Once upon a time the Newark Bulldogs - the Garden State's first professional hockey team - came; saw and conquered - but never in Newark.
How's that for a fairy tale about Newark's first professional hockey team.
Except it's not fiction, but genuine hockey fact. And you can look it up. Or, you can read up as this incredible but true story still is hard to believe and yet it happened - or almost happened, as the case may be.
In the late 1920s, hockey had become big-time in America. New York City already had two major league teams - the Americans and Rangers - filling (old) Madison Square Garden.
Exactly a century ago, The Garden - then located on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets just off Times Square - was so successful that many Newark sportsmen had visions of a New Jersey version being built.
"At the same time," said Stan Saplin, Rangers publicity man in the late 1940s and MSG historian, "the Garden was looking to erect similar arenas and Boston was in the crosshairs. Newark as well.
Plus, the National Hockey League simultaneously spread its wings with a big-time expansion. It welcomed teams in Boston, Detroit and Chicago.
In the case of Boston, the Bruins were forced to play in an antiquated building that was too small for major league crowds. The Madison Square Garden directors offered to help build a new arena; and did.
Its original nickname was Boston Madison Square Garden.
"The same thing was supposed to happen in New Jersey," Saplin pointed out. "It was to be called Newark Madison Square Garden."
By 1927 North Jersey sportsmen wanted pro stickhandling in the state; immediately, if not sooner. It was right there in the papers. The Bergen Record in Hackensack, for one respected newspaper, couldn't wait.
HOCKEY COMES TO JERSEY headlined a piece in The Record, which enthusiastically opened this way: "Newark hockey fans who have been forced to go to New York for their sport will soon have big league hockey right at their side."
For that to happen, three realities had to take place. 1. A franchise had to be organized; 2. It had to find a league that would authorize play; and 3. most importantly, the team needed a place to play.
In those last years of the Roaring' Twenties, dough came easy and Newark had the sugar-daddies ready to bankroll the team. And that included big money from Wall Street.
Stan Saplin: "The Garden directors were among those who were directly involved because they wanted the Newark MSG to be part of a chain of other MSG arenas in other cities; just as they made it happen in Boston."
Some of the most prominent names - The Schwab Family for one - jumped on the Newark arena bandwagon while another group found a team in Quebec City that was put on the market and could be moved.
If the Newark sportsmen were willing to settle for a top minor league club, the Quebec Castors - or Beavers - then in the Canadian-American Hockey League, would become the Newark Bulldogs in a matter of time.
But, first things first.
Getting the "For Sale" Castors would be the easy part. Getting an arena built would be much more challenging.
For starters, it would entail creating a Board of Directors, finding available land downtown and - that done - hiring architects to design the ice palace.
The leadership search didn't take long. Edward H. Schwab, brother of Charles M. Schwab, head of Bethlehem Steel Corporation, was named head of the Newark Garden Corporation.
Schwab designated The Prudence Company to furnish the mortgage money with the equity delivered by the Newark Garden Club, Bennett, Converse & Schwab, Inc. and Pope, Richardson & Co.
"They needed a good location," explained Saplin, "after they saw how the New York Garden was near subway and elevated lines."
The Newark investors did an intensive search and settled for a tract of land at 540-566 Ogden Street near Fulton and Rector. Only one old building had to be demolished to get the project underway.
The Newark Garden Corporation then took title to the property in January 1928 and hired builder Edward M. Waldron, Inc. to begin demolition.
Meanwhile, Wall Street analysts revealed that the arena would represent an investment of $2 million and would be financed by stock sales.
MSG selected one of its directors, John W. Allen, to manage the burgeoning project. Allen's pal, Garden empresario, George L. (Tex) Rickard, agreed that the Newark arena's design should follow that of the successful Manhattan rink.
Seating for hockey would be 11,000, just short of Detroit's newly-built Olympia Stadium, while 3,000 more seats would be on the arena floor for non-hockey events.
By February 1928, stock sales were being available and the NHL was stronger than ever. The Rangers were en route to their first Stanley Cup championship and the Blueshirts rivalry with their co-tenant, the Americans, was as keen as the Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Giants in major league baseball.
