1951 Champions raised to rafters
A forgotten team will finally get its just reward. The 1951 West Haven High School hockey team will be recognized as a State Championship on the banner that hangs at the Edward L. Bennett Rink. The addition gives the Blue Devils eight state titles over the storied history of the program.
The team will be honored during a pre-game ceremony on Saturday afternoon when the Blue Devils take on cross-town rivals, the Notre Dame Green Knights. A big crowd is expected.
Team members Tom Lawson and Jim McKeon will be on hand to raise the banner at the rink.
“Banner hangs below the scoreboard and I took it down to have the team included,” said WHHS Athletic Director Jonathan Capone said this week.
The omission was part of an effort that saw family members of the team’s players try to rectify the mistake.
“One of those family members, Bill Meaney, son of Jack Meaney, who played on the team was instrumental in putting the team on the championship banner,” according Capone.
He credits Meaney and other family members
The 1951 Blue Devils played at a time when a Connecticut State Champion was chosen differently, and when the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) did not recognize the sport.
“The team played during a 12-year period when the CIAC did not conduct a post-season tournament and the State Champion was determined by the team with the best overall record and a consensus vote of the coaches,” according to a statement to be read at the ceremony Saturday
The 1950-51 season saw a Blue Devils team that ran the table and finished the regular season undefeated – with a record 10-0-1. It is the school’s second state hockey champions.
To show their dominance, they outscored their opponents 55-13 for an average of 5.0 goals scored per game and 1.2 goals allowed.
The team was considered a perfect blend of experience seniors, talented goal scorers, disciplined defense and shut down goaltending. The offense was led by Bill Frank, Tom Knudsen and Bill Cooper who was voted the most outstanding player in the area.
They had a core group of hustling forwards, including George Hotchkiss and Jack Meaney who dug pucks out of the corners and where relentless back-checkers. Between the pipes was Tom Lawson. He was the top goalie in the state who only gave up 6 goals in the 10 games he played.
The blue line was led by one of the best defensive foursomes in Westie history, led by Lloyd Bauer, Duane Shepard, and Jim McKeon. Coach Hal Smullen called them the best in the state.
This was a team that featured players who went on after high school to play for big-time programs. Bill Cooper went on to play college hockey at Brown University, Lloyd Bauer went on to play at RPI and was a member of the 1954 NCAA National Championship Team and Tom Lawson played baseball and football as a walk-on at the University of Pennsylvania.
It was a time of conflict, and the players who didn’t go on to higher education had their military service to fulfill. Most of the players served during the Korean War. Many of them returned to West Haven, raised families and gave back to the community.
Hockey remained in their blood, and they served as founders and supporters of the West Haven Youth Hockey program following the opening of the Bennett Rink in 1971. Duane Shephard, George Hotchkiss, Jim McKeon, Bob Brill and Jack Meaney all played important roles in establishing youth hockey in West Haven. Tom Lawson became a City Council member and was instrumental in getting the rink built and named after the late Edward L. Bennett, who coached the squad in the 1940s before becoming Superintendent of Schools. Bennett coached West Haven to its first State Championship in 1949.
There were no organized youth hockey programs back in the 1940s players learned their skills where ever they could find ice. The popular venues for playing hockey were the pond on Lake Street with bone-chilling winds howling in from Long Island Sound and the salt water marsh Mud Flats along the West River behind First Avenue and Elm Street.
Hockey at West Haven High goes back to the post-World War I era, when teams around the New Haven area were formed. The loose connection of teams was formalized following the opening of the New Haven Arena in 1927. The 4,000-seat Arena was the locus of high school hockey for more than 40 years before the era of local rinks.
Prior to the 1970s, when the sport took off, only 12 teams in the state played, with West Haven as one of the founding member schools. Finally, in 1964 the CIAC re-recognized the sport and conducted the state tournament at the Arena, a custom that continued until the building was closed in 1972.