Chuck Miller’s Saga of the Boardwalk Trophy
In 1994, hockey writer Chuck Miller wrote a history of finding the Eastern Hockey League’s almost forgotten Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy, awarded to the Clinton Comets 4 times, collecting tarnish & dust in a Syracuse shed. Today, the trophy rightfully resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada, with the Comets name clearly engraved. Here is Miller’s story of his discovery followed by the story, written 15 years later, of its eventual reception in the HOF.
FROM ATLANTIC CITY TO TORONTO:
The Boardwalk Trophy and the Eastern Hockey League
By Chuck Miller
(Re-published from Hockey Ink! Vol. III, Iss. 2-3; 1994)
True story – The Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy, a prize handed from champion to champion of the old Eastern League, was found in a storage shed.
Brian Elwell, a former player/coach for the old Syracuse Blazers, became a successful bar and grille owner after his retirement from hockey. As we talked about the proposed new AHL team for Syracuse, Elwell reminisced about his days in the Eastern Hockey League. “You know,” he said to me, “somebody dropped this trophy off at my restaurant. It’s been in my storage shed for a while. Seems like I remember seeing this once or twice in my playing days.”
I drove to Syracuse, hoping against hope that the pilgrimage wouldn’t be just a 150-mile sightseeing journey. And when Elwell brought out a missile-shaped trophy with “THE BOARDWALK CHALLENGE TROPHY,” carved into its side, the engravings drowning in a sea of tarnish and dirt, I knew this was something big.
Our journey begins in the fall of 1930. Lincoln Dickey, manager of the Atlantic City
Auditorium, imported some Montreal-based hockey players, set them up against the toughest
amateur and professional teams on the East Coast, and the Atlantic City Sea Gulls were born.
Led by coach Redvers McKenzie, the Gulls hosted everybody from the New York Rangers to
college teams, and by 1932 they were one of the top amateur hockey squads.
At that time, the resort owners and hotel managers of Atlantic City created a brass trophy
decorated with eagles and winged angels, to be awarded to the 1932 AAU hockey tournament
winner. In the final two-game, total-goal series, the Sea Gulls beat the Lake Placid Athletic Club,
11 goals to 5, and claimed the “Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy” as their own. The Gulls would
repeat as AAU champions in 1933, winning eight games against four teams on their way to the
The Gulls, along with the Hershey B’ars, Baltimore Orioles and Bronx Tigers, formed the
Tri-State Hockey League in 1934. Because the TSHL was a non-AAU sanctioned circuit, the
Gulls were barred from AAU tournament competition. Stung by this technicality, the Gulls placed
the Boardwalk Trophy in storage and continued on with their hockey conquests.
The Eastern Amateur Hockey League was formed in 1933 by Thomas Lockhart, a
Madison Square Garden promoter with a keen sense of publicity. Lockhart had successfully
turned Sunday afternoon hockey games at the Garden into a profitable attraction, and was
looking for an established league for three of the MSG amateur squads – the St. Nicholas Hockey
Club, the Crescent Athletic-Hamilton Club of Brooklyn, and the New York A.C.
Enter the Tri-State Hockey League. Lockhart rode the rails all night to get to Philadelphia
in time for the TSHL’s organizational meeting. When he arrived, the organizers told him they were not planning any expansion. Lockhart told them he could give them three teams – the three amateur teams –
and offered Madison Square Garden as their home ice! The TSHL, excited about road games in the Garden,
tore up their schedule and added Lockhart’s teams. The Eastern Amateur Hockey League was born, and
Tom Lockhart left the meeting as the EAHL league president.
True story – Although the 1933-34 schedule divided 48 home games between Lockhart’s three teams, Madison Square Garden had only 16 open dates available for Sunday afternoon hockey. So in the tradition of the Plainfield College football team, Lockhart made up phony games and reported their scores to the newspapers. Lest anyone suspect anything fishy, Lockhart inserted this clause in a 1933 program: “EXTRA GAMES WILL BE PLAYED AT THE ASSIGNED PRACTICE HOURS AT THE GARDEN AND WILL NOT BE OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.”