The Newark Garden offering was being handled by Guaranteed Certificates Corporation at 50 East 42d St. in Manhattan. As the winter of 1927-28 began coming to a close, optimism about the project was high.
"At the time," said the late Garden publicist Herb Goren, "Newark looked like a good deal. It was a boom time and the biggest city in New Jersey was doing well. Everything seemed right for construction."
On February 27, 1928, an ad appeared in The Record of Hackensack and other Newark area dailies. The headline proclaimed: NEWARK'S MADISON SQUARE GARDEN.
In smaller type, underneath, was the following: "Now Under Construction."
The pitch for stock was convincing. The arena was being sponsored and backed by "many prominent bankers, business and professional men of Newark and Northern New Jersey."
Potential investors were advised that the enterprise was "fully financed" and, furthermore, it's commercial success assured." And were there still any doubts, this postscript was added:
"It’s highly responsible Board of Directors is headed by men affiliated with the Madison Square Garden in New York. Share in the Newark Arena's prosperity."
But the backers knew that there was a critical issue to be addressed: If the arena was to host an opening night for its Newark hockey team, arena construction would have to be speeded; stock sales as well.
With that in mind, yet another ad was placed in the all New Jersey papers. It predicted that stock in the new arena would "earn more than 25 percent of the price of its preferred stock. the first year of operation."
What's more, the arena bandwagon now had the enthusiastic support of Newark's Chamber of Commerce, Broad Street Association, Newark Athletic Club and the Automobile Trade Association.
The target date for the world premiere was October 1, 1928. Excitement over the project grew by the week. As late as June 23, The Record enthused along with the North Jersey sporting crowd:
"The big arena now being constructed in Newark will be the Madison Square Garden of New Jersey. It is being built along the same lines as Tex Rickard's well-known sports center. It will probably become the center of New Jersey sporting activities."
Goren: "Like the Garden, it was planned to have big-time boxing - Tex Rickard's favorite sport - as well as the six-day bike race and other popular indoor sports."
But, more than anything, hockey was to be the headline attraction. To that end, a hockey team had to be organized. Since MSG President Colonel John Hammond was running the Rangers, he offered advice to the Newark promoters.
Building a roster would be easy, as long as the Quebec Castors sale could be completed in time for the 1928-29 season.
By Christmas 1927, it had become apparent to citizens in Newark and North Jersey that the Garden State's booming metropolis would be gifted with a new arena and a professional hockey team to go with it.
"Naturally sports fans were all excited by the prospects," remembered Joe Donnenberg whose family had a business in the Downtown area. "I was a big baseball fan but like a lot of us, hockey interested me."
The likes of Joe Donnenberg read the Newark News, the Star-Ledger and The Bergen Record out of Hackensack. On Jan. 23, 1928, interest reached new heights when a big step toward arena legitimacy was taken.
While workmen toiled at the proposed rink site near the corner of Ogden and Fulton Streets, Garden Arena owners eyed the potential purchase of a complete hockey team that could take to the Newark ice in October 1928.
The Quebec Castors (French for Beavers) of the highly-regarded (Class Triple A) Canadian-American Hockey League was put up for sale. During the week of Jan. 18, 1928, negotiations for the purchase were underway.
If the negotiations worked out, the Newark Garden Arena owners hoped to transfer the Quebec Castors to Newark. It would be a huge step forward in the move toward acceptance in the Canadian-American Hockey League.
"Fans can be assured of high-class interesting contests at the new Ogden Street building during the coming season," predicted The Record. "The Newark owners expect to acquire one of the strongest teams in its circuit."
If the Castors sale would go through the new Newark team likely would obtain not only a group of players but likely Hall of Famer Sprague Cleghorn, who had coached Quebec, would come to Newark.
Past performances of the Castors were encouraging. Competing in a Can-Am League that boasted teams from Boston, Philadelphia, Springfield and Providence, the Beavers reached the 1927 playoff final against Springfield. Although the series ended in a tie, the decision was based on total goals scored. Springfield took the title, 18-14.
