The Philadelphia-Hershey Hockey Wars of 1938-39
By Bruce C. Cooper
While the then defending Eastern Amateur Hockey League champion Hershey Bears were opening their new home, the Hershey Sports Arena, in 1936, the four surviving clubs in the International League -- Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Syracuse and Cleveland -- joined up with New Haven, Providence, Philadelphia and Springfield of the by then inappropriately named Canadian-American League to form an eight-team pro “circuit of convenience” although Buffalo was forced to drop out a month into that 1936-37 season because its building had burned down.
At a meeting in New York two years later on June 28, 1938, the two circuits formally merged to become the International-American Hockey League (renamed the AHL in 1940) and elected the Can-Am League's head, Maurice Podoloff of New Haven, as the new circuit's first formal president. Podoloff's first official act that day was to sign the franchise certificate admitting the Hershey Bears, by then the three time defending Walker Cup champions of the EAHL, as the I-AHL's eighth member to replace the departed Buffalo Bisons. Although charter member cities Springfield, Syracuse, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Providence are all members of the league today, only Hershey has been represented in the AHL without interruption since that day in June of 1938.
Hershey's intense hockey kinship with Philadelphia goes back to that 1938-39 debut season, long before the Bears established their dozen year affiliation with the Flyers in 1984. In fact less than ten days into the Bears' inaugural I-AHL campaign it became clear that Hershey's first big rival would be pro hockey's then representatives of the City of Brotherly Love -- the blue-shirted top farm club of the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Ramblers. As reported in the colorful prose of the hockeywriters of the day, here is a nostalgic look back at that season more than six decades ago when the first bitter Hershey-Philadelphia hockey wars flourished.
Although technically an I-AHL “expansion” team, Hershey coach Herb Mitchell's 1938-39 Bears were far from an inexperienced club. His captain was veteran left winger Sammy McManus, a native of Belfast, Ireland, who had previously played for the NHL Montreal Maroons and Boston Bruins as well as toiling with Herb Gardiner’s Philadelphia sextet before joining the Bears. At center Hershey was led by Wally Kilrea, a nine-year NHL vet with the Ottawa Senators, Philadelphia Quakers, New York Americans, the Maroons as well as being a member of both the 1936 and 1937 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings' squads. Center Jerry Shannon brought Hershey another five years of NHL experience (Ottawa, St. Louis Eagles, Boston, and the Maroons) while 19-year-old rookie pivot Terry Reardon would go on to win a Stanley Cup as a 21-year-old with the Bruins in 1941.
Twenty-two-year-old Hershey left wing Red Hamill would be promoted to the Boston Bruins at season's end -- and drink from the Stanley Cup that very Spring -- as he began a dozen-year NHL career with Boston and Chicago. Behind the blueline, Mitchell's Bears featured first team All-Star defenseman Jeff Kalbfleisch, ex-Red Wing Orville Roulston, and six-year NHL vet Vernon Ayres, also a one-time Rambler. Former New York American netminder Alfie Moore, a ten-year veteran of pro hockey, would also be a 1938-39 I-AHL All-Star for the team.
The rival Philadelphia Ramblers, meanwhile, would contribute four players to the league's 1938-39 All-Star squads including a pair of first teamers -- goalie Bert Gardiner, who would go on to appear in 143 games with Montreal, Chicago, and Boston during the War years, and left wing Kilby MacDonald, the league's third overall scorer that year. (The next season MacDonald would be named the NHL's top rookie while plating for the New York Rangers.) Left wing George Allen, who would go on to an eight-year NHL career with the Rangers, Black Hawks and Canadiens, and his linemate, center Bob Carse, the league's number two scorer in 1938-39, both earned second team All-Star berths. By far the Ramblers' most experienced player and on-ice leader, however, was 34-year-old left wing Butch Keeling, a twelve year NHL veteran who had earned a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1932-33.
