Today’s hockey team at West Point is known as the Army Black Knights. That hasn’t always been the case. One hundred and four years ago, the hockey team at West Point was in its 15th season. It was known as the Cadets as the Black Knights nickname wasn’t formalized until 1999. And the team’s hockey season took place at the very beginning of a global pandemic in the midst of the Great War.
When Army first began its hockey program, the team played its home games at nearby Lusk Reservoir. A temporary outdoor rink was later built on the United States Military Academy campus behind the gymnasium. The team began playing games there in January 1915. It was stated at the time that the construction of the rink made games possible that otherwise may have been called off due to poor weather. The easy access to the rink on campus also increased attendance and interest. It was named Stuart Rink in honor of Colonel Stuart, the man who came up with the initial idea of creating a snowbank in the shape of a rink and then flooding it. By the time the 1917-18 season began, it had been rebuilt with wooden boards. This so-called temporary rink lasted until 1930.
The 1917-18 hockey season was a challenging one for Army. Due to World War I, many hockey programs had been suspended at schools around the country. Army was able to field a team but it was difficult due to the number of men that were heading off to war. After finding enough cadets for the team, Henry Nichols was named captain. The team was able to put together a schedule of nine games. The level of competition varied from three games against high school teams to one against the Massachusetts Agricultural School (now known as UMass). It was also mentioned at the time that the quarantine had an adverse effect on the hockey season. This likely referenced a very-early quarantine for the Spanish Flu pandemic that was likely imposed by either the Military Academy or local government. A big development in the middle of the season was when the head coach, Captain Joseph Viner, was called into active duty. He ultimately ended up serving under Lieutenant Colonel George S. Patton on the front lines in Europe in command of the 1st Battalion, also named the 345th Tank Battalion. Throughout all of these challenges, the Army Cadets managed to put up a winning record of 6-3 by the end of the season.
In the featured photo, Army hosted Williams College at the rebuilt Stuart Rink on January 26, 1918. A row of Cadets and fans watched the game on snowbanks behind the gymnasium. Army is wearing the striped sweaters in the photo. As with Army, the Williams College Ephs have a storied hockey program that dates back to 1903. Located in Williamstown, Massachusetts, the Ephs currently compete in Division III hockey. Williams defeated Army that day to bring the Cadets record even at 3-3. However, it was the jump start the team needed as it won the final three games to close out the season with a winning record.
Photo Credit: (Featured Image) National Archives Catalog. (Team Photo) U.S. Military Academy Howitzer, 1919 Yearbook of the United States Corps of Cadets.