"Quebec was really good," said Johnny (Black Cat) Gagnon who later would star for Providence and the NHL Montreal Canadiens. "The Beavers had plenty of guys who later would make it to the NHL."
In one of the first publicity endorsements for the new Newark team, the still unnamed club managed to crank out the following stats reported in The Record:
"The (Quebec) team had less goals scored against it than any club in the league and led in the number of games tied (8); was second in losses; 14 out of 40 games played. The attacking end was responsible for 70 tallies."
Then, in a rah-rah postscript: "New Jersey will be getting the best in attractions as its new sports center in Newark."
Assuming that the Castors sale would go through, the Newark outfit would obtain a competitive lineup.
"On paper the club looked good," added Johnny Gagnon, "but how it would do in the regular season would be another story."
Among the better players, the Newark team expected to obtain was Nick Wasnie, a tough, right-winger from Selkirk, Manitoba.
Gagnon: "Wasnie had a cup of coffee the previous year with Chicago. He not only was a better-than-average goal-scorer but he could fight as well."
The more experienced big-leaguer was Wasnie's center, Corbett Denneny, who already had two Stanley Cup rings when he was sought by the Bulldogs during the spring of 1928.
"Corb was really good," recalled Hall of Fame Ranger Frank Boucher, "but his season (1927-28) with the Blackhawks was sayonara for him as an NHL player. Now he was ready for the high minors."
Targeted for third man on the first line was Leo Quenneville, a French-Canadian from Montreal who had starred in Quebec provincial leagues. He hoped that his stint with the Bulldogs would be a springboard for an NHL stint.
A hero with Canada's Gold Medal-winning 1920 Olympic team and a Cup-winner with Victoria in 1925 - later he had short NHL stops in Toronto and Detroit - Haldor (Slim) Halderson, would be another likely addition.
He was projected to be Newark's top-rated defenseman and leader in penalty minutes. The Winnipeg native was regarded as not-too-bad on offense either.
"Sprague knew that Newark fans would want a real tough guy, just like the Rangers had in Ching Johnson," Goren explained. "Well, he would go after one of the toughest and meanest players of all-time."
And that was no exaggeration.
Defenseman Billy Coutu (sometimes Couture) already had gone down in big-league hockey infamy at that time as the only player to be suspended from the NHL for life.
Playing for Boston during the 1927 Cup Final, Coutu attacked referee Jerry Laflamme immediately after the Ottawa Senators had defeated the Bruins. As a result, NHL President Frank Calder levelled the stiffest possible punishment. When Cleghorn phoned Coutu with an offer to continue his career in Newark, Billy gladly accepted.
Cleghorn made room for himself as player-coach - just in case a defenseman got hurt - and rounded out the lineup with center Leo Murray and defenseman Jack (Pop) McVicar. In later years each would play sparingly in the NHL.
Just for the record, Emil Lamontagne, who would wind up being the Bulldogs goalie - he would play all 40 CAHL games - never played a game in the NHL.
"All things being equal," Goren concluded, "Sprague had put together what could have been a competitive team."
But, as we shall see, all things were unequal for the Newark Bulldogs.
Or, as they liked to say on the corner of Broad and Market Streets, it wasn't equal playing ice for Newark's first pro hockey team in the 1928-29 season.
A LOOK BACK AT JERSEY'S
EARLY HOCKEY HISTORY
BY STAN FISCHLER
With Newark's Madison Square Garden growing - or, at least seeming to grow - on the corner of Fulton and Ogden Streets, New Jersey fans scanned their daily newspapers for regular hockey updates.
All signs - superficially, at least - seemed positive. How could it be otherwise?
On Feb. 27, 1928, the Bergen Record in Hackensack ran an ad for prospective arena investors. Once again, it spread the gospel - Newark's Madison Square Garden was "now under construction."
In its quarter-page advertisement, Guaranteed Certificates Corporation enclosed a mail coupon for more information about arena stock. Furthermore, it promised profits at the end of the first season for the Bulldogs.
"Share in its prosperity," the ad urged.
