league.”

Freezing cold day, bright sun, early afternoon, red jersey, leather helmet and my first exposure to a clipboard. The coach had the clipboard to which he had attached the article from the school newspaper. He did not greet us. He did not introduce himself. He held up the clipboard and said, “This is what your schoolmates think of you. Are you going to let them think that?”

The whole season took about two months from early January, when we returned from Christmas vacation, to early March when the ice melted. I can’t remember how many rounds of games we played against the other two teams, but there were several.

Part way through January we played the first round and, predictably, lost them both. The school newspaper reporter who had called us doormats (and who happened to play for one of the other teams) looked like an oracle, perhaps even a Delphian oracle. Doormats we were.

In round two, I think we tied one of the teams, so we were not completely hopeless. In round three, we might have beaten a team and, as the rounds continued through February, we sometimes beat both teams in a single week.

We got to the beginning of March, when it was much warmer and the ice was much worse, because maintaining a smooth surface was achieved by towing a massive blade that shaved the top half inch of scraped-up ice off the surface leaving a sheet of glass beneath. A tractor towed the blade and, if it was too warm, the ice would not be thick enough to keep tractor and blade from crashing through the surface and sinking to the bottom of the pond.

The regular season ended when veteran ice thickness experts thought it should, but the doormats and the mighty Old Hundreds were tied for the top spot. The author of the doormat story was on the team that finished third.

A one-game playoff was scheduled far later in the day than usual to allow the sun to sink behind the tall pine trees and the ice to recover. It was to be played on a rink located in a cove that was sheltered from the sun, all in the interest of having the best playing surface the climate would allow. The pictures don’t show the shady rink in the cove. It is to the right of the ones you see from the air. While playing in the cove was a good decision, there was one unfortunate consequence. By the end of the game it would be almost entirely dark.

The Isthmians battled the Old Hundreds to a draw at the end of three periods. Sudden death overtime would determine the first club championship. None of this “sudden victory” or “golden goal” nonsense, the words “sudden death” reminded the 15-year olds of the consequences of a mistake.

I remember nothing of that overtime period except how it ended. Maybe the teams went back and forth. Maybe shots rang off the posts. Maybe there were great plays or great errors. I remember none of that.

All I remember is having the puck on my stick in my own end, being tired from a long game on lousy ice, not wanting to risk an intercepted pass and taking off into the darkness with my stick out in front of me and making no effort at anything subtle.

By now you have figured it out; the lead-in wasn’t that subtle. Yes, I did score the winning goal. We were not the doormats, but that was not the point.

If you happen to be an athlete whose peak is not far in the future, try to pick your goals wisely. As goals, they will never matter to anyone, but they might serve you well in other ways.

That new teacher, who had arrived with wife and baby at a school not known for being very forgiving, made his bones taking that ragtag group of 15-year-olds and turning them into something better than they thought they could be. He would go on to a distinguished career as an educator culminating as headmaster of a different school.

He was far too big a person to have decided to be my friend simply because I scored a rare goal in a long-forgotten game but, in the next two years at St. Paul’s, he would play a huge role in my future.

We will track that lifetime friendship over the next two stories.

 

 

 

 

25 Responses to “The Goal”

Temple Grassi, November 26, 2019 at 7:46 am said:

My goal story
At Woodberry Forest in the 1960s we played football in the fall and soccer in the winter (brrr). We were playing soccer at Landon ( the school where I would end up teaching for close to 25 years). The game went into sudden death OT and you guessed it, I kicked the winning goal for LANDON ! The ball went off the side of my foot into our goal. Amusing now, but not at that time!

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Haven Pell, November 27, 2019 at 9:16 am said:

A player for Colombia was murdered for doing that in the World Cup. Probably attributable to more betting on his game than on yours.

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bill gordon, November 26, 2019 at 8:56 am said:

Lots of fond memories Haven! Thanks for posting the story and especially the pictures.
Good times on that ice for sure. Looking forward to the next chapters.

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Haven Pell, November 27, 2019 at 9:15 am said:

Thanks Bill, the comments have elicited some other fun stories too.

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Richard Meyer, November 26, 2019 at 9:47 am said:

I was a benchwarmer on a bad HS basketball team. I once scored 11 points in a game during which they let me in because we were so helplessly behind. That night, I dreamed of being an NBA Star. The morning brought reality back.

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Haven Pell, November 27, 2019 at 9:14 am said:

alas, that does tend to happen

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Michael Dyett, November 26, 2019 at 11:10 am said:

At Exeter, same year, I was able to play on the varsity because I learned to skate at an early age in Buffalo and play against “rink rats” from Fort Erie. We had a rink on a vacant lot on our street. Most memorable for me was not scoring a goal against Hilton (yes) but rather being flipped by a slap shot from Don Chiofaro as I came the cage. he was a larger and more adept athlete than I, and a memorable shot it was!

