A Century On Ice
Hobey Baker, Princeton Football photo. (Wikipedia)
Princeton University Hockey Coaches, Players Past and Present Celebrate Hobey Baker Memorial Rink
By Bill Alden
Darting up the ice or dashing past tacklers on the gridiron in the early years of the 20th century, Hobey Baker established himself as a one-of-a-kind performer in the pantheon of Princeton University athletics.
The legendary Baker, Class of 1914, is the only athlete to have been enshrined in both the College Football and Hockey Halls of Fame.
Beyond his sporting exploits, Baker set a standard for sportsmanship, known for being gracious in victory or defeat, often going into opposing locker rooms after the final whistle to congratulate opponents for their efforts.
After graduating from Princeton, Baker enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Service, serving with distinction as a pilot in World War I. He died in December 1918 when he crashed a plane just before he was scheduled to leave France and return to the U.S.
In 1923, Princeton recognized Baker’s impact by opening a rink constructed in his honor. The slate gray Gothic gem was built in a golden age of iconic venues still in use today like Penn’s Palestra (1927), Boston’s Fenway Park (1912), Chicago’s Wrigley Field (1914), the Rose Bowl (1922) in Pasadena, Calif., and the Los Angeles Coliseum (1923).
Hockey team photo. (hobeybaker.com)
Like its namesake, the Hobey Baker Memorial Rink exudes an excellence and character to this day. The 2,092-seat arena provides an intimate and historic setting for the Tiger men’s and women’s hockey teams.
The rink includes a display case with mementoes of Hobey Baker in one corner and another case honoring Patty Kazmaier, a Tigers women’s hockey star in the 1980s who died of a rare blood disease at age 26 and was the daughter of Princeton football legend Dick Kazmaier, the 1951 Heisman Trophy winner. That section of the building also houses award plaques for both the men’s and women’s teams as well as the certificates of Princeton first-team All-Americans.
The lobby contains a photo montage of Princeton hockey stars of the past and many are honored with floor-to-ceiling portraits ringing the stands. The lower bowl is just six rows deep, and there is a balcony at the upper end of one side and a press box at the other end.
Banners reading “Make Hobey Proud” and “Make Patty Proud” hang on the stone wall behind the press box. The award for men’s college hockey player of the year is the Hobey Baker Award and the corresponding honor in women’s hockey is the Patty Kazmaier Award.
This January, Princeton will be celebrating the 100th birthday of the venerable structure with centennial festivities slated in conjunction with the men’s and women’s hockey teams hosting Dartmouth and Harvard over the weekend of January 6-7.
Hobey Baker, Princeton University. (Wikipedia)
For Princeton men’s hockey head coach Ron Fogarty, having Hobey Baker Rink as his workplace is a cause for daily celebration.
“It is a privilege, an honor,” says Fogarty, noting the recruits often pull out their phones to take pictures when they go on their first tour of the facility. “When we practice in the morning, you have the sunlight coming in and it is an unbelievable sight. It is a structure being around for 100 years with the original outside with the unique stone wall and the refurbished wood roof. You see the old wood doors and 1923 engraved in the stone. It is a unique facility, it is a historic facility, and it is a great place to call home.”
When Scott Bertoli first set foot in the building on a recruiting trip in the mid-1990s, he felt at home.
“I remember it reminding me a lot of the older rinks I played in back in southern Ontario with the wood ceilings,” says Bertoli ’99, a former Princeton standout who is currently the head coach of the Princeton Day School boys’ hockey program. “It definitely had the feeling of a lot of the rinks that I grew up in. It was intimate, that is the word you think of.”
The rink also evokes the lore of the Princeton program and the sport.
“As you walk around, you feel the history of the game that is in that building; it is understanding how long the rink has been there and how long the program has been around and how many great players have played, both for Princeton and against Princeton,” notes Bertoli.
“There are so many new rinks out there, they are newer versions of pro rinks,” he says. “They have all of the amenities, world class locker rooms, and facilities. They are obviously wonderful and comfortable in their own way. But there is something to be said for that old school, traditional wood rink that so many kids played on. It takes you back to your roots. It is where you learned to play the game, it is where you developed the passion for the game.”
Harry Rulon-Miller’s Baker roots run deep as he started skating at the rink in the late 1940s as a grade-schooler at nearby Princeton Country Day, the forerunner of PDS.
Sitting in the rink this fall, Rulon-Miller notes that things have changed since he hit the ice there.
“It was a little smaller, it had panels on the boards and there were no fences around,” recalls Rulon-Miller, 86, who went on to star for the Princeton men’s hockey team in the late 1950s. “The black railings in the lobby were there then. Because there was no checking in amateur sports, the boards were inlaid in cement.”