“I couldn’t accommodate all of the extra games,” he told author Stan Fischler in Those Were The Days, “so I had to cheat a little. I’d make up phony games; have the Crescents beating the New York A.C. 1-0 and put down somebody’s name for scoring the goal and add an assist or two … If you look back in the Times you’ll find a story about Lockhart’s ‘dark house’ games. The seats were standing up and cheering. But it actually happened – 21 games never occurred and the league finished its full schedule of games played in the first year.”
The EAHL was an instant success, and fans purchased the inexpensive tickets in droves (good seats were available at Madison Square Garden for as little as 25 cents apiece). Soon other people wanted a piece of the golden goose, including Madison Square Garden’s primary hockey tenant, the New York Rangers. “All the fuss over the Sunday afternoon amateur hockey ultimately seeped down to the Rangers’ office,” said Tom Lockhart, “and pretty soon I got a call from manager Lester Patrick. He thought we had a good thing going and felt he could help.
“I said, ‘Great, what can you do?’
“‘Well,’ he offered, ‘next season I could bring you some good hockey players in from Canada.”
Lester Patrick kept his word, bringing some Winnipeg-based players for the start of training camp. Patrick’s acquisitions included Mac and Neil Colville, Alex Shibicky, Murray Patrick, Joe Cooper, and Bert Gardiner – all of whom would become future Rangers.
The Winnipeg-fortified Crescents dominated the EAHL in the 1934-35 season, and Lockhart and Patrick changed the team’s name to reflect the working agreement with the New York Rangers. “We spent half a day trying to name it,” said Lockhart. “We had the Rangers and the [AHL’s Philadelphia] Ramblers so we
“roved” between them and called it the Rovers.”
True story – By 1950, more than 100 EAHL players spent time in the NHL. 58 of those were ex-Rovers.
Besides being a successful promoter, Lockhart had an uncanny knack for finding old abandoned hockey trophies. He recovered the Walker Cup, a hockey chalice named after and donated by New York City mayor James J. Walker in 1926, from a pawn shop. He also found the Hamilton B. Wills Trophy, a freestanding
sculpture of a hockey player, and began a USA-Canada challenge series with that as the prize. When the Sea Gulls told him they still had the Boardwalk Trophy, Lockhart convinced the Gulls and the AAU to return the
trophy to competition.
Between 1938 and 1945, the EAHL had a three-round season. Teams first played for the Hershey Cup, a spherical award originally given to the Tri-State Hockey League by the candy company. Then came a tournament for the Boardwalk Trophy. After all that, the teams played another series for the Walker Cup. The team with the most cumulative points was declared the league champion.
True story – Sonja Henie was part of the EAHL. in the 1930’s, Lockhart signed the Olympic figure skater to a
performing contract, and between hockey periods she would perform ice ballets and pirouettes for the crowd.
“She was very good at anything she did,” remembered Madeline Lockhart, Tom’s daughter and secretary of the EAHL. “What she wanted, she got, and she didn’t care what anybody else said about it. She came in one time and had an argument with my father, he said, ‘I don’t care what you’re doing, I have a hockey team to put out there, I can’t be bothered if you want to practice!'”
In another publicity stunt from the 1930’s, Lockhart booked an ice-skating grizzly bear as intermission entertainment for a Rovers/Hershey B’ars Sunday afternoon game. The bear actually performed on roller skates, and the Madison Square Garden staff scrambled to locate ice skates for size 40 paws. Then the bear’s owner wanted skates as well, despite the fact that he couldn’t skate.