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Haven Pell, November 27, 2019 at 9:14 am said:

November 1964 Harvard’s Watson Rink. Arrived late to Freshman hockey after finishing soccer season. Met a lot of people described in the story as those who would beat me out. One was Don Chiofaro, who had countless reasons — most of them valid — to dislike the newcomer preppy. He delivered a hit on me at the face-off dot to the goalie’s right and my entire self took flight until I came to rest on the glass above the boards. Thence did I slither down to the ice. Don was 5’8″ 215. I was not. He went on to captain the football team and had an ambient toughness level far higher than mine. Revenge for the hit was a dreadful idea but I did not think about that at the time. Benjamin A. Smith III, son of the Senator who held Jack Kennedy’s seat for two years until Teddy was old enough to run, stepped between the Chief and me thus almost certainly saving my life. Ben and I roomed together and he went on to a distinguished coaching career culminating with a gold a silver and a bronze as Women’s National Team Coach.

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Chip Oat, November 26, 2019 at 11:26 am said:

Hobey Baker personified!

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Haven Pell, November 27, 2019 at 9:03 am said:

There is at the very most one similarity between me and Hobey Baker. We played on the same pond.

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Jim Arundel, November 26, 2019 at 2:21 pm said:

Little League Baseball came to Omaha the summer I turned 12. We led the league by 1 game with 1 game left to play. Our ace pitcher (who went on to have a stellar career) threw a shutout through 5 innings but could not pitch the last inning due to league restrictions. I blew the “save” , was derided by a few teammates and resolved to quit the game forever. But when the team took the field the next day for what was in effect the championship game, with me in the stands as an “observer”, the coach came over and gave me the ball saying “It’s your game or we forfeit”. My effort was not perfect (there were walks and at least 1 run given up), but it was a no-hitter, we won, and my teammates loved it (and me). Where were they the night before?, but a life lesson for sure!

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Haven Pell, November 27, 2019 at 8:56 am said:

where were they the night before….

a lesson perhaps more important than the next day’s win

sounds like some good coaching too.

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Jack Garrity, November 26, 2019 at 8:49 pm said:

Nice memories Haven. It’s funny how well we vividly remember some goals and missed goals from more than 50 years ago. Important successes and disappointments. Thanks for sharing.

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Haven Pell, November 27, 2019 at 8:55 am said:

Jack, we might need a whole story on St. Paul’s vs Deerfield in 1964, a team that featured Paul “the shot” Hurley.

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Oakley Brooks, November 27, 2019 at 8:37 am said:

It’s often pointed out to me I can’t remember what I went to Safeway to buy, but I can remember a goal from 56 years ago.
One of those was at the end of a game against Brooks School played at Groton in February 1963. The entire game was in Brooks’ end of the rink, and we outshot them 35-2, or something. But, Brooks had scored the only goal.
Down to the end, we made one last frantic push, knowing there was very little time left.
Rural myth contends that the timekeeper, our formmate Peter Gammons, held off pushing the buzzer until we finished our last rush (3 or 4 seconds?), which allowed us to tie the game. We won in overtime in less than 30 seconds.
How can anyone forget that tying goal, no matter how much time passes and memory is lost? Gammons admits nothing.

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Haven Pell, November 27, 2019 at 8:53 am said:

Goalies “who stand on their heads” (play unusually well) are anathema to the of us who need to score at the end of games. Had a similar experience playing at Kimball Union, but we were leading and the clock seemed never to move. The rink looked like a blimp hanger and both ends were open turning the entire place into a wind tunnel. Those with home ice advantage knew how to take advantage of this. Justice prevailed and we outlasted the delays.

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charles g houghton, November 27, 2019 at 11:06 am said:

What a great story – these are fun to read.

Happy Thanksgiving to a grand friend, who made the winning goal.

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Haven Pell, November 29, 2019 at 8:17 pm said:

Glad you enjoyed it. Also glad to have deemphasized politics.

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Bill Matthews, November 27, 2019 at 11:24 am said:

Thanks, Haven. Brought back great memories of the Lower School Pond with its many rinks. Loved the rink you describe in the “Gulf of Mexico” because of its shaded location and hard ice. Many fun days on that pond playing shinny until too dark to see.

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Haven Pell, November 29, 2019 at 8:16 pm said:

Pundificator readers should know how honored we are to receive a comment from Bill Mathews. He was a VI Former when I was a III Former. His sports were soccer, hockey and baseball. He went to Bowdoin and returned to St. Paul’s soon after as a teacher and coach. He went on to hold virtually every position at the school including Rector. One of the greats.

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David barry, November 27, 2019 at 6:53 pm said:

Terrific story! I heard the names 1st Isthmians and 2nd Isthmians (maybe even 3rd) from my father many times growing up. I am awed at the knowledge that a secondary school hired a coach for a non-varsity team. I am also wondering how many of this column’s readers shot the winning goal at their school before going to Harvard. I suspect more than the ones who have admitted it.