On March 7, the same company ran another ad, pointing out that the stock price was "ridiculously low."
Even as late as June 27, 1928, The Record boasted that the Quebec Canadian-American hockey club officially sold its franchise to Newark Garden Arena owners. It promised that the city will soon have "one of the strongest teams in the Canadian-American League."
How could anything go wrong when The Record went on to enthusiastically proclaim about negotiations for the club's bench boss.
"The Newark Arena is now dickering for the services of one of the best-known veterans of the National Hockey League to coach its entry in the Canadian-American Hockey League."
NHL veteran Sprague Cleghorn was regarded as a sure thing based on his experience in Quebec with the Castors.
Meanwhile, clouds of doubt gathered over the construction site. Major building had ceased. The once-bustling iron workers no longer were apparent.
By the beginning of July, it became apparent that there was no way that the building would be ready on time. But there still appeared to be hope that work would resume and a new target date for completion would be set.
Optimism continued to rule. On Sept. 7, 1928, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about the Can-Am League as if all was well going forward.
On Sept. 19, there even was more good news. Arena representatives announced that the club expected to conform Cleghorn as coach. A month later Cleghorn signed, but, conspicuously, there was no talk about the proposed Newark Garden.
On Oct. 26, the bad news broke.
Canadian-American League directors convened and acknowledged the obvious. "The Newark Arena will not be ready for hockey," the league dispatch announced. "Home games will be played elsewhere."
There was not a word about construction delays but the financial crowd put two and two together and agreed, "They must have run out of money."
Since the newly-minted Newark Bulldogs also lacked a home rink, CAHL officials had to improvise a "home" schedule for the Bulldogs. Games would be scattered among three league cities: Philadelphia, Providence and Springfield.
A wiseacre on the Boston Globe sports desk decided that the soon-to-be vagabond team needed a nickname: "The Newark Orphans."
Announcing the schedule, the league further added, "The Newark Arena is not completed and it's not known when it will be ready."
By this time coach Cleghorn had pieced together a roster. Opening game for the itinerant Newark Bulldogs would be in Beantown against the Boston Tigers.
Nov. 12, 1928 would mark the beginning of one of the weirdest seasons that any professional hockey team ever had endured.
Or, as coach Cleghorn aptly put it, "We'll just have to make the best of it!"
Actually, the best - or, rather, the worst - was yet to come.
On the morning of Nov. 12, 1928, pedestrians heading for work at the corner of Ogden Street and Fulton were able to see what was happening at the construction site; once a beehive of activity.
The answer was that nothing much was happening except pigeons flying overhead while auto horns honked at the intersection.
Newark's Madison Square Garden, which was supposed to be there and open for hockey business, now remained a figment of investors' imagination.
Untouched since the summer and now well into autumn, the site was to be a state-of-the-art arena, inspired by the MSG folks and home to a Canadian-American Hockey League team.
Instead, the Bulldogs, led by coach Sprague Cleghorn, were in Boston for a road game against the Bruins CAHL farm team, the Tigers.
If Cleghorn wanted to sing a chorus of "Home On The Range," he easily could have switched the title to "Home On The Road." That was his hockey team, road warriors.
The Boston game would be their first out-of-town contest with 19 more to come. There also would be 20 "home" games in hostile Philadelphia, Springfield and Providence.
Any similarity between the 1928-29 Bulldogs and its previous incarnation as the hotshot Quebec Beavers was purely coincidental.
With no home arena - and as the season peeled off, no prospect of one - the Bulldogs played as well as any vagabond sextet could under the contentious circumstances.
"They'd win a game and lose two; win a game and lose two," said author and hockey historian Ira Gitler.
Right wing Nick Wasnie, who would go on to NHL fame, led the team in goal-scoring (14) and points (20) having played in all 40 games.
Had he not been injured and missed 13 games, center Corbett Denneny would have been the leading scorer. His mark (11G-7A-18PTS) over 27 games was the best points per game average on the Bulldogs.
"I tried to help when we were short on defense," said Cleghorn, "but I couldn't do much."