After the first period of the Rovers/B’ars game, the bear took the ice, with the owner guiding it by the leash. Suddenly the bear took off, zipping around the ice like a Penske-customized Zamboni, dragging its helpless owner from blueline to blueline. Lockhart thought the bear’s antics would cost him his job, but the fans were so enthralled by the skating bruin that the animal was booked into other Eastern League barns.
The Boston Olympics joined the Eastern League in 1940, and in 12 years they won the Boardwalk Trophy five times. Walter Brown, manager of the Boston Garden, loved amateur hockey and promoted it often. Confident of the burgeoning Beantown hockey talent, Brown created an amateur team of Bostonian skaters and turned them loose on the hockey world.
By 1933, the team had won the World Hockey Championships in Prague. Brown himself coached the 1936 Olympic hockey team, and the squad that competed in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was primarily stocked with his Boston “Olympics.”
By 1941, as the war loomed in Europe, the ‘Pics found their talent pool diminishing, and worked out an agreement with the Boston Bruins so that the NHL club would fortify the ‘Pics with their rising pre-NHL talent. The deal proved fruitful, as the ‘Pics became one of the dominant teams in the 1940’s. With the iron goaltending of Maurice Courteau and the scoring of Al Palazzari, Russ Kopak, Pentti Lund and Tommy Brennan, Boston won the Boardwalk Trophy and the Walker Cup year after year.
In 1941, all the able-bodied Canadian skaters went to war. By 1942, the American skaters joined them on the
battlefield. Only the Rovers, Olympics and the new Philadelphia Falcons had enough men to field competitive teams.
Yet Lockhart got eight teams into the schedule, and each one completed its season. He brought four teams in through an interlocking series with the Metropolitan League, a Madison Square Garden club circuit. For the eighth team, he looked toward the armed forces.
By coincidence or by design, the most talented American hockey players found themselves stationed at the Curtis Bay naval yard in Baltimore. Lockhart convinced Mel Harwood, a former EAHL player and official,
that the Coast Guard could use this hockey talent as a way to boost homefront morale. Harwood stepped behind the bench as coach, and the Coast Guard Cutters were born.
Their roster included former New York Ranger defenseman Art Coulter, Boston Bruin goaltender Frankie “Mr. Zero” Brimsek, and future AHL star left winger Eddie Olsen, who joined the military squad despite being underage. With Olsen at left wing, Joe Kucler at center and token Canadian Bob Gilray at right wing, the “Star Spangled Bangers” won games both in the EAHL and on a two-year exhibition tour. Stan Fischler once called them the greatest All-American squad ever, better than the 1960 or 1980 Olympic teams. But as
World War II escalated, the military broke up the Cutters, relocating their skating seamen throughout the hot spots of the Pacific theatre.
True story – when the Cutters faced the Rovers at Madison Square Garden, an Armed Forces marching band serenaded the visitors with such ditties as “Indian Love Call” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” And when the Cutters scored a goal (which was often), the band played “Semper Paratus,” the
Coast Guard theme.
Although many players looked at the EAHL as a pipeline to the National or American Hockey Leagues, some skaters actually preferred staying in the amateur ranks. One of them was Ty Andersen, who spent 15 years in the EAHL for the Sea Gulls and the Olympics.
Osborne Ty Andersen was a Norwegian-American from Swampscott, Massachusetts, where he learned hockey through the rough and-tumble “shinny” games the kids played at the grade school. His raw talent earned him a
pla ce on the Boston Hockey Club (forerunner of the Olympics), and as a starting defenseman for the Sea Gulls in 1933, Andersen helped the Gulls repeat as Boardwalk Trophy champions.
Andersen was cheered and respected in almost every arena. One of the most gentlemanly players in EAHL history, Andersen averaged only 11 PIMs per season, while scoring 15 points per year. And on March 9, 1941, while playing for the Olympics, he received a solid gold watch for his tenure on the ice on “Ty Andersen Day.” Never mind the fact that Andersen was given the watch by the Rovers – the ‘Pics were the visiting team that night.