When the Bears and Ramblers met for the first time less than two weeks into the 1938-39 season both had already proved they were highly talented teams. The high scoring Ramblers were already 4-0-0 with 29 goals scored -- an average of 7.25 per game -- against just nine allowed. The Bears, meanwhile, were 3-1-0 with eleven goals for and seven against when the nascent rivals faced off against each other for the first time before a crowd of 5,000 at the Hershey Sports Arena on November 17, 1938. First period Hershey goals by Howie Mackie and Red Hamill would prove to give the Bears all they would need, however, as Alfie Moore held the Ramblers to just one goal, a late second period tally by Lude Wareing, and Wally Kilrea added an unassisted clincher with exactly one minute to go in the third period to give Hershey a stunning 3-1 victory.
"Hershey's fast skating, stiff body checking and clever stick handling Bears handed the Gardinermen a 3-1 defeat in a thrilling, nerve-tingling struggle," the Philadelphia Inquirer's Stan Baumgertner noted of the match. "From start to finish it was a spectacular struggle staged in an ideal setting. The Arena is one of the mast perfect rinks this writer has ever seen--perfect from a spectator's as well as a player's standpoint. Apparently familiar with every nook and cranny of the large rink the Bears took the slightly bewildered Ramblers by storm."
The Hershey sextet's first trip to Philadelphia came two weeks later and the Ramblers were apparently eager for revenge as the Bears were still the only team to have beaten the Blueshirts when the Chocolate and White stepped on the ice at the Arena at 46th & Market Street in West Philadelphia for the rematch on November 30th. Since the Ramblers' earlier loss at Hershey, they had gone on to win four more games without a setback to improve their record to 8-1-0.
While Hershey goalie Alfie Moore had held the Ramblers to just one goal in that first match, the Ramblers treated their home ice crowd of 5,000 to six against the veteran Bears' netminder to bring the Blueshirts' total to a remarkable 60 goals in just ten games. Unfortunately for the Rambler faithful, however, the Hershey marksmen solved Philadelphia netminder Bert Gardiner an incredible nine times on the evening with Wally Kilrea, Deed Klein, Windy Steele and Jerry Shannon each scoring twice while Terry Reardon collected a single unassisted marker.
“The Ramblers' defense was strictly a phantom," observed Al Horwits in the Philadelphia Evening Ledger. "There is a red line not far from the nets, usually the hangout of the backfield, but in the Ramblers territory last night the only indication of habitation around this local point was a mass of Bears. And to make matters worse, Bert Gardiner, who has been giving us great defensive exhibitions, found a dime in the cage, stood on it until the final bell, but in the meantime the rubber heel was passing him by like a green light."
Almost seven weeks would pass before the Bears and Ramblers met for a third time on January 12th, 1939, when the Blueshirts invaded Hershey for just the second time. As had been the case with the first two contests, it was again a meeting between two league leaders with the Ramblers atop the Eastern Division and the Bears trailing the Cleveland Barons by two points in the Western Division and looking to tie them for the lead with another victory over Philadelphia. The odds appeared against the home standing Bears, however, as captain Sammy McManus was sidelined with a broken ankle and winger Harry Frost was suffering from the flu.
The Ramblers did not travel alone in Hershey that night either, as they were followed by a special twelve-car Reading Railroad train that brought along 600 of their fans from Philadelphia and dropped them off at the now long since disappeared Hershey passenger station adjacent to the Park, thus swelling the Arena crowd to an SRO 7,500. However, as in their first visit almost two months earlier, Alfie Moore shut down the Ramblers again holding the league's highest scoring team to just a single goal by Babe Tapin while Earl Roche, Windy Steele, Deed Klein, Red Hamill, and Orville Roulston all put the puck past Bert Gardiner. In just three games the Philadelphians had already given up 17 goals the Bears. The loss seemed to so unnerve the editors of the Philadelphia Daily News that they ran their game story under the headline "Herschey [sic] Trounces Ramblers."
"Napoleon had a long face retreating from Moscow," observed Earl Eby in the Evening Bulletin, "so what difference does it make if the biggest crowd ever to leave Philadelphia to see a hockey game in a foreign rink came home from Hershey, Pa. at 2 A.M. today in drooping spirits. Hershey is now the only team in the International-American Hockey League the Ramblers have failed to defeat."