Sprague got into three games and went oh-for-everything; he didn't even get a penalty.
All things considered, the season was not as much an artistic disaster as it might have been.
For one thing, Newark escaped the CAHL cellar – which belonged to Philadelphia – and for another, they finished only six points out of a playoff berth.
"Had they the benefit of 20 real home games," said George Falkowski, Emmy-award-winning producer and long-time New Jersey hockey writer, "they'd have made the playoffs."
Their first pro season complete, the Newark Bulldogs were not dead yet; it just looked that way.
Noted hockey historian Eric Zweig put it this way: "It looks like the people behind the Bulldogs still were hoping to build the rink and play again in 1929. But in early October 1929 the team was allowed to suspend operations for a year."
"The hope," said Falkowski, "was that new investors could be found and the arena finally would be finished in time for the 1930-31 season."
That hope exploded two weeks later on Oct. 24, otherwise known throughout the civilized world as "Black Thursday." The Great Depression, which would last a decade, had struck America.
The stock market had crashed and panic gripped Wall Street, including investors in the hockey team and its now invisible arena.
There would be no way the Newark Madison Square Garden ever would be built.
And that was the end of pro hockey's gallant vagabonds, the Newark Bulldogs - the team without a home!
Leaving Newark as a city without a hockey team!
While hopes flickered that somehow, the ambitious plans for a Newark Madison Square Garden and a professional hockey team called the Newark Bulldogs could be revived, The Great Depression put an end to those ideas.
The worldwide economic disaster that began on Wall Street with Black Thursday in the fall of 1929 doomed previously solvent financiers. Typical was Edward H. Schwab, a prominent booster of the Newark Bulldogs.
Younger brother of Charles M Schwab, chairman of Bethlehem Steel and ruler of other vast industrial enterprises, Ed Schwarb was one of the promoters of the Newark Garden Corporation.
His moves and others like them, signaled finis to the Newark Madison Square Garden dream.
On June 18, 1930, Ed Schwab filed a voluntary petition in bankruptcy in Newark. He assumed responsibility for liabilities of $668,550. He listed his stock in the project as having no value.
But that old question: Am I my brother's keeper? came into play.
Charlie Schwab came to the rescue of his kid brother, Ed. Charlie assumed responsibility for the liabilities of $668,550 against which his brother reported assets of only $53,581.
By agreeing to pay all of Ed's debts - and with consent of the creditors - Charles' fiscal rescue mission had the effectiveness of having the bankruptcy petition dismissed.
However, with all his wealth, Charles Schwab could not save minor league hockey, especially the Canadian-American Hockey League.
When the Quebec Castors were sold to Newark Madison Square Garden investors, the CAHL lost its lone Canadian entry.
And when the Bulldogs folded after the 1928-29 season, a headline in one newspaper was ominous: "PREDICT BREAK-UP OF HOCKEY LOOP."
The CAHL survived as a five-team league without the Bulldogs and eventually rebuilt itself as the American Hockey League we know today.
Hockey in the Garden State also survived. The vast Atlantic City Convention Hall opened in 1926 and hosted teams through the 1930s.
A charity game between the Atlantic Sea Gulls and New York Rangers drew a record crowd of more than 20,000.
Atlantic City would remain a fixture in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League with the Convention Hall as its home rink.
In 1939, entrepreneur John Handwerg converted a tract of land in River Vale, New Jersey in Northeastern Bergen County.
Handwerg built an arena and golf course on his site and placed the River Vale Skeeters franchise in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League.
The club played three seasons in the EAHL before World War II enlistments forced cessation of the franchise.
It wasn't until Dr. John McMullen moved the Colorado Rockies from Denver to East Rutherford in 1982 that Garden State fans were able to see the best hockey players in the world.
The Devils success eventually led to construction of the Prudential Center, and it was there that a remnant of the Newark Bulldogs was found.
George Falkowski, New England Sports Network producer and featured commentator on News 12 New Jersey describes the discovery, "On a visit to Prudential Center, I noticed in one corner of the main concourse a wall filled top to bottom with hockey jerseys. They represent every high school team in the state.