In 1949, only the Olympics and Rovers were capable of fielding teams, and Lockhart closed down the EAHL for a year. Boston and New York joined the Quebec Senior Hockey League, which had played an interlocking series with the EAHL for a few years. Unfortunately, the new teams were completely outmatched – Boston dropped out by midseason, and the Rovers finished dead last.
For the first time since the Sea Gulls put it back in circulation, there was no tournament for the Boardwalk Trophy.
True story – March 24, 1952. Lorne Anderson, goaltender for the New York Rovers, was called up by the Rangers for the last game of the season against the Chicago Black Hawks. Anderson stepped into the net like a veteran, and took a 6-2 Ranger lead into the third period. Then Hawks forward Bill Mosienko scored three goals in a row – in only 21 seconds, the fastest hat trick in NHL history. Mosienko’s achievement spurred the Black Hawks to a 7-6 victory, and Anderson was sent back to the Eastern League, never to play on NHL ice again.
By 1953, the Eastern League was almost dead. Expansion to midwestern cities in 1949 proved financially
disastrous, and established teams like the New York Rovers, Boston Olympics and Atlantic City Sea Gulls were losing tons of money. By 1953, the only teams left in the league were a Springfield Indians franchise run by former Bruin Eddie Shore, a talent-stripped Washington Lions squad run by the Boston Olympics’ Walter Brown, and a team of ex-Rovers in Troy, New York (with the salacious nickname of Uncle Sam’s Trojans).
There was also a new team in Johnstown, Pennsylvania – the Jets. Originally created by former NHL-AHL
standout Wally Kilrea, and featuring free agents and cast-offs from the EAHL’s earlier Western expansion, the Jets won five Walker Cups, five Boardwalk Trophies, and one Amateur Hockey Association championship between 1951 and 1973. At that time, the Jets included Don Hall, a left winger with a sharp eye for the goal, right winger Dick Roberge, who would later become the Jets’ coach, and well-traveled goaltender Ivan Walmsley, who blocked the puck every night.
By 1954, Eastern League president Tom Lockhart searched for new franchises. Despite some ridiculous proposals by some organizing groups – one unnamed party actually thought they could operate a team
on an entire budget of $2,500 – Lockhart gathered five teams for the 1954-55 season: Three full-time teams – the Washington Lions, Baltimore Clippers and New Haven Blades – and two part-time teams, the Worcester Warriors and the Clinton (N.Y.) Comets.
While the Warriors were a dismal collection of college graduates from Harvard and Holy Cross, and lost games by double-digit margins, the Clinton Comets were an independent squad since 1928, winning three
Amateur Hockey Association championships. The Comets actually played in two leagues simultaneously during the 1954-55 season, the EHL and the Eastern Ontario Senior League. Based on winning percentage, the Comets won the regular-season title, and the Washington Lions won the Boardwalk Trophy in the playoffs. The
league was reborn.
True story – The EHL’s southern expansion was caused by an Act of God. The 1955-56 season was halfway completed when on January 23, the Baltimore Clippers’ arena burned to the ground.
Clippers owner Charles Rock rescheduled his final five home dates for Charlotte, North Carolina, and the rechristened Charlotte Clippers (renamed Checkers in 1962) quickly won the hearts of a whole new
breed of hockey fans. In an area where most people perceived ice as something one puts in a drink, a record 169,000 fans followed the Clippers when they won the Boardwalk Trophy in 1957.
Travel in the Eastern League was an arduous endeavor. In the 1960’s, with the league expanding ever
southward (to Nashville, Knoxville, Greensboro, Jacksonville and St. Petersburg), buses were used. Teams traveled all day and night, ripping out seats in the back of the bus so players could sleep on mattresses. “We used to get on a bus in Clinton around 10:00 on a Sunday night,” recalled Pat Kelly, who coached the Clinton Comets to three straight Walker Cups and four straight Boardwalk Trophies in the late 1960’s, “and we’d drive for a day and a half to get to Jacksonville or St. Pete’s to play. We’d go right through, no stop. They just changed drivers, two men would take turns driving. I sometimes drove the bus myself, just to help them out.”
