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Rensselaer will commemorate that victory at this year’s Big Red Freakout game on Feb. 7, 2004. Team members and Coach Ned Harkness will be honored at center ice during the game against Clarkson. This presentation will be shown to hundreds of alumni and friends of Rensselaer hockey across the U.S. as part of the Satellite Hockey Telecast.

Hockey Returns
In 1954, the program was in its second incarnation. After a 12-year absence, hockey returned to the Institute in 1949, in large part due to the efforts of Rensselaer President Livingston Houston.

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Houston approved the unlikely purchase of a used dirigible hangar from Quonset, R.I., that, once disassembled and shipped to Troy, was reborn as the Field House (later to be named the Houston Field House). The building immediately became one of the centers of activity on campus. Along with Engineers hockey games, the Field House hosted such various functions as political rallies, concerts by renowned orchestras such as the Boston Pops, and monthly prize fights.

Ned Harkness, who came to Rensselaer as an assistant lacrosse coach in 1945, convinced Houston that he would be the right man to guide a men’s hockey team.

Harkness, who by then had succeeded his father as the head lacrosse coach, had been oiling down the dirt floor of the Field House and using it for indoor practice. A generator was the only source of electricity for the building, while crude wire screening (instead of the glass panels used today) protected spectators from flying pucks.

“Let’s just say the place didn’t have all the comforts of home,’’ says the 81-year-old Harkness, who now lives in Palm Harbor, Fla.

That may have been precisely the atmosphere he needed to mold a band of ambitious students into hardened competitors on the ice.

“I learned at least as much in the hockey rink as I did in the classroom,’’ says Jim Shildneck ’54, a defenseman and co-captain on the team. “And I learned plenty in class.”

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“All of us went to RPI to get a degree,” says Shildneck, who lives in New Hampshire. “Along the way, Ned made hockey players out of people like me. He really knew how to teach the game and set an example of being plenty tough.’’

Harkness focused on building tight bonds with his players, not intimidating them. He recruited several of those skaters from his hometown of Ottawa, Ontario. In those days, however, there were no athletic scholarships or residence halls to lure student athletes.

“We all lived in private homes near the campus,’’ says Frank Chiarelli ’55, a forward and the other co-captain on the team. “I lived in Isabelle Scrafford’s house for four years. When I graduated, that sweet old lady gave me a scrapbook with all the clippings she had saved about me. I still have it.’’

Chiarelli, who lives in Ottawa, received a new pair of skates from his grandchildren on his 72nd birthday in September.

“I enjoy getting out on the ice again since my hip replacement,’’ he says.

The team’s goalie, Bobby Fox ’55, another Ottawa native, remembers fondly his days with the Otto Swenson family in Troy.

“I had a room on the third floor of their house,’’ says Fox, a retired professor at Purdue University now living in Indiana. “I cut the grass and shoveled snow and did odd jobs around the house. Most of us players also worked in the dining halls.’’

“A bunch of us were employed at the Fitzgerald Brewery in town,’’ says Bruce Baum ’56, a former defenseman and retired engineer now living in Texas.

Like forward John Magadini ’55, Baum also played for Harkness on Rensselaer’s successful lacrosse team, which he guided to a national championship in 1952. By the fall of 1953, Harkness was bringing that winning edge to the hockey team.

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The Winning Season
The 1953-54 season began with seven consecutive victories. But in the championship game of the Rensselaer Invitational Tournament, the Engineers lost 4-1 to St. Francis Xavier of Canada. However, in league competition in the Tri-State League, Rensselaer was rolling right along, sweeping the season series against Clarkson, Hamilton, Princeton, and Middlebury.

Then came a disastrous trip west with three non-league games against Denver College (twice) and Colorado College. Rensselaer limped home after losing all three by a combined score of 19-8.

On Feb. 12, 1954, Rensselaer dropped its fifth game, a costly 5-4 decision to St. Lawrence at Appleton Arena in Canton.

“The St. Lawrence fans were calling me ‘Red Light’ by the time the game was over. I never forgot it,” Fox says.

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Rensselaer Magazine: Winter 2003
President's View Your Mail From the Archives Hawk Talk Class Notes Features
Front Page At Rensselaer Milestones
In Memoriam Making a Difference Staying Connected
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