"Many of those teams didn't exist when the Devils first set up shop in 1982. Another small section is dedicated to New Jersey's college hockey teams. And if you're eagled-eyed, you'll notice a set of old-time 'sweaters' that highlight the Devils and their franchise history."
There's an original 'Jersey Devils' uniform from the late 1960s/early ‘70s. That was a pro team that played in the old Eastern Hockey League. Also, there are jerseys from the Devils previous stops in Kansas City and Colorado.
Falkowski: "There's also one very interesting jersey hanging there as well; one that proudly proclaims; NEWARK BULLDOGS. Sadly, the Bulldogs were one-and-done in the Brick City although they never played here."
Now, however, the Devils are keeping the Bulldogs spirit alive by celebrating that long-ago forgotten franchise that never got to play in the never-built arena at Ogden and Fulton.
Continue reading for more of the unique history of Jersey hockey, which is referenced in the franchise's first-ever third jersey.
The New Jersey Larks were both famous and infamous during their one season, 1960-61, in the Class AA Eastern Hockey League.
Consider these historic events:
1. Serving South Jersey's Haddonfield-Cherry Hill community, the Larks became the Garden State's first significant post-World War II pro hockey team in the autumn of 1960. (Previously, they were the Washington Presidents.)
2.. The Cherry Hill Arena was a Gothic-looking, 4,416-seat ice rink that was built in 1959. In many ways it resembled the buildings sprinkled through Western Canada's provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. All it needed was a team -- and a better architect; but more on that later.
3. The Eastern Hockey League -- an outgrowth of the once-distinguished Eastern Amateur Hockey League -- always welcomed new franchises and so the Larks joined the EHL fraternity for the 1960-61 campaign. The EHL had a Northern and Southern Division. The Larks were in the North with the New York Rovers -- a Rangers farm team -- as well as clubs in Johnstown, New Haven and nearby Philadelphia.
4. One of the Larks almost two-dozen players -- goalie Ross Brooks -- eventually would make it to the National Hockey League's Boston Bruins. The majority of stickhandlers -- all Canadians -- were known through the minor league systems. The biggest "name" belonged to Claude Richard, kid brother of the NHL's legendary Maurice (The Rocket) Richard.
5. Despite lasting only one season, the Larks are credited with maintaining pro hockey in some form or another at Cherry Hill Arena into the 1970's
6. One almost-major league team -- the World Hockey Association's Jersey Knights-- actually called the Cherry Hill ice palace home for one season. But that was long after the Larks stopped warbling.
Now for the bad news:
1. The Larks finished under the .500 mark (24-39-1) in their one and only season. (Yet, they still made the playoffs; don't ask me how!)
2. The ice was lousy. In fact it was so bad that visiting players claimed that it was tilted in favor of the Larks for two out of the three periods. Stick around; more on that joke later.
3. The gag about the visiting dressing rooms was that they were so small that "You had to step outside to change your mind." (I have hall closets that are bigger!) Worse still, they had no showers.
4. As a result, visiting teams had to put their outfits on at the Holiday Inn, two miles up the road, and finish up at the arena. Players would come to games with their uniforms on and their skates hanging around their necks.
5. Underfinanced, the Larks couldn't make it to the 1961-62 season and the franchise exited New Jersey for greener pastures and smoother ice
in Knoxville, Tennessee.
6. Claude Richard was cover boy for the Larks program but, alas, he had none of the talents displayed by his older NHL brothers, Maurice, The Rocket, and Henri, the Pocket Rocket. But Claude had the best nickname of all three Richards -- "The Vest Pocket Rocket!"
That said, the Larks were "a living" for several career minor leaguers whose motto while spending a season in Haddonfield-Cherry Hill was "grin and bear it."
Buzzy Deschamps, an EHL veteran, told me that the league in which the Larks played "was right out of the movie Slapshot. Rough and tumble."
Nothing was rougher nor produced more tumbles than Cherry Hill Arena's ice. One player offered this description:
"There was this hill at center ice where you actually could get momentum off it. It was like coming off a turn on a ski hill."
