(Photo Above Is Longtime Maples Player Alphonse Picard Courtesy of Tammi (Picard) Perkins)
By: Mark Allred | Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277
The Amesbury Maples hockey team has been mentioned many times as being one of the best amateur/semi-pro clubs in the early years from many popular news publications in the Northeast section of the United States. Founded in 1924 the club would produce an impeccable lifetime winning record that brought the team to many incredible places when battling opposing teams. The Maples team would play a majority of their games in the Essex County area of Massachusetts but also made stops to the old Boston Garden, Concord, New Hampshire, Lewiston, Maine, Providence, Rhode Island, and even traveled out of the US to play a club in Montreal, Quebec.
All this travel and fame gathered along the way wouldn’t have been possible without the home rinks located throughout the Amesbury area. The sport of ice hockey to the area is heavily rumored to have origin’s in the late 1800’s with the many horse-drawn carriages and sleigh manufacturers that were built near the town’s ponds and rivers that predominately made Amesbury world famous. Many workers in these factories were of Canadian descent who migrated south of the border to find employment and a better life, but they also brought the winter activity of ice hockey or “shinny” as a way to keep active during the cold season. Being so close to bodies of water as seen in the image below, it all makes sense.
( Above photo is the Locke & Jewell Company known For manufacturing carriage parts /wheels. located on Patten’s Hollow/Pond and was established in 1867. )
With the sport growing year-by-year the game of “shinny” which was a type of “keep away” event changed it’s style of play to a more organized team sport and companies such as Biddle & Smart who had many buildings to their massive operation started shop leagues which one part of the plant would face the other. In 1923 Armand G. Hudon and Emilian V. “Mickey” Jutras had a vision of putting a club together made up of the best Amesbury had to offer even if they had to poach/scout talent from other local teams.
In the winter of 1924-25, Hudon and Jutras would become the Maples organizations first managers and owners, who entered their club team into the Amesbury Winter Outing for the first time as a competitive powerhouse. The New Maples talent would set the tone that year for an organization that would last for over 75 years of developing correctly and the never quit or fold attitude. The 1924-25 club roster which was the teams first, would consist of talented players such as forward “Chumpie” Burbank, goaltender Issie Lessard, defenseman Exie Martel, forward Eddie Nichols, forward Aurel Picard, defenseman Gerald Proulx, and forward Armand Roy.
Below are all the rinks in Amesbury that the Maples organization held their home games over time.
Patten’s Hollow/Pond Portable Ice Rink
The first man-made rink in the town of Amesbury was located on Patten’s Hollow/Pond in 1924-25 and was three feet high, spiked to the ice measuring 150 feet long by 85 feet wide. The newly organized High School team, Maples Hockey Club, and local shop leagues all played here for some time. With the unpredictable New England winters in the Northeastern part of Massachusetts, having a rink on a pond was not the best idea moving forward for any club, and a better solution was needed.
( In the above photo standing from left to right is Chiefie Lemoine, Tom Wall, Chewie Williams, Unidentified Player, and Eddie Nichols. Kneeling from left to right is Everett Picard, Aurel Picard, and Gerald Proulx )
The Rink At The Foot Of Aubin Street
With funds unavailable to build a permanent town rink and the idea that ice will freeze faster and last longer with a smaller mass of water, the Biddle and Smart Company footed the bill to construct a new rink to play located near their place of operations at the bottom of Aubin Street. The Maples team would then join the Biddle & Smart league that was already established and housed their own shop and office teams.
The Maples would play another five seasons at the Aubin Street location, but it was under the rule of the Biddle & Smart Company and priority schedule when it came to practice times. The Maples desperately needed their own rink to play/practice while being maintained by the members of the team. The club took the summer of 1930 to gather materials and volunteer help for a new home but in the meantime scouted a place to play closer to the downtown area and more accommodable for fans to watch their home games.
Lemoine Memorial Rink
The Maples Hockey Club found the perfect location to move, and after countless construction hours and dedication from team members, the Lemoine Memorial Rink was built just in time for the 1930-31 winter season at the rear of the old St. Jeans Hall off Friend Street. The rink was 150 feet by 85 and was to be completely team managed with the ability to make ice so close to the Powwow River. This was a great location and easy to get to instead of walking up and down the Aubin Street incline to watch the team play during the weekend events.