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Haven Pell, November 29, 2019 at 8:12 pm said:

There was a time when every boy at St. Paul’s was made to play hockey in the winter. There were sometimes 9 teams for each club. As you’ll see in tonight’s story, the coach was also a teacher as were all the coaches at SPS at the time.

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Peter W Bragdon, December 02, 2019 at 9:24 am said:

Haven was one helluva skater — impressive acceleration — good balance. As I recall, his rink-length rush was early in the Overtime — this was fortunate because night was rapidly descending onto the Rink in the Cove. Haven split the defense, drilled his shot into the high corner — and “The Doormats” prevailed — the youngest of the three club teams by far, but talented. Pell, Wardwell, Resor and Pillsbury went up to Varsity the next year. We had only eight skaters, so it was a happy team — no bench warmers.
Subsequent to that victory I was so happy that, after dinner in the Dining Hall, Dottie, Little Bill (58 years old today) and I drove over to Exeter to celebrate in front of the fire with my father, Henry, who was a great teacher at PEA and a hockey coach. A month or so ago Haven visited and sat in the very chair my father was sitting in after that memorable victory.
I coached the Kent School Varsity for many years, but no goal meant more to me than Haven’s clutch contribution in 1962.

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Haven Pell, December 02, 2019 at 7:09 pm said:

You will provide credibility to the story that will appear Tuesday December 3.

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Haven Pell, December 04, 2019 at 4:48 pm said:

I am posting this comment for a St. Paul’s form mate and Harvard classmate who prefers to remain anonymous. His father was on the faculty from 1952 through 1954, when he was a first and second grader at the Millville School.

I know that after the Lower School pond froze, I would hustle home each day so I could change my clothes, grab my skates, and head to the warming hut next to the Old Chapel, so I could put on my skates and skate until it got dark.

I distinctly remember coming home one evening, heartbroken, and explaining to my father I couldn’t skate and I didn’t know why. I explained that I tried to Push and Glide, as I had been taught, but, when I tried to glide, I just stopped – it was like trying to skate on concrete. He then explained to me it’s the skater’s weight that melts the ice underneath the blade, creating a small water bearing that allows the skater to glide along. He then looked at the outside thermometer and said to me “It’s 20 below zero out there! No wonder you couldn’t Push and Glide! Wait a couple of days for it to get a little warmer. Everything will get much better then.”

His family moved to Michigan but he returned to St. Paul’s for high school.

Your essay about “The Goal”, and the accompanying picture of the Lower School Pond in all its glory brought some things to mind:
I have always loved that picture of all the rinks laid out on the Lower School Pond. Look at the rinks, then count the number of skaters inside any given rink. Now think of a standard NHL rink at 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. When I left Millville and returned to northern Michigan and an NHL-size rink, I felt like I was playing on a postage stamp!

You are correct – when you and I were IV formers, the blade that shaved the ice was drawn by a tractor. When I first learned to skate on the Lower School Pond in the winters of 1951-52 and 1952-53, that blade was pulled by a team of two draft horses that was brought down from the School Farm, up on Dunbarton Road. In addition to shaving the ice, the team occasionally dropped nuggets of manure. These nuggets melted their way through the ice in very short order, leaving a hole a bit larger than a hockey puck. I can’t count how many pucks I saw get away from their owners during games of shinny, find a hole and disappear. I have always had this fantasy of dredging the Lower School Pond and figuring out what to do with the thousands of pucks that must be there.

The year you scored The Goal for the first Isthmians, I was a member of the second Old Hundred. I skated with the first Old Hundred until the last cut. Percy Preston was the coach of the first Old Hundred team and, when I asked him why I had been cut when I was clearly a better hockey player than several of those who had made the team, he looked me in the eye and said “It’s not your turn. Yes, you are a better player than some who are older than you, but this year is their turn. Let them have their day in the sun. Keep working on your skills and abilities. When it’s your turn, you’ll be a better player than you are now, and you’ll make more of an impact than you would if you made the first team now and rode the bench (which is where you would be if I put you on the first team today).” That conversation (and those words of wisdom) have stayed with me ever since.

I, too, tried out for the Harvard hockey team during the fall of 1964. By that time, I had grown to be 5’8”, 180 pounds, and was considered to be a big, fast, defenseman for my part of northern Michigan. I showed up for the first Freshman skate and, after the first warm-up drills, Cooney Weiland said to me “Go line up over there, with the centers.” I replied “But sir, I’m a defenseman.” He frowned at me and said “Well, OK. Go line up over there, with the defensemen.” I went over to the group of defensemen and found that I was a midget in a land of giants. My visions of a Harvard hockey career ended shortly thereafter.

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