With the rivalry already fully developed after just three meetings, the Bears traveled to Philadelphia for the two clubs' fourth meeting on February 8th, followed by a train twice the size of that which had come from Philadelphia almost a month earlier. This one carried over 1,200 Bears' fans from Central Pennsylvania to cheer on the Chocolate and chite at the Arena in West Philadelphia.
While the rest of the country was debating the winds of war that was brewing in both Europe and Asia, on this frigid night at least the talk of William Penn's "greene countrie towne" was the war about to resume between the Ramblers and the upstart Bears. To help his farm club meet the challenge, Ranger manager Lester Patrick had sent Herb Gardiner two veteran blueliners to help out -- Alex "Mine Boy" Levinsky and Larry Molyneaux. (Ironically, an inopportune overtime penalty in the 1933 Stanley Cup finals taken by Levinsky while a Toronto Maple Leaf had led to Bill Cook's 1-0 Cup clinching power play goal to bring Patrick's Rangers their second title.)
By the time the puck was dropped on Market Street, a record crowd of 6,620 had squeezed into the Arena. This time, however, it was only the twelve hundred Hershey fans who had journeyed to the big city who would go home disappointed as the Ramblers finally broke the Bears' jinx and defeated them handily, 4-1, although it took until the 11:13 mark of the second period before either team could score when the Ramblers' diminutive (5'7") winger Cliff Barton collected his first of two goals on the night.
"Ice hockey in Philadelphia reached 'Utopia' last night when the roaring, rushing, rambunctious Ramblers ruptured the Hershey jinx in convincing fashion," proclaimed the Evening Ledger's Al Horwits. "Some 6,620 paying patrons, bordering on hysteria from the opening until the closing whistle, formed a new attendance record for the speed-on-skates sport at the. West Philadelphia pond and were rewarded with what is perhaps the greatest game of hockey staged in this city. In presenting their best performance of the season, the Ramblers proved they could be rough when the occasion warranted penalties were called and once the match was delayed six minutes while attendants cleared the surface."
The final two regular season meetings of the 1938-39 season between the Bears and Ramblers came in a much anticipated home-and-home set which opened in Hershey on March 9th and closed in Philadelphia with a return engagement two nights later. While each team would have three regular season games left with other dubs after this final set, for all intents and purposes this home-and-home matchup would determine which of these two powerful clubs would finish with the best overall record in the league and therefore get home ice in the crucial best-of-five play-off series that Hershey and Philadelphia would open against each other less than two weeks later.
As had been the case with the meetings in January and February, each club's fans chartered special Reading Railroad trains to transport the thousand or more of their faithful who would travel to each opposing rink. Unfortunately for the Ramblers, however, one who would not be making the trip to Hershey on March 9th was star goalie Bert Gardiner who was felled by the flu two nights earlier in Springfield. He would be replaced in net by Harvey Teno, the league's erstwhile "spare goalie" who had spent a couple of weeks earlier in the season with the Hershey Cubs, the Eastern Amateur Hockey Club that shared the Arena with the Bears.
"Harvey Teno is the International-American Ice Hockey League's spare goalie and last night it might have spared him -- completely," wrote Tommy Lovett the next day in the Evening Ledger. "Instead it put him in the nets for the Ramblers-against Hershey at Hershey. He should have 'stood in bed.' Teno was terrific -- terrifically off -- particularly in the first period. Four of the wooziest goals imaginable threatened his helpless gestures in that opening round. Four goals that definitely decided the issue before the players had worked up a sweat.
"Where Teno, was shoddy, Hershey goal tend Alfie Moore was grand," Lovett continued. "The guy dusted Rambler shots like Mrs. O'Grady sweeping the porch. With the score 6-2 after forty minutes the third session could very well have been omitted. In fact its omission would have saved Moore a cracked head, which he stuck in front of (George) Allen's club making a sensational save--and costing himself fifteen minutes in the dressing room being sewn back up so he could finish the game."