This was indeed the era of the iron man – a player who could ride all night and still put his all in a game, trying to score goals around a league full of enforcers, policemen – in other words, goons. The Eastern League was the enforcer’s breeding ground, and players moved from it to the NHL with bruised knuckles and black eyes.
Imagine yourself as an Eastern League center on a road trip. Your first stop is New Haven, and Blake Ball is on
defense for the Blades. Ball spent six years as a defensive end in the Canadian Football League before taking up hockey professionally – and accumulating 1,200 penalty minutes from 1965 to 1969.
Now you’re at the Long Island Arena, where John Brophy holds court. Brophy led the EHL in penalty minutes four times between 1960 and 1965 – each time with a different team.
Now for a Southern swing to Knoxville and player/coach Don LaBelle. LaBelle was so tough, they once said, that
during a playoff game it took three Nashville skaters to take him out of the game – and that was when LaBelle was in street clothes and behind the bench.
Heading towards Salem, Virginia – and the Rebels’ secret weapon, Dave “The Hammer” Schultz. Schultz, the
muscle behind Philadelphia’s Stanley Cup-winning Broad Street Bullies, spent 356 PIMs – almost six hours – in the EHL sin bin one season.
Back through Clinton – and there’s Indian Joe Nolan, a full-blood Ojibwa from Sault Ste. Marie who never met a
forward he didn’t like – to break in half. The first man to surpass 300 PIMs in an EHL season (he had 352 in 1955-56), Nolan later became a respected linesman.
“Every team had a policeman,” said Johnstown Jets player/coach Don Hall, “but most of the time those guys went after each other. But in the playoffs, you had to watch out for them, because they were trying to win the championship, too.”
True story – In 1952, the New Haven Tomahawks and the Johnstown Jets faced each other in the final round of the playoffs. During one of the games, New Haven’s Joe Desson drew a flagrant penalty, and referee Mickey Slowik motioned for him to take a seat in the penalty box. Without another word, Slowik turned his back on Desson, skated over to the off-ice officials and announced the penalty. Desson slowly moved toward the box, then changed direction, heading toward Slowik. Without warning, Desson cross-checked Slowik in the back, flipping the referee into the seats. Both benches emptied, and fists and sticks were flying. A policeman stepped onto the ice and arrested Desson, who spent the night in jail for starting a riot. The next day, Lockhart suspended Desson from the Eastern Hockey League – forever.
“Some years after that, I remember two guys walking into the Garden and asking for my father,” remembered Madeline Lockhart. “And they were the FBI! My father came in, they showed him their badges, they said we’re the FBI. And it turned out that Joe Desson had applied for American citizenship, and that was on the paper that he was barred from hockey. And they wanted to know why! My father says, ‘I have nothing against him being an American citizen. I’m just not going to let him go out there and kill anybody on the ice.’ And he got the citizenship, and he sent my father the nicest letter afterward.”
Sometimes the fans could be really tough during a game. Pat Kelly recalled some of those tough barns. “The Commack Arena [on Long Island] was a tough one to play in. The worst part was that you used to come off down one end of the building, and your dressing room was all the way down the other end, and you had to walk between the stands, where all the concessions were, and there were many nights where the
players would walk back to back just to protect themselves and get through the crowds so the fans wouldn’t take punches at us. I remember one night we were in New Haven, and something happened, and all of a sudden the chairs come flying on the ice, and there was 14 hockey players in the middle of the ice, trying to dodge chairs. There were some days in the Clinton Arena that they used to come sailing out at the visiting team, and some nights you’d just pick them up and throw them back.”