Long before she became the head coach of the Princeton women’s hockey team, Cara Morey was charmed by the building.
“It is unlike any other rink that I had ever seen,” said Morey, a 2001 grad of Brown who starred in ice hockey and field hockey for the Bears. “It has this barn feel, but it also has this stone walls and rafters. It is beautiful.”
The beauty and location of the rink drew in Mollie Marcoux Samaan when she visited Princeton as a recruit.
“It is hard not to be wowed when you walk in; it is so different and so original,” says Marcoux Samaan ’91, who ended up coming to Princeton and emerged as one of the greatest women’s hockey players ever for the Tigers, piling up 216 points (120 goals, 96 assists), the second highest total in program history.
“It is also customized to Princeton,” she says. “A lot of time you go into a rink and it feels like a lot of people play there and this just felt like it was very comfortable. The other thing that really blew me away was how close it was to the campus. It was integrated into the academics and the residential life of the school. That is what really struck me as a recruit, not only the beauty of the building but its location.”
Marcoux Samaan returned to her alma mater in 2014 to serve as director of athletics and helped enhance the beauty of rink as she oversaw some renovations during her seven-year tenure.
“I don’t think a lot had changed since I had left so there were some things that needed to be done,” says Marcoux Samaan, who spearheaded the construction of a team video room with theater-style seating, a kitchenette, and a remodeling of the men’s and women’s locker rooms along with the addition of dry stalls and stick rooms.
“Our ideas were how do we take this historic building and maintain the charm and character of it but modernize it to the new needs of players,” she says. “We worked really hard on the renovation of the locker rooms and the whole downstairs area. It was renovating and changing the locker rooms, but also putting a lot of graphics on the wall and reflecting the cultures of each team. The coaches were really involved and that was fun. I love what we created down there.”
(Photo by Charles R. Plohn)
Growing Up at Baker
It didn’t take long for Kate Monihan, a junior defenseman for the Princeton women’s team from Moorestown, to fall in love with Baker Rink as she first played there with her youth hockey teams.
“I couldn’t believe I was playing in a collegiate arena and how beautiful the building was,” says Monihan, who played her high school hockey down the road at the Lawrenceville School. “What rink has a stone wall behind the net? It is so unique and really special.”
It is hard for Monihan to believe that she now gets to skate there on a daily basis.
“It is surreal, every day I go to the rink I feel grateful to be there,” says Monihan. “I was on the team in 2020 when we won our first ECAC championship. Following that year, the entire team took the year off because we would have lost a season to COVID. I remember the first time I was back skating at practice at the rink and being really present in my mind, reminding myself how grateful I am to be in this rink every day; thinking what an incredible place it is with the beauty, the history, Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier playing here. I am doing laps in warm up and I see their names and banners draping over the rink. It is cool.”
It is a cool feeling for another local product, Tiger men’s senior defenseman and co-captain Pito Walton, a Peapack native who also starred at Lawrenceville, to be playing his college hockey at Baker Rink.
“As a kid, I was just so happy to be playing in a college hockey arena, I do remember loving the stone walls inside,” said Walton. “Coming to watch the games, I was just mesmerized by the college players, I thought it was the coolest thing. I think even as a kid in middle school, I sort of had that idea of playing in college in the back of my mind. It has been a dream come true.”
(Photo by Charles R. Plohn)
Game day is special for Walton as fans create a din with their proximity to the action and the acoustics of the old building.
“The stone walls trap all the sound and it is pretty loud, which is awesome,” adds Walton. “The fans are basically right on top of you, it is a pretty cool feeling.”
Fogarty, for his part, savors the scene from his post during the action.
“My favorite spot is on the bench during games and just taking in the atmosphere, looking upstairs at the balcony seeing that full,” says Fogarty. “There is not a bad vantage point to take the game in.”
For Rulon-Miller, who has become a rink denizen over the years as a regular fan at both men’s and women’s games, being in the stands has been almost as much fun as being on the ice.
“I have really enjoyed that, I have had a ball watching the games,” says Rulon-Miller, noting with a chuckle that spectators have to bundle up in a building that has remained famously chilly inside over the years notwithstanding upgrades. “There is something special here. I have enjoyed talking to parents of our players, they love the place.”
The rink is a place beloved by the town as it has been the home to youth hockey teams in addition to hosting college games.