As had been the case in the previous two meetings at Hershey, by game's end the Bears had easily whipped the visiting Blueshirts, 7-3, with the help of a hat trick by Jerry Shannon to pull within two points of the league leading Ramblers. Not all of the action originated on the ice, however, as many in the highly partisan SRO crowd of over 7,800 littered the ice with cakes of Hershey's Cocoa Butter Toilet Soap (which had been distributed as a promotion) when they were displeased with the results of a second period tussle between the Bears' Red Hamill and the Ramblers' captain Butch Keeling. The impromptu rain of soap stopped the game for almost ten minutes.
Two nights later Bert Gardiner was back at his post in front of the Rambler twine as the Bears and Blueshirts closed out their dramatic first season six-game series at 46th & Market Streets before another emotional SRO crowd on Saturday night, March 11th, with a classic contest won by the Ramblers, 2-1, on a third period goal by Kilby MacDonald.
"Out of the Wildest sort of confusion, Philadelphia's Ramblers emerged with their most coveted triumph of the season last night," wrote Otts Hulleberg in the Philadelphia Record, "when Hershey's powerful Bears were sent to the cleaners, 2 to 1, at Lake Arena. Soundly thrashed in four of the five previous meetings with the Bears, the Ramblers turned on the heat as an enthusiastic crowd of 6,700, the largest ever to see a hockey game in Philadelphia, shrieked with joy.
"A goal by Kilby MacDonald, less than a week out of a sick bed, broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Blue Shirts their triumph midway in the final period. Bert Gardiner did everything but the 'Lambeth Walk' as he frustrated the Hershey attack. Nimble as a kitten despite the fact that he has been out of action with the grip for more than a week, Gardiner gave a prolific exhibition of netminding,"
A week later the Bears' first I-AHL regular season was over. Hershey finished its 54-game schedule in first place in the Western Division, six points ahead of second place Syracuse, with 67 points on a record of 31-18-5. With just 110 goals allowed the Bears had by far the best goals-against in the eight team circuit. The Ramblers meanwhile won the Eastern Division easily with 69 points on a record of 32-17-5, sixteen points better than second place Providence. And so as the two Division winners, the Bears and Ramblers received a preliminary round bye in the Calder Cup play-offs and instead faced off against each other in a semi-final showdown to earn a berth in the championship round.
The first Calder Cup series between Hershey and Philadelphia, played between March 21st and 30th, 1939, proved to be every bit as dramatic as the six regular season games the two already bitter rivals had fought out tooth and nail against each other between November and early March.
The similarities between those two ancient clubs and today's [1996-97] are remarkable. As is also the case this Spring , one had just completed its first season in the league. The pesky then first-year Bears prevailed over the Ramblers in their six regular season meetings, 4-2-0. This year the now fifty nine-year old Bears took their regular season series with the first year Phantoms, 5-3-2. Also as with this season, in 1938-39 Philadelphia and Hershey respectively finished first and second overall in the league, and in both campaigns the two cities' clubs dominated the league's First and Second All Star Teams. The key to both the 1938-39 Ramblers' and the 1996-97 Phantoms' regular season success almost sixty years apart was both clubs' skill at putting the puck in the net as each Philadelphia squad led the AHL in goals in those respective seasons by a wide margin. Hershey, meanwhile, dominated its side of the blueline in both 1938-39 and 1996-97 by allowing the fewest goals-against in the circuit.
While Hershey and Philadelphia now both play in the AHL's Mid-Atlantic Division, in 1938-39 they toiled respectively in the now defunct "Western " and "Eastern" Divisions of the then eight-team International-American Hockey League, as the circuit was then styled. Hershey earned its first of fourteen regular season Division or league championships in 1938-39 by finishing atop the Western Division with a 31-18-5 record for 67 points in 54 games. As was also the case this year, however, the only club in the league with a better overall record was the Eastern Division's champion, Philadelphia, with just two more points (69) and one more win at 32-17-5. As the league's two 1938-39 Division champions, these powerhouses were excused from the best-of-three quarter-final play-off round which saw the two Divisions' second and third place clubs meet each other to earn the right to play for a berth in the, finals.
