By Jack DeGange
Melior Machina Quam Natura
One hundred years ago, as the winter of 1905-06 descended on Hanover, John (Crick) Crocker ’07 gained approval from the College’s Athletic Council to erect Dartmouth’s first outdoor hockey rink.
Sideboards, about three feet high and supported by a bank of snow, were assembled on a remote corner of Dartmouth’s athletic grounds in fact, the current site of Leverone Field House.
Dartmouth’s first rink, where Leverone Field House is located
The surface was flooded and used for practice. Dartmouth’s first games in 1905-06 were played in Albany (a win over Williams) and in Boston (a loss to M.I.T.). The first home game was played in January 1907, against the Coaticook Club from Quebec. Dartmouth won, 9-5.
Call them the pioneers of Dartmouth hockey: Crocker, Addison Brooks ’06, Gene Brooks ’07, Leland (Kid) Richardson ’08 and Warren Foote ’08 (the fastest skater of them all and blessed with what Richardson called “a vicious shot that traveled knee-high”). They learned the game on the numerous rinks in and around Boston. Their equipment was designed more for warmth than protection. It was inevitable that hockey should become a staple of the winter scene in Hanover.
Alumni Gymnasium opened in 1910 but it wasn’t until 1930, when Davis Rink opened, that hockey became in indoor game in Hanover.
During hockey’s early years at Dartmouth and, in fact, until the 1940s, outdoor ice was part of the game for the Green. More often Dartmouth’s foe wasn’t another collegiate or club team; the most fickle adversary was the weather.
Dartmouth’s skaters played and practiced where they found usable ice. The seasonal sites included temporary rinks near Alumni Gym, Storrs Pond, Occom Pond and the wind-swept Connecticut River.
It was common for games in Hanover to be played, interrupted or halted in progress due to driving snow or frustrating slush.
There were numerous indoor rinks serving collegiate teams in the northeast by the time Davis Rink opened for the 1929-30 season. Until Thompson Arena opened in 1975, Davis was the home for Dartmouth hockey. It remained in use for recreational skating and youth hockey teams until it was demolished in 1985 to make way for the Berry Sports Center.
The rink was financed by a $60,000 gift from Howard (Shorty) Davis ’06, whose additional generosity paid for Davis Varsity House and satisfied the mortgage on Alumni Gym.
From the first season until 1953, Davis Rink provided a roof over what was still the preferred medium: natural ice. For more than two decades, the “No Ice” sign posted on the rink door served notice that the vagaries of winter weather frequently left Davis ice too soft for skating.
In 1953, a bronze plaque mounted near the entrance to Davis Rink commemorated the beginning of a new era: Melior machina quam natura The machine is better than nature. Dedicated before a 5-1 win over Harvard on December 4, 1953, artificial ice (and the College’s first Zamboni resurfacing machine) arrived at Dartmouth, ending a half-century of contending with but never outwitting Mother Nature.
To say that Davis Rink had seating capacity for about 2,000 is misleading. Spectators arrived early to get preferred standing room along the wire fencing that surrounded the rink. The “reserved” seats at the east end of Davis were wide, elevated risers: sit on the front edge, walk behind, beware of splinters, flying pucks, and the wet boots of whoever was sitting behind you.
Davis Rink was as much a “pit” as any rink in collegiate hockey history. Enthusiastic students hanging over the wire fencing gave Dartmouth a perpetual “man advantage.”
Little need be said about Thompson Arena. Look around: You’re sitting in one of the finest college hockey facilities in the nation. The dramatic, vaulted ceiling designed by innovative Italian architect Pier Luigi Nervi, features about 1,000 pre-cast, pie-shaped concrete wedges, each weighing one ton and positioned in a flawless process 30 years ago.
Named for principal donor Rupert Thompson ’28, who served as chair of Dartmouth’s Third Century capital campaign in the late 1960s, the arena is as striking today as when it opened in 1975 a far cry from the rink that Crick Crocker and his mates erected a century ago.
Indeed: Melior machina quam natura.
With David Shribman ’76, Jack DeGange is co-author of Dartmouth College Hockey: Northern Ice.