“To me, the rink more than any other building, in my opinion, really unites the community with the University,” maintains Morey, noting that her three daughters have all played youth hockey at Baker Rink. “There are a lot of buildings where the community is separate from the school. The rink is the one place in the community where when the athletes get done, the kids come in. It is growing up in town and being able to skate on the rink that your idols in hockey right now are skating on. A little kid gets get to skate on that rink and Sarah Fillier [current Tiger women’s hockey star and Olympic gold medalist and world champion for Canada] is skating in that rink. It is one of our few facilities at Princeton where the town feels connected to it the same way the University does.”
Bertoli has come full circle, coaching his son’s youth hockey team which gets to play at Baker Rink.
“My little guy plays Princeton Youth Hockey and he gets to play there,” says Bertoli. “It is always a wonderful opportunity for kids to go in there and play in an old, historic college hockey rink. I said, ‘You kids are spoiled rotten, you don’t understand how good you have it to play at Baker.’”
During her tenure as AD, Marcoux Samaan worked to foster those ties to the community.
“There are only a few places on campus where the community really enjoys and benefits from the campus facilities and that is one of them,” says Marcoux Samaan. “We wanted to do the same thing when we built the bubble in order to bring the community in to enjoy the facility. Baker Rink is really a place where people come together, not only to watch the games.”
The aura of Baker encourages the players to interact with the community.
“I think the charm goes along with the Princeton hockey culture of being true to your roots; it is very family and community oriented,” says Monihan, noting that on her first visit to the rink to watch a Tigers women’s game, she got to go in the locker room to meet the players and went home with a stick autographed by her new heroes.
“Being in Hobey Baker really fosters that culture by the nature of it being such a historic place and maintained really well. When you relate with other people in a space like that, you want to exude that same energy and charm.”
The centennial celebration in January figures to generate a lot of energy around the rink.
“I think it is awesome, it is really cool that we are going to have a doubleheader for both programs to celebrate the history of the rink, and everything it stands for and all of the memories that people made there,” asserts Morey. “It is going to be an incredible event, we are hoping to have a lot of alumni coming back and paying their respects to the building itself, Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier, the programs, and everyone who has come before them.”
Fogarty is looking forward to the event. “Our throwback jerseys are unique — we will unveil those and only wear them for those two games,” says Fogarty. “It is a big weekend, 100 years of games being played at one facility. We are looking forward to the Dartmouth-Harvard weekend and celebrating with a lot of alumni coming back. There will be a lot of activities — it is going to be a tremendous celebration.”
For Walton, celebrating the centennial will also be a chance to get the next century at the rink off to a good start.
“It is pretty incredible that it is the 100th birthday,” says Walton. “Our goal is to try and create an even better version for Princeton hockey for the next couple of years. We are trying to create another legacy for the next 100 years and it really starts with this group we have in the locker room this year. It is pretty special that we have the opportunity.”
Recognizing the rink’s milestone helps Monihan put her hockey experience into perspective.
“It is really close to home, having grown up playing in Hobey Baker,” says Monihan. “It feels almost unimaginable that this place has been around for 100 years and the fact that I played in it as a child. It is grasping the magnitude of the rink being around for that many years. What pervades my mind when I think about the centennial is, as a program, it brings us back to our core value of gratitude. We are very lucky to be at a place that cares so deeply about maintaining the character while also allowing us to pursue high level hockey at the best facilities possible within the limits of the original building.”
Marcoux Samaan sees the celebration as a chance for generations of Princeton hockey players to reflect on the values exemplified by the programs.
“It is blending history with the modern; you always have to celebrate where you have been, but also look forward to where you are going,” says Marcoux Samaan. “I think you build off the history, but you look towards the future. It will be a great celebration of programs that have had longstanding success, culture building, and relationship building. It is really the most important thing that we do.”
In addition, commemorating the rink also highlights Princeton’s overall impact on the history of the game.
“It is amazing to have the Hobey Baker name that is synonymous with excellence in hockey and that award at the end of the year and to have the Patty Kazmaier award and have them all emanating from Princeton hockey players,” says Marcoux Samaan. “I think that sets the program apart and says we have been part of history since the beginning. We have had excellence since the beginning and we care deeply about our alums and about those who have come before us. It is really meaningful to have the biggest name in college hockey be attached and associated with the program and the rink.”
One of those alums, Rulon-Miller, sees Baker Rink as place that holds a deep meaning in his life.
“For me, I call that home,” says Rulon-Miller. “It is the best rink I have seen or participated in or that I know of and that includes the arena at the Broadmoor (in Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Madison Square Garden. There is something special about the rink at Princeton that makes it unique. It is just a terrific home for me.”
A home that has stood the test of time — and would certainly make Hobey proud.