Thus while Providence, Syracuse, Springfield and Cleveland played down to become one finalist, Hershey and Philadelphia met in play-off action for the first - and until now the ONLY - time to decide which city would ice the other 1939 Calder Cup finalist. Here, as reported in the colorful prose of the hockey writers of the day, is a nostalgic look back at that remarkable FIRST Hershey-Philadelphia Calder Cup series of almost six decades ago.
While the Bears were a far better defensive club than the Ramblers going into the play-offs in the Spring of 1939, the Ranger farmhands in Philadelphia were - like this year's Phantoms' snipers - literally a scoring machine having potted a league record 214 goals in the regular season, 74 more than Hershey's 140. And in a short series such scoring power can often prove to be the difference. However the Ramblers were dealt a blow just before the series opened when All Star winger George Allen was recalled by the Rangers the day before the set opened on March 21st. This loss was offset, however, by the return to the Philadelphia lineup of veteran winger Bobby Kirk from a knee injury and the reassignment to the Ramblers by Ranger manager Lester Patrick of 21-year old center Alf Pike and defenseman Bill Allum from the EAHL New York Rovers.
The Bears too were hurt by recalls as 22-year old left wing Red Hamill was called up to the Boston Bruins with whom he would win a Stanley Cup a few weeks later. As big a blow as Hamill's loss was to the Bears' chances, however, a far bigger one came when the New York Americans yanked up goalie Alfie Moore with two games to go in the season to replace injured Amerk netminder Earl Robertson. Unless the Bears could get their All Star target back quickly, their chances of success against the high scoring Ramblers would be slim to none. Until he returned, the Bears net would be guarded by 22-year old Nick D'Amore who had spent the previous four years in Hershey with the EAHL Bears and Cubs before being loaned to Providence early in the 1938-39 season after the Reds had sold future Hall of Famer Frank Brimsek to the Boston Bruins.
Had the Bears not been defeated by the Ramblers, 2-1, in the final meeting of the season on March 11th, Hershey would have won home ice for the series with the better overall record. With that close loss just ten days earlier, however, the Bears were forced to play their first ever Calder Cup game in the Ramblers' West Philadelphia lair, the Arena, at the corner of 46th & Market Streets. As usual a special train headed East from Hershey loaded with confident Bears' fans which helped to swell the crowd to 5,500 who watched the the Blue Shirts' untested rookie Alf Pike -- who replaced Allen on Philadelphia's top line with Carse and Kirk -- emerge as the first game's star by netting a three goal hat trick in an impressive 6-3 Ramblers' win over the Bears.
"Pike, a lanky blond youngster with only two games in the 'big time' under his belt, turned the hat trick and won the admiration of 5500 spectators as he drilled three goals past Goalie Nick D'Amore," noted Otts Hulleberg in the Philadelphia Record. "The rookie center obtained only 10 days ago from the New York Rovers made Philadelphia hockey fans forget George Allen with his adroit stick-handling and magnificent shooting."
Although the Ramblers dominated the game through its first forty-five minutes, a pair of Hershey tallies by Wally Kilrea midway in the third period had tied the match at 3-3. But unanswered goals by Kilby MacDonald, Lloyd Roubell and Pike's third of the night in a four minute span late in that final stanza - along with the inspired play of defenseman Alex "Mine Boy" Levinsky - soon sealed the victory for the Blue Shirts.
"It'll take a fleet of bombers to stop this gang of mine now," Rambler manager Herb Gardiner told Hulleberg. "Boy did that fellow Pike make those Bears look sick."