Another player said you could stand at one end of the rink, shoot the puck along the ice, watch it disappear into a depression, then take flight as it reappeared.
In his book, "Rebel League," author Ed Willes, quoted former NHL coach Harry Neale who visited the Larks home.
"The goalies used to say if you slap it along the ice at the red line, it will be just under the bar when it got to the net," offered Neale
The notorious center ice"bump" produced bizarre scenes when teams went on the attack. One goalie observed: "A pass that was going along the ice would jump five feet in the air all of a sudden. You had to keep your head up when you were going through the neutral zone."
Willes claimed that visiting players who dressed at nearby Holiday Inn would return to the hotel and clomp through the lobby in full equipment.
Willes: "More than one wedding reception was interrupted by a sweaty team making its way back to their rooms. Then again, it must have made for some interesting pictures in the wedding albums."
All things considered, the Jersey Boys did okay. They actually squeezed into the playoffs, won the first round but were ousted in the second round; but never were seen again in Cherry Hill.
The most productive Larks were Gerry Stringle who scored 25 goals and Dan Patrick who led the team in assists with 43. Cherry Hill's sextet finished the season with 210 goals and 254 against.
Historians of minor league hockey remember the likes of such Larks as Chuck Adamson, Alex Kuzma and Larry McNabb who travelled widely between the Eastern League, Western League and a few other circuits in between.
Ray Miron, who coached the Larks, was a well-respected hockey executive who later was general manager of the NHL's Colorado Rockies.
He also won the Lester Patrick Trophy for service to hockey in the United States. But that had nothing to do with ice-levelling at Cherry Hill Arena.
Not much else can be said about the one-year club. Still, it would have been nice had someone nailed a plaque to the rink's site, commemorating the short and uneven life of the Larks in South Jersey.
Alas, Cherry Hill Arena was demolished in the 1980s and there was no room for a plaque at K-Mart which was built on the site.
Guess which outfit holds the distinction of being the most forgotten pro hockey team in New Jersey history?
Hint: It's home rink was in a sweet little town in the Pascack Valley,
bordering on the Tappan Reservoir and Rockland County across the State Line.
Second hint: The league in which it played had "Amateur" in its title but all the skaters were pros and a few even made it to the National Hockey League; two of them with the Rangers.
The River Vale Skeeters of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League (EAHL).
They provided Bergen County fans with thrills galore for three seasons into the 1940s before Uncle Sam entered World War II
Everything about them -- from the Skeeters temperamental owner to their obscure locale, to their arena -- defied credulity. So did Tom Lockhart, the maestro who personally imported pro hockey to Northern New Jersey.
Operated by Lockhart, The EAHL already was a National Hockey League farm circuit with teams in Boston, Washington, Baltimore and Atlantic City, not to mention the New York Rovers, operating out of The Garden.
In 1939, John Handwerg, a peripatetic New Jersey farmer -- he doubled as a golf course designer -- built a 4,000-seat hockey arena on River Vale Road, adjoining his new putting paradise.
"It looked just like a hockey rink out of Saskatchewan or Manitoba in Western Canada," said Lockhart. "The only thing missing was a hockey team. That's when Handwerg came to see me."
Apart from running amateur hockey in the United States, Lockhart was the Rangers business manager and boss of the Blueshirts farm team in the Eastern League.
"I told Handwerg, 'You put a team in your new arena and River Vale will go from a nothing hamlet to a place everybody will know in New York. Your team even will play at Madison Square Garden."
Handwerg bought Lockhart's sales pitch and purchased an EAHL franchise. Since New Jersey -- at the time -- was notorious for their mosquito population, Jovial John named his team the Skeeters.
"My problem was that I wanted to put the team in for the 1939-40 season and I needed players. Tommy helped out and I signed a bunch of Canadians he recommended and we were in business. We actually became a farm team of the (New York) Americans."
Artistically, the first-year Skeeters were less than an artistic success. They played a full 61-game schedule, finishing 16-38-7 in last place with 39 points.