The rink was dedicated to goaltender Raoul “Chiefie” Lemoine who played five seasons with the Maples organization. During a practice session at the Aubin Street rink in 1928-29, Lemoine took a shot to the face and later passed away from an infection to his eye after being hit with the puck. After playing at the Lemoine Memorial Rink for over a decade, the club once again was forced to relocate. The playing surface was under regulation size, and a facility was needed to comply with national tournament regulations. The search for a flat area that could accommodate a 200-foot by 85-foot rink in town was heavily discussed as multiple ideas came up to organizing members notably headed by previously mentioned Alphonse Picard.
The Maples were in heavy talks to build a new rink at a vacant lot where the Walker Auto Body Plant #1 building once stood. Maples organization members Louis Casavant, Alphonse Picard, and Albie Roy, along with town officials had long considered moving closer to the railroad tracks to attract traveling fans near or far. It’s been rumored that a fire destroyed the Walker building and the concrete floor that remained was enough space for a full-size regulation rink and accommodations for up to one thousand fans. Having a small sheet of ice wasn’t the only reason that prompted the team to move as landowner behind the St. Jeans Hall Edward D. Hanley planned to move a house from 37 Friend Street to the location where the Lemoine rink was to open a service filling station.
The team never went forward with the relocation to the former Walker Building on Oak Street and went without a home rink for five years due to World War II as many players enlisted into the service. While wartime was in full effect for the United States, even if the Maples had a full roster, many games could not be played particularly at night with mandatory blackouts with a public fear of overhead bombings.
Powwow Staking Arena
In the 1947-48 season, the Maples found themselves at a new rink away from the downtown area called the Powwow Skating Arena which is about a mile and a half out of the downtown Amesbury area. Selectmen Maurice R. Pare did the honors of dropping the inaugural puck at the Maples new home to kick off the long season. Longtime Amesbury Resident John Stuart and was an instrumental piece in the construction of the rink with oversight from New England Association Of The Amateur Athletic Union member and Maples player Alphonse Picard who also oversaw the build of the previous Lemione Memorial Rink. The owners of the Powwow Skating Arena would sponsor the Maples Hockey team so the worry of operating expenses wouldn’t fall on the players or the organization.
The outdoor rink housed locker room facilities that were three separate buildings 47 feet long by 16 feet wide and were used as soldiers barracks during the war. Bought inexpensively from military surplus along with the hundreds of feet of aluminum that were ten feet tall and four feet wide to use as a wind barrier as the rink’s location was on a flat part of town and susceptible to high winds.
The Maples would play at the Powwow Skating arena for 11 great years before leaving the Amesbury area to spending two years at indoor facilities such as Philips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, Frost Arena in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and the Lynn Arena while a new outdoor rink was being built to bring the Kelly Green and White warriors back to town. The Maple faithful and efforts of the Town of Amesbury were needed for the next generation of home ice and local development sustainability.
Amesbury Town Park Rink
The collaborative effort was finished before the 1961-62 winter season and would last as a home of the Maples until the 1971-72 season. As times changed through the years with the many previously mentioned rinks, it was apparent that the Maples Hockey Club and other Amesbury area hockey organizations (Youth to High School) needed to take advantage of an indoor facility at a time of increased interest from the Boston Bruins Bobby Orr era which influenced many young kids to get involved in the sport.
Outdoor rinks and unpredictable New England weather forced all party’s to seek overhead shelter as increased ice time schedules gained with the popularity of the greatest game on ice in the Northeastern part of the country. Two longtime Amesbury residents with dedication and hard work would figure out a way to piece together the means to keep a rink locally even though one of those residents sold a family business like Wil’s Pizza and Sub Shop to make this happen.
Amesbury Hockey Arena
The Amesbury Hockey Arena first became home for the Maples during the 1971-72 season after the former Crossroads Bowling alley needed renovations to accommodate a rink with stands. According to an article in the October 26, 1972, Haverhill Gazette newspaper, partners, Wilfred Begin and Paul Hudon had originally planned to build a new hockey facility on Haverhill Road / Rt. 110 near the old Baldinelli’s Bowl-A-Way but the purchase of the former Crossroads Bowl building on Merrill Street would save them over $200K in new construction costs. The building originally constructed in 1962 already had parking spots for over 200 cars and the money saved from not building new went into raising the roof of the existing location to build a rink with proper headroom for ice hockey events.
The rink at the new arena was 185 -feet by 85-feet and was able to house 500 fans with the potential of up to 1,000 with future renovations. The Maples would play here for five years before the building was sold in 1979. The building formerly known as Crossroads Bowl and Amesbury Hockey Arena would lay dormant for a couple of years after the sale to later be purchased by the proprietors of the Good Times Roller Skating rink in the early 1980’s. This would end the days of the Maples having a home rink as the team would travel outside the town’s borders for games and practice times. Today the Merril Street building is home to a woodworking company that specializes in cabinet making.