And many arenas had media facilities that were archaic. Catherine “Cash” Garvey, who covered four EHL teams
for six newspapers in the 1960’s, had her own gripes about the buildings. “The press facilities (at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, the Comets’ second home in the 1960’s) were bad. There was one phone and everybody was using it. And when you got down to the office, there would probably be a line waiting to use the phone down there. And they had no stairs in the Clinton Arena, so I had to climb a ladder to get up into the press box. And naturally, when I got up there, I had to get down the same way.”
A rough league, indeed. The average team roster consisted of 14 players – three front lines, four defensemen
and one goaltender. Those men played every game, never sitting out with a sprained wrist or a bum knee. “The only way you missed a game in the old Eastern League,” said Kelly, “was if they had to cut your leg off and it took them one day to get you a new one, so you missed the game that night.”
Even though each team had a goon or two, they also had very skilled playmakers, centers and wingers who could take the puck, weave through a defenseman or two, then fake the goaltender out of position for a wrist shot. Syracuse center Ray Adduono scored 100 points five years in a row, a remarkable feat considering that the Blazers were doormats in their first three EHL seasons. Clinton’s Borden Smith scored 400 goals in his career, staying with that team throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. And Jack Martin was an especially adroit stickhandler who bounced through the southern half of the league. “While playing [for Knoxville] against the Dixie Flyers,” said Roland Julian of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, “[Martin] was hit by Flo Pilot in Knoxville’s defensive end, flipped over Pilot’s back, landed on his feet and continued down the ice controlling the puck. Later, he was pinned against the end boards, passed the puck between his skates to [teammate] Les Calder, who banged in a goal directly in front of the goalie.”
True story – in 1963, Tom Lockhart convinced the Soviet Union to send their Olympic hockey team to America for some exhibition games, while a U.S. team (coached by Johnstown’s Don Hall) toured the Soviet Union. The Soviets came over for five games against the EHL, and left with a 4-0-1 record against the Americans. They humbled Greensboro 12-3, and put similar hurts on Johnstown, Philadelphia and Charlotte. The EHL saved face only when the Knoxville Knights tied the Soviets, 4-4, in the final game of the exhibition tour. Meanwhile, the EHL All-Stars got creamed on their Eastern Bloc tour. “We didn’t win a game until we got into Czechoslovakia,” remarked Don Hall. “They sent their best teams against us. They didn’t lay down for nobody.”
At the off-season meetings in 1972, Tom Lockhart announced he was stepping down from the EHL presidency, a post he had held for 40 years. Lockhart, who had run the league through good times and bad since its inception in 1933, felt it was time to retire. Norman MacLane was chosen has his successor. But under MacLane’s tenure, the league quickly crumbled.
The World Hockey Association came into existence in 1972. Suddenly EHL teams had WHA teams in their backyards, and the hockey dollar just couldn’t stretch far enough. The New Jersey Devils had enough problems with an NHL team in nearby Philadelphia, but when the WHA put a franchise there, it forced the
EHL team to close in 1973.
Other teams saw their lineups ravaged by WHA and NHL raids, as the two major leagues battled with each other for ice talent. The Clinton Comets, who won four Boardwalk Trophies and three Walker Cups between 1967 and 1970, were raided, player by player, by the WHA, leaving behind a team dead last in the
standings and drowning in red ink.
By 1972, the league had expanded from Rhode Island to Florida, and the southern teams felt they had more games scheduled in the North than were necessary. The Jacksonville Rockets, at one time the league’s southern-most city, folded after seven years of killer bus rides against northern teams. At the
end of the 1972-73 season, the EHL’s Southern Division seceded, forming their own Southern Hockey League.
The EHL dropped its last puck in 1973, as the Syracuse Blazers won an astounding 63 of 76 games, claiming the Boardwalk Trophy easily and boring through the playoffs. Any teams left in the EHL competed as the North American Hockey League until 1977.
