Monday, April 26, 2010

Mount St. Charles Arena - The Other Remaining EHL Arena

Back in February, I got to visit my second Eastern Hockey League arena ever. (The first was Cherry Hill Arena where I watched the Jersey Devils from 1969-73.) Can you guess where I was?

Here are some clues...
* It was completed in 1963.
* It's up on a hill.
* It was originally named after a brother of the Sacred Heart.
* It still has chain link fencing instead of glass.
* A national hockey dynasty still plays there.
* It is probably the least remembered of the remaining active Eastern Hockey League arenas.
* The game below played was played there. The home team in white shows Bob Buchy #16, Nick Haramis (facing) and Dave Patterson #10 on the attack against Jersey Devils goalie Jim Park.
* It's in the city of Woonsocket.
* ...(that's in Rhode Island).

Give up? The 1972-73 EHL Rhode Island Eagles played at the Mount St. Charles Arena, also known as Brother Adelard Arena. Brother Adelard was coach of the now famous Mount Saint Charles Academy in the 1930s and 1940s, creating a Rhode Island state champion team by bringing in ringers from Canada. Here's an article on Brother Adelard from Sports Illustrated from 1985, when Adelard was 100. (He lived to be 106).

Interestingly, the EHL directory in a Syracuse Blazers program I have says that the Eagles home arena was the Rhode Island Auditorium, which was the home of the AHL Providence Reds for years, until they moved to the new Providence Civic Center in 1972-73. I'm interested to find out if this was ever the plan, and if so, what changed.

I wish I had some more shots, like the cinder block corridor painted red underneath the stands, where the bathrooms were. Unfortunately, as I was taking some of the rink shots, the guy who was running practice on the ice suddenly shouted "Hey!" and came racing over to me, face aglare. As he approached, his face lightened up and almost winking he said confidentially something like "I don't really care, but the coach would have your head." It was then that I realized that this must be the famed Mount St. Charles Academy team practicing on the ice, and that "coach" was Mount St. Charles coach Bill Belisle. The assistant must have been able to tell from the expression of terror and bewilderment on my face that I wasn't actually spying on the team. I quickly put my camera away and moved out to the lobby. It turns out that "The Mount" had a playoff game that night. At 9 PM. Who plays hockey at 9 PM? Well, actually, in the early years of the Eastern Hockey League, 8:30 and 9 PM were standard times for games. In the late 1950s, teams did experiments with 7PM games to see if people would show up.

You don't know about the famed Mount St. Charles Academy hockey team? Do Garth Snow, Brian Berard, Keith Carney, Mathieu Schneider and Brian Lawton ring a bell?

The seats are lovely, eh? It's hard to tell what the max capacity of the arena was. Currently it is 800. Part of that is that one side apppears to be completely roped off and unused. There are only 4 or 5 rows of seats, depending on where you are, on each side. There is standing room at the back with tables you can stand and eat at. On my visit, I also stopped at the Woonsocket Public Library to get about the first six weeks of the 1972-73 season in the Woonsocket newspapers. I think that 1200 was about the largest crowd listed, and they seemed disappointed in the attendance. A Johnstown Jets program from that year shows Mount St. Charles Arena as holding 2000. Attendance must have improved as the season went on, as they were initially in the discussion for continuing on in the NAHL, when the EHL split at the end of that season.

On the way out, I felt a need to get an EHL arena cheeseburger. The girl behind the counter pulled a burger out of the freezer, and put it in an electric frying pan. (There was no game. I was between a mite practice and the high school team practice, so I was glad there was any food at all.) I had about ten minutes to wander the lobby while I waited. The burger was just about what you'd expect. Probably about the same as Cherry Hill Arena. My food memory of Cherry Hill Arena is of the pizza, which was the way I still like pizza: thin crust with oregano. That memory also includes finding my program after the game on the floor with a pizza stain on it.

The lobby is filled with Mt. Saint Charles awards and memorabilia. I could find no indication that the Rhode Island Eagles or the Eastern Hockey League had ever been there. Except for the pictured plaque over the arena entrance, there was no indication that Brother Adelard was there either.

The one thing I came away with was the feel of the arena, the sense that even with the whole run down nature of it, that this would be a great place to see a game. It gave me inspiration to make sure and make the trips to go see games in the other EHL arenas. I realized that even if an EHL level team isn't playing in the old arenas, a high school game or a junior game would be great to watch there.

As I drove down the hill from the arena, I came to a T where my car was so sharply downhill, that I was surprised my bumper wasn't touching the road in front of me. And you thought there were no hills in Rhode Island. They don't call it "The Mount" for nothing.

Click on any of the photos for a more detailed view.

More about Mount Saint Charles Academy and Mount Saint Charles Arena
Ice Kings, the Movie:
Pride on The Mount by John Gillooly:

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