To New Beginnings and Key Addition To Developing Amesbury’s Youth
Photo Credit: The Daily News of Newburyport
The town of Amesbury would go 40+ years without having a hometown rink since the sale of the Amesbury Hockey Arena in the late 1970’s but with the every waiting year is always the dream and potential of a hockey facility returning to our community without never forgetting about the legends of the past. In 2016 Global Property Developers corporation headed by the efforts of Michael Gorman and associated investors, came to the town of Amesbury seeking the appropriate land to build a hockey megaplex that would rival many of North America’s multi rink facilities.
The target site is at 48 South Hunt Road and is on a proposed 50-acre lot that is big enough for multiple rinks and 900+ spaces for parking. The area is on prime real estate when it comes to accessibility with Interstates 95 and 495 very close by as many refer to the area as the Golden Triangle when it comes to business property and attractions within miles of travel. The proposed name of the new facility will be the Atlantic Sports Center.
In an article dating back to December 6, 2016, The Daily News of Newburyport beat writer Jim Sullivan sat down with Mr. Gorman and provided these quotes below about his group’s ambitions and willingness to bring a facility back to the town of Amesbury.
“You are always looking for that Utopian location in this business and I think we found it,” Gorman said. “When you have a location that spills off of the highway and you are not driving through neighborhoods, you have got a great location. We are not going to be in downtown, bumping into people. We’re right off the highway and it is dry, buildable land which is always important. And it works. When you are trying to build a facility as large as this, it can’t get any better than what we found in Amesbury.”
“The people coming to these tournaments are not just putting little Sally or Johnny on a bus and telling him to have a nice tournament. They travel as a family,” Gorman said. “There are terms for this now. It is called a ‘sportscation.’ They come to a place like Amesbury as a family unit. This is their trip and they will go to Lake Placid or they will go to Blaine, Minnesota, they will go to where these facilities are and this is what they do.”
“The kids on the ice stuff takes care of itself. The coaches, the referees, they can take care of that stuff,” Gorman said. “Our responsibility is, how do we deal with the people who are off the ice? That is very important to us and that is where I think we can be really good at promoting this beautiful community.”
“You are selling Amesbury every time you are selling a tournament. There are great restaurants, there is Cider Hill Farm, there is a golf course, these are things that are here for people to do, there is a vibrant downtown and that is what people are looking for.”
“Our mission for this isn’t just about building something that is great for us,” Gorman said. “Beyond hockey, I really do believe there is a great way to be a part of Amesbury. We hire local, we buy local, we have a very thoughtful conscience about what makes Amesbury tick. There are some really, really great restaurants and there is a vibrancy to Amesbury that drew us to this location.”
“None of this would have come to pass if I didn’t have a rather obscure conversation with Christian Scorzoni in the summer of 2015,” Gorman said. “He said, ‘You’ve got to look at Amesbury, you’ve got to look at Amesbury.’ And I did and it was his vision that pushed us to sit down with the mayor in the first place.”
Per the amesburyma.gov website, the 410,000 square-foot $30 million project is set to break ground in the summer of 2018 and house six rinks, a restaurant, 300-seat conference room, and a 130,000 square-foot office building. The facility will not only be a key addition to Amesbury’s developing youth programs but will also be a key player when hosting regional tournaments with family members coming from all over North America to attend. With the City of Amesbury and it’s increased growth with bars and restaurants, the surrounding community will benefit greatly with the “foot traffic” and tourism factor.
I’m proud to be a supporter of this project but also happy that I’ve gotten to know Mr. Gorman throughout the process. The rich hockey history of Amesbury is important to him, and his group which I was thrilled to hear and I know he plans on dedicating to those who wore the Kelly Green and White of the past that originally put this city/town on the map when it comes to competitive hockey.
Photo Credit: amesburyma.gov
Photo Credit: The Daily News of Newburyport
As always in anything, I research on and write about I have to give thanks to the many folks that I’ve reached out to and had informal conversations with when it comes to the Amesbury Maples players and history. I honestly couldn’t have got my start on these fun projects without the help and countless hours of research that legendary local sports writer Bert Spofford did to gather Maples information before the 1994 75th Anniversary of the organization. Bert’s research and never quit attitude to get all the facts will never be forgotten. Thank You Sir!
Please send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any Maples related information to share or if you have questions regarding the sport of hockey throughout the years in our community. Thanks for taking the time to read my article and please subscribe to our email mailing list for more of my Amesbury Maples Legend Series and our regular National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins organization content.