Tahoe Truckee Ice Hockey alive and well – in Sparks
The Squaw Valley Chiefs ice hockey team may be the last vestige of a rich heritage of Tahoe Truckee ice hockey, and they are representing the area well. They recently placed first in the men’s A League in Sparks, beating the Swinging Dick Tracy’s team with a score of 7-4.”There must have been 50 people in the stands – the Reno team only had three fans. For a 9:30 (p.m.) game that shows you how Tahoe is (about ice skating). It went nuts,” Todd Kelly, the Chiefs team captain said.The score went back and forth in the first two periods and was tied at the beginning of the third at four goals each. The Chiefs scored three goals in the third period and the Swinging D’s couldn’t answer back before the clock ran out on the championship game held at the Total Sports Ice Arena.”It gets pretty heated out there. Stuff happens. Checks, cross-checks, a slap shot gets you in the chest, but it’s not as rough as full contact hockey,” he said. “The no contact league is nice. After all, we have to work the next day.”The Chiefs ended the season with the best record in the fast skating, no-contact league with 10 wins, three ties and only two losses. Kelly said the entire season was a challenge, winning plenty of one games by only one goal. The team did have one blowout game where they outscored their opponents 9-0 with only five players and an empty bench.The top level A League had four teams this season; the other two are B & M Enterprises and Snake Egg Gelatin. Kelly said usually the top B League teams move up to A league so next season (which starts the end of August) A League will have more teams. Many individual Tahoe-Truckee hockey players are scattered throughout the 18 B League teams playing at Total Sports, but there are no other Tahoe-based teams.The Squaw Valley Chiefs are Al Murphy, Billy Hoppert, Buck Betty, Dave Mercer, Hansi Standteiner, Greg Bush, Michael Gross, Mike Kemper, Mike Lafferty, T.J. Kelly, Tim Dvorcek, Todd Weis, Tommy Ross and Toni Standteiner. For full contact tournaments the Squaw Valley Chief players compete as the Tahoe Lakers.A bygone eraThe Chiefs in one form or another have outlasted all other hockey teams from the Tahoe Truckee area. There once was a local league with a number of teams, playing games in the Blyth Arena, the huge Olympic skating structure which was located in the parking lot at Squaw Valley USA. The building was removed after the roof collapsed on March 29, 1983.Jim Mott, Squaw Valley Ski Corporation general manager at the time, closed the building just hours before the collapse after ice arena manager Peter Bansen noticed some of the beams were sagging. There were no injuries when the building gave a creak and a groan and dropped onto the ice at 12:15 p.m.Eric Poulsen of Squaw Valley, an ex-Squaw Valley Chief remembers “we had a game scheduled for that day, later that night. We’d been playing broomball hockey since the ’70s. It was our heyday. There were six to eight teams (in the league),” Poulsen said.”I may not remember the details as well as Poulsen, but I remember playing youth league ice hockey games at Blyth Arena in the 1960s, it was like a cavernous temple for the sport, skating across blue lines and red lines where Olympic hockey players made history. Later I would occasionally skate there with friends, but never made the leap to broomball, where players used a shaved down broom with bristles covered in duct tape for use as a hockey stick.”The skating rink was built for the 1960 Olympics and featured the world famous USA hockey team defeating the USSR team. Following the 1960 Olympics several ice skating and hockey programs began at Blyth Arena, with the Squaw Valley Chiefs playing regulation hockey from the late 1960’s to mid-1970’s, Poulsen said. The Chiefs would travel to Stockton, Sacramento and Reno to play games.Some of the other skaters Poulsen remembers on the team in its earlier years are Herb Clegg, Norm Simmons, Jon Caulkett, Billy Newell, Mark and Paul Sullivan, Dick Nielsen, Doug Read and the late Billy Dutton. Poulsen’s brothers Lance and Glen also played hockey.With the collapse of Blyth, local organized ice skating collapsed. Hockey players and figure skaters would make their way to Reno for skating or take to the frozen lakes and ponds around the area in the colder winters.Skating goes outsideThe late Billy Dutton would spend hours clearing snow from his favorite local lake, according to friends. If the snow wasn’t too deep, he would skate slowly holding a big piece of plywood in front as a plow to clear the ice. When the snow was more than shin deep he would haul out a small snowblower and a shovel. Dutton would often be out there before sunup, alone, preparing the frozen pond in sub-freezing temperatures. He mentioned that the bright stars seemed closer because of the still, air that was sometimes so cold it was hard to breathe.Most times his friends would show up to help. They would drill a small hole in the ice, and using a gasoline powered pump with a small garden hose, they would spread a thin layer of water over the rough ice – and spread it quickly before it froze. If applied just right, the water would freeze to a velvety-smooth, solid surface ideal for skating.This popular technique is still used by many at local lakes and ponds that have ice thick enough to support a thundering herd of skaters. And most of the Squaw Valley Chiefs of earlier eras were out there with Dutton, or at other lakes, checking, carving, jamming and skidding the puck the length of the pond into makeshift nets for a score. Oftentimes they would skate in the early morning before work, before the sun hit the ice making the surface too soft for a good game of hockey.”We play pond hockey all winter, sometimes we play pickup games at High Camp on Sundays when we have a tournament out of town. This year it was phenomenal. We played on Prosser for a couple of weeks, and of course the Teichert Ponds (in Truckee) are always good,” Kelly said. “In 1995 Donner Lake froze over and we skated there,” he added.Kelly and his generation of Chiefs have been playing together for about 10 years. “I played junior hockey in Reno, if anyone was into it, you had to go to Reno, ” he said. A local hockey league was started in 1992 that played at Squaw Valley USA’s High Camp, and the Tahoe City PUD Parks and Recreation ran a league from 1994-97, Kelly said. The Cushing Cup, awarded to the first place team in the league, was last won by the Squaw Valley Chiefs in 1997, before the league dissolved. After a two-year lull in league play, the Chiefs joined the new Total Sports A League in 1999.Liz Mercer of Dave’s Deli in Squaw Valley is the current team owner, and the team is also supported by Hans Burkhart of Squaw Valley, Kelly said. He said his team is full, they have a full roster, but “it would be nice for people to get together another team up here, so there would be more Tahoe teams. A lot of kids go to Reno to skate.”On the ponds this winter, he said, it always seemed like there were at least 10 families out there with kids, all skating.”It would be nice to have a rink up here, maybe in Truckee one will get built.”
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