But the EHL wasn’t done yet. In 1977, the motion picture “Slapshot” premiered. Based on the Johnstown Jets’
1975 NAHL season, “Slapshot” was a good hockey movie for those who didn’t know about the EHL/NAHL, and a riot for those who picked up on all the inside jokes and references. Many former EHL ice rinks were used in the filming, and some former EHL players had cameos and bit roles in the picture – for example, that’s Indian Joe Nolan at the end of the picture, actually wearing war paint on ice for the first time as “Screamin’ Buffalo.”
Yet the EHL’s influence on hockey history goes far beyond a cult classic movie. Expansion into the southern
markets made possible the success of the East Coast Hockey League. Five cities that started out with EHL franchises (Long Island, Philadelphia, Washington, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg and New Jersey) currently are in the NHL. Buffalo coach John Muckler, Vancouver GM Pat Quinn, Toronto/Hampton Roads coach John Brophy, ECHL Commissioner Pat Kelly, and Central League Commissioner Ray Miron all came through the Eastern League, as well as Hall of Famers Frankie Brimsek, Art Coulter, Neil Colville, Bob Dill, Hub Nelson, John Mariucci, referee Bill Chadwick, Boston Olympics owner Walter Brown and EHL President Thomas Lockhart.
And the Boardwalk Trophy, the chalice that disappeared in 1973, finally coming to light in the storage shed of a former player’s bar? It finally joined the Calder Cup – the Turner Cup – even the Stanley Cup – in the Hall of Fame on July 26, 1994.
Home at last.
Finding the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy
By Chuck Miller on September 3, 2009
(Re-published from the Albany Times-Union)
If you ever visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto, look around for a place
inside the facility – an area called the North American Zone. You’ll see on display several
minor league and amateur jerseys, banners, sticks, pucks and trophies.
You’ll also find the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy.
This missile-shaped championship chalice was one of the top prizes earned by teams in the
Eastern Hockey League, a minor league circuit that operated from 1933 to 1973.
The EHL was originally formed as the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, as a way for Madison Square Garden promoter Thomas Lockhart to have entertaining amateur hockey matches in his building. The league did produce several stars that found their way to the NHL, including Eddie Giacomin and Dave Schultz. But after the 1973 season, the EHL split into two leagues, the Southern Hockey League and the North American Hockey League (the latter was the seed material for the motion picture “Slap Shot“). Eventually teams from those two leagues formed a new EHL, then later rebranded itself as the Atlantic Coast Hockey League in the
1980’s (Schenectady and Troy both had teams in that league, neither one of those teams lasted more than a few games). Essentially, with franchise shifts and name changes, one can trace the original EHL to today’s East Coast Hockey League, one of the largest minor league sports circuits around.
But back to the trophy.
In 1972, the Syracuse Blazers captured the EHL championship, and with it the Boardwalk
Trophy and another chalice, the Walker Trophy (an older championship trophy that can trace
its provenance back to New York City mayor Jimmie Walker, who awarded it for the 1926
amateur hockey championship).
As the Blazers players skated around with the Walker
Trophy – which at that time symbolized the league’s playoff champion – someone missed a
step, the Walker Trophy hit the ice and shattered into a hundred unrepairable fragments.
The Boardwalk Trophy, which once symbolized the playoff championship but was later
relegated to the trophy given to the regular season champion, stayed on a presentation
For some reason – maybe it was because the EHL was about to fold, maybe it was
because someone wasn’t paying attention – the Boardwalk Trophy simply disappeared. And
since new trophies were to be struck for the two new leagues (including the Lockhart Trophy,
named after EHL founder Thomas Lockhart), the Boardwalk Trophy’s disappearance wasn’t
considered a major concern.