But as an attraction, the Skeeters proved to be a five-star hit regularly filling the River Vale Arena. Players such as Hughie Bell were treated like rock stars before anyone ever heard of rock 'n roll.
A historian in the nearby Westwood Heritage Society (WHS) chronicled the Skeeters rise to fame if not fortune. According to the WHS handsome Canadian forward Hughie Bell became the Justin Bieber of Handwerg's hockey team.
"Girls from Westwood High School formed a Hughie Bell Fan Club," the WHS historian noted. "They even had a Hughie Bell Day before a game. And Mayor Alfred Blakeney became a big Skeeters fan.
"When the townspeople found out that the hockey players often ate at the Blue Moon restaurant, they'd follow them there; especially the high school kids."
Handwerg had his Skeeters play tough hockey whether they were stickhandling at The Garden or Carlin's ice rink in Baltimore.
"Sometimes the Riot Police had to be called to escort the Skeeters out of the arenas," commented a WHS historical note. "When fights broke out at home, even our fans ran out on the ice to fight with the visiting team."
Handwerg attended every home game and proved to be as fanatical as some of his intensely loyal spectators.
Lockhart: "One thing that got the River Vale fans going was that Handwerg installed a bar running the whole length of one side of the rink. He'd run around like crazy, all charged up, ranting and raving."
The howling Handwerg was especially tough on referees. Bill Chadwick, who would go on to a Hall of Fame NHL referee career, launched his career in River Vale and almost ended it there as well.
"Handwerg berated me all night and had me in tears," Chadwick wrote in his autobiography. "After the game I decided to quit officiating, then and there. Then, I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was Tommy Lockhart.
"He told me to calm down, go home, think about it for a week or so and then see what happens. What happened was that I got a telegram from the NHL to become a linesman. And that's how I survived Handwerg."
The Skeeters second season was a distinct improvement. A 60-point finish lifted them to fourth place while the Rangers farm club, the Rovers, fell to the cellar with only 39 points.
By the Skeeters third campaign, it was 1941-42. Canada had been in the war since September 1939 and America joined it after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941.
Handwerg managed to maintain a competitive roster and two of his skaters -- Norm Burns and Joe Levandoski eventually graduated to the Rangers while Red Storey would become an NHL referee.
Before the curtain came down on River Vale hockey in March 1942, the Skeeters finished their third season with a mark of 18-38-4.
I saw them play their last game at The Garden against the Rovers never thinking they'd never be back for an encore. I loved them in their green uniforms.
Wartime demands forced Handwerg to convert his arena for defense purposes and that ended the hort but rollicking life of pro hockey in tiny River Vale. The building never was restored to a hockey arena.
As the song goes, "The Music Stopped But The Melody Lingered On."
In this case, the hockey folks who peopled River Vale Arena recalled it with fond memories.
"If anything," Lockhart remembered, "the Skeeters were living proof that you never knew what you'd come up with in that Eastern League. Including a dirt farmer from River Vale, New Jersey.
Memories of the arena on River Vale Road proved to Bill Chadwick the truth in the bromide, sweet are the uses of adversity.
"Once I started refereeing in the NHL," Chadwick concluded, "I kind of missed that little arena in what then was 'The Sticks.' And when all was said and done, I left it on a good note -- even with John Handwerg.
"After my first, awful game, there was a rap at the referee's door. It was Handwerg and he walked over to me and said, 'I'm sorry, Bill, I'll never abuse you again!'"
Editor's Note: Special thanks to super-historian, Eric Zweig of Owen Sound, Ontario who provided me with special research work to round out the Bulldogs saga. Without Eric's help, the complete story would not have been possible.
FORMING THE TEAM
THE BULLDOGS ARE BORN, THEIR ARENA IS NOT.
NEWARK'S VAGABOND BULLDOGS - THE BEGINNING AND END
THE BULLDOGS BURIAL AND ITS AFTERMATH WITH HOCKEY IN JERSEY
THE BIZARRE, UNEVEN ONE-YEAR LIFE OF THE JERSEY LARKS
THE FORGOTTEN JERSEY PRO TEAM THAT WAS "AMATEUR"