As it turned out, however, it looked as if Gardiner's gang would be stopped in the second game of the set not by a "fleet of bombers" but by the same fate that crippled the Bears in game one - the recall of their goalkeeper. With injuries to Ranger goalie Dave Kerr and forward Bryan Hextall in a 2-1 overtime Stanley Cup game loss to the Boston Bruins, Patrick was forced to call up Bert Gardiner and Billy Carse for the next game against the Bruins to replace them. After attempting unsuccessfully to get Pittsburgh Hornet goalie Jimmy Franks to fill in for his regular netminder, Herb Gardiner was forced to call upon the I-AHL's "spare goalkeeper" - Harvey Teno - for the crucial second game to be played at Hershey, a venue in which the Ramblers, had yet to win.
Exactly two weeks earlier on March 9th, Teno - who had spent a couple of weeks earlier in the season with the Hershey Cubs, the Eastern Amateur Hockey Club that shared the Arena with the Bears - had substituted for a then flu disabled Bert Gardiner at Hershey and had been trounced, 7-3. Thus when the Ramblers took to the Hershey Sports Arena ice for game two on March 23rd it was with a far higher degree of trepidation then they had two nights earlier in Philadelphia. As it turned out the game did indeed go to the Bears, 3-2, on goals by Jerry Shannon, Orville Roulston and Wally Kilrea before an SRO crowd of some 7,500. But surprisingly it was no fault of Teno's who played brilliantly in the losing cause.
"Harvey Teno - taunted, booed and literally despised just two weeks ago - and deserving every bit of it - came back to face his critics last night .. and jammed criticism down their throats," wrote Tommy Lovett in the Philadelphia Evening Ledger. "The goat of a Rambler shellacking at Hershey on the Blue Shirts' last up-State trip in the regular season - then named to man the nets in the play-off game last night on the same Hershey rink. A mean spot - but a spot he turned into a site of vindication.
"The fact that the Ramblers lost was no reflection on him - he played that goal like a veteran - even if the Bears beat him for three goals to win, 3-2, and even the series at one game apiece. Sure they beat him three times - once cleanly on a play that was unstoppable, and twice on phonics. The game winner was a questionable one that brought fuss and fury and argument - but left referee Billy Coutu unmoved.
"The disc was kicked into the goal by Wally Kilrea according to the Ramblers - and from the press box it seemed they were right," Lovett continued. "However, Coutu said goal ...and goal it was."
Kilrea's disputed goal so angered Philadelphia manager Herb Gardiner that he filed a formal protest with the league and announced the Ramblers would refuse to take the ice if Coutu appeared to referee game three at Philadelphia on March 25th - or any other future play-off contest. While Coutu did not reappear, two who did were Blue Shirt stalwarts Gardiner and Carse who returned - albeit just temporarily - from their callup, to the Rangers. The Bears also got some good news on the same front as All Star goalie Alfie Moore returned from his brief stint with the New York Americans. Ironically it would be the only time in the series that both clubs would play with their regular season netminders!
The largest crowd in Philadelphia hockey history to that date - 6,758 - packed the Arena for the match and were treated to a splendid goaltending duel won by Gardiner and the Ramblers, 2-1, in over time on a goal by Cliff Barton 7:14 into sudden death after Lude Waring had tied the game for Philadelphia with just 3:54 left in regulation time.
"Many of the spectators, packed into the Arena like sardines, were filing out of the place when Waring batted home the tying point," noted the Record's Otts Hulleberg. "The goal was the signal for the most vociferous outburst of cheering ever heard at a hockey game here. The game was held up for 10 minutes while wads of paper were shoveled off the ice. And still the crowd roared in tribute.
"Seven minutes into overtime Kilby MacDonald passed the puck backwards from the right corner to Barton who was swooping down the middle lane and took possession of it at the penalty line 30 feet from the Hershey net," Hulleberg continued. "Big Orville Roulston barred Cliffs way, but the midget Rambler forward deftly sidestepped him and suddenly drilled the rubber at Moore. A low roller, the puck hit the Hershey netminder's big shillelagh and rolled over it and into the center of the strings."
With the Ramblers holding a two-games-to-one edge in the series, the Bears faced elimination if they were to drop game four back in Hershey on March 28th where they were a perfect four-for-four in meetings with their rivals from Philadelphia. And as in their first play-off meeting at the Arena five days earlier, the Ramblers would have to play without goalie Gardiner and centerman Carse who were back with the New York Rangers to play with the Ramblers' parent club in their Stanley Cup series with the Boston Bruins.