Fast forward to January of 1994. I was halfway through my first year as a freelance writer
for Hockey Ink!, a minor league hockey tabloid monthly publication. Everybody’s gotta start
somewhere, and for better or for worse, I started out with Hockey Ink!. The publication’s
print run was spotty at best, its coverage ranged from intricately detailed to horribly spotty,
its cadre of reporters a broad spectrum of newspaper beat reporters, up-and-coming
freelancers (like me), and anyone else willing to write for next to nothing. And I do mean
next to nothing. The checks from Hockey Ink! had more rubber in them than a hockey puck.
I still have a framed check on my wall from Hockey Ink! – the check was unsigned and
Anyways, at the time there were rumors that the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks were planning on
moving their AHL affiliate out of Hamilton, Ont. and placing it in Syracuse. While working on
the story for Hockey Ink!, I spoke with Brian Elwell, who was at that time part of the
organizing committee to bring the franchise to the Salt City. Elwell spent four seasons as a
right winger with the Blazers from 1968-69 to 1971-72, and later stayed with the team as an
assistant coach when they won the championships in 1972-73. He later became a
successful bar and tavern owner in Syracuse, operating the bar Elwell’s. And during our
conversation, he dropped an off-handed comment that hit like a bombshell.
“Yeah, I used to play in the old Eastern Hockey League. I got one of their trophies, too.”
Trophies? At first I thought he might have received a Most Valuable Player award or
“Naw, it was the championship trophy of the league. I had it for a while, I put it in my bar on
I asked him if it was still there.
“No. I was afraid someone would come and steal it, so after a few years I put it in my
storage shed. And now I’m clearing out the storage shed and I don’t know what to do with
it. It really needs to go somewhere special.”
I made a deal with Elwell. At the time, I was getting married, and was planning a
honeymoon in Toronto and Niagara Falls. During my honeymoon, I agreed to have the trophy
couriered to Canada, and would bestow it into the Hockey Hall of Fame collection. I would
also write an article about the history of the Eastern Hockey League for Hockey Ink!, and
would base the article around the rediscovery of the championship trophy. Elwell agreed
that this would be the best avenue for all concerned.
So later that month, I drove down with my fiancee (now wife) Vicki to Syracuse, and met up
with Elwell. Elwell gave us the trophy, and we drove it back to Albany.
For the few months I had possession of the trophy, I undertook a crash course on the history
of the Eastern Hockey League and the birth of this trophy. The award was originally minted
by the Atlantic City (N.J.) merchants association, to honor the amateur Atlantic City Sea
Gulls hockey team, as they were the champions of the Amateur Athletic Union. When the
Sea Gulls joined the EHL, the Boardwalk Trophy came with them, and eventually became the
EHL’s playoff championship chalice.
The trophy was horribly tarnished and in serious need of a gallon or two of Tarn-X. We cared for the trophy until it was time for us to take it to its new home in Toronto. As our plane flew into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, the border guards looked into the styrofoam-stuffed carrier bag we had used for transporting the trophy, questioning what their X-ray equipment thought might have been a howitzer bullet inside the bag. After some explanation, they asked to pose for a picture with the trophy. Something about Canadians and hockey championship gear, they always treat those awards as if they were holy
Then it was off to the Hockey Hall of Fame, where the curator graciously took the trophy –
we signed some papers – and as an added treat, we got to visit behind the scenes at the
Hall’s archives. I even got to hold the hockey stick Wayne Gretzky used when he scored his
802nd NHL goal.
The last time I visited Toronto was in 2000, and I made a special trip to the Hockey Hall of
Fame to see the trophy – it was still on display, and still looked as if it had survived 40
years of championships and cheer, although the Hall did remove a lot of the tarnish.
A two-part article about the history of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy and the Eastern Hockey
League is available for viewing (see above).
As far as Hockey Ink! was concerned, I credit them with three positives. The first was that I
was able to find that trophy while working for the publication. The second was the discovery of a long-lost important game in AHL history, which I will relate in another post. And the third – which is the most important for any struggling writer – I was able to use my experience at Hockey Ink!, both the good and the bad, to better my writing craft and to build a resume