Thus for the third time in less than three weeks the Ramblers took to the ice in Hershey with Harvey Teno in net - and as was the case five days earlier the league's "spare goaltend" played well for the Ramblers, but lost by one goal, 4-3, on a late third tally by Wally Kilrea (his second of the game) before an SRO crowd of almost 8,000.
"Teno was again brilliant making 27 saves to Moore's 21," observed Fred Byrod in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "but Wally Kilrea, the Bears' sturdy little center, made the winning goal at 13:59 of the third periods with Alex Levinsky in the penalty box. Referee Ed Burke, who had been knocked out in a collision with a Hershey player earlier in the game, penalized Levinsky for holding Sammy McManus although from the press box it seemed as if he was just trying to hurry the Bear captain."
With the Bears' fifth victory over the Ramblers in Hershey in five tries (three regular season, two play-off), the series was again tied and returned to Philadelphia for a fifth and final game on March 30th. And for the fourth time in three weeks the Ramblers would be facing the Bears without their regular netminder, Bert Gardiner, but instead their fate would be in the hands of the beleaguered Harvey Teno who was 0-3 in his three previous games against Hershey for the Blue Shirts. Teno's fourth try, however, would prove to be the charm for the former Hershey Cub as he shut-out the Bears, 3-0, in a tight checking game which had remained a scoreless tie for almost fifty-five minutes to earn the Ramblers a berth in the Calder Cup finals.
"In the dying minutes of a battle that made the hearts of 6,500 spectators like trip-hammers, the Ramblers went goal-crazy last night to crush the Hershey Bears, 3 to 0, on the Arena ice in the fifth and final game of the International-American Hockey league's first round play-offs," noted the Inquirer's Fred Byrod. "Fifty-four minutes of hockey at an unbelievably terrific pace had failed to produce a score. The Bears were ganged on Harvey Teno, the Ramblers' substitute goalie, confident that this was their winning chance when Cliff Barton broke away with the puck. He went sprawling as he was hit in Hershey territory but somehow he passed to Kilby MacDonald.
"MacDonald jockeyed the disc around until he was ready and then beat Moore, heretofore as unpenetrable as battleship armor, with a flashing thrust from 20 feet out on the left side. Bedlam broke loose as the red light behind the cage flashed on at 14:40. Captain Butch Keeling and Bobby Kirk then blew the game open with goals thirty seconds apart at 17:02 and 17:32 to sink the Bears.
"Hero of heroes in the Ramblers' cause was not the scoring stars, however, but little, squatty, black haired Teno to whom the Blue Shirts entrusted their goal because they could get no one else when Bert Gardiner was summoned, along with George Allen and Bill Curse, for service with the crippled New York Rangers. In holding them scoreless, Teno did something Gardiner never could do, and the fans showed their appreciation by carrying him off the rink at the finish."
Unfortunately for the powerhouse Ramblers, however, their stunning 1939 play-off victory over the Bears proved to be their last hurrah. The Blue Shirts were upset in the finals, three-games-to-one, by the Cleveland Barons (who had finished third in the Western Division) and the Philadelphia club never again made the play-offs before folding just three years later in 1942. Over the next five-and-a-half decades only two other clubs briefly represented Philadelphia in the AHL - the Rockets (1946-49) and Firebirds (1977-79) - and only made the play-offs once. (The Philadelphia Firebirds won just one game in an opening round series loss to the New Haven Nighthawks in 1978.)
With the possible exception of Milt Garland, Ken Hatt, and Brent Hancock, there may well be nobody else in Hersheypark Arena tonight who attended - or even remembers - the last AHL play-off contest here between Hershey and Philadelphia on March 28th, 1939. The game here tonight, however, should be no less exciting than that last storied match played on Hershey Sports Arena ice almost sixty years ago.
And well worth the wait!
(©1996-2002 by Bruce C. Cooper)