SIHR’s Behind the Boards

Trafford Hicks: Harvard star in Hobey Baker’s shadow

SIHR’s Behind the Boards

Trafford Hicks: Harvard star in Hobey Baker’s shadow

Oskar Tallqvist
Posted May 11, 2021

Viewed 1023 times

Trafford Hicks with Arlington High School team
Trafford Hicks with Arlington High School team

Organized ice hockey had relatively deep roots in New England, with Concord in New Hampshire appearing as somewhat of an early cradle, where St. Paul’s School under direction of coach Malcolm Kenneth Gordon ran an intramural program from the late 1880s/early 1890s, eventually producing such talent as the famed skating virtuoso Hobey Baker during the first decade of the 1900s.

But it was first in the mid to late 1890s the sport spilled over on the bigger Ivy League university schools – such as Yale, Brown and Harvard – after a group of American ice polo players had toured Canada during the 1894–1895 Christmas season.

Yale University, led by tennis player Malcolm Greene Chace, in its inaugural season lost 2 goals to 3 to the Baltimore Athletic Club at the North Avenue Ice Palace in Baltimore on January 31, 1896. The following day, on February 1, the Yale men played in the first intercollegiate hockey match in the United States against the Johns Hopkins University team, the contest ending in a 2-2 tie.

Brown and Harvard in turn first met each other in an intercollegiate hockey bout on Franklin Field in Boston on January 19, 1898 with Brown University winning the game 6 goals to 0.

 Alfred Winsor (center) and Fred Goodridge (foreground) with the 1901 Harvard University team
Alfred Winsor (center) and Fred Goodridge (foreground) with the 1901 Harvard University team

Two hockey pioneers on the early Harvard teams, around the turn of the twentieth century, were Fred Goodridge and Alfred “Ralph” Winsor. Goodridge, a former ice polo player, had been a member of the first Harvard team in 1898, and Winsor first came around on the 1900–01 team. In 1901–02 Winsor – known as a swift, hard playing and high-spirited forward – led the Harvard team in goal scoring in the intercollegiate series with 11 goals in six games, with Harvard finishing second in the league race behind Yale.

From the 1903–04 season and onwards, 24-year old Alfred Winsor would instead put most of his focus on coaching, only playing sporadically himself on various teams, leading the Harvard Crimson seven from the sideline. Winsor’s coaching – famous for its cooperative teamwork and defensive systems – led to an impressive record for Harvard. Between 1904 and 1917, with Winsor pulling the coaching strings, the team won seven intercollegiate hockey championships, never finishing worse than second in the league standing, while competing against its main rivals from Yale and Princeton.

For the 1907–08 season the Harvard Crimson team was joined by a 19-year old youngster from Arlington, Massachusetts in centre forward Samuel Trafford Hicks, who had previously starred one season on the university freshman team. Hicks, a well-built sturdy prospect with good speed and good stick work, helped the Harvard team reclaim the intercollegiate crown from Yale in 1908–09 with a team leading six goals in four games.

For the next two years Trafford Hicks would establish himself as the leading goal scoring forward on the New England hockey scene, while playing for Harvard and the Boston Hockey Club. But around 1912 two challengers for the New England goal scoring crown came around in Hobey Baker, of the Princeton University team, and Cambridge, Massachusetts native Irving Small of the Boston Intercolonials. Baker and Small were both roughly three and a half years younger than Hicks.

Trafford Hicks and Hobey Baker _ Illustrations from Boston Globe by Wallace Goldsmith (left) and Franklin Collier (right)
Trafford Hicks and Hobey Baker _ Illustrations from Boston Globe by Wallace Goldsmith (left) and Franklin Collier (right) 

Baker in particular wowed with his skating, which he had developed at the rinks of St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and he was a puck rusher extraordinaire who also brought a strong shooting game. While Baker originally was a Pennsylvania native and played out of Princeton in New Jersey, he was still effectively part of the New England hockey scene as Princeton’s main rivals in the intercollegiate series were from Massachusetts (Harvard) and Connecticut (Yale).

While Baker was somewhat of a free-roamer, whose natural skating ability and puck-carrying skills few could match, Hicks’ game, being influenced by his coach and mentor Alfred Winsor, came from a more structured scientific place. Baker’s game was very reminiscent of the Canadian rover, the free-roaming position between defense and the forward line in the Canadian game, whereas the American game in general was more structured around two wingers flanking two centres: a left centre and a right centre.[1]

In 1912 Trafford Hicks wrote a column in the Boston Globe entitled “Hints for Young Hockey Players”, where he would explain and theorize over various aspects of the game. In the January 30, 1912 issue of the Globe Hicks remarked that while he believed the Canadians were better skaters in general than their American counterparts, too much of a roving Canadian game also wasted energy from the players. Hicks also pointed out that the Canadian teams often played their best players on defense, singling out Art Ross as an example, and claimed that Ross’ “straight ahead” game was very similar to the American idea of the game.[1]

For the 1911–12 season the players from the 1910–11 Boston Hockey Club, a group of Harvard alumni led by Winsor and Hicks, instead joined the blue and yellow coloured Boston Athletic Association, continuing playing in exhibition games against both American and Canadian opponents at the Boston Arena on 238 St. Botolph Street. The Boston AA were also known as the “Unicorns” because of its unicorn logo.

 Boston Hockey Club in 1910–11, with Trafford Hicks standing at far right and Alfred Winsor standing third from the right
Boston Hockey Club in 1910–11, with Trafford Hicks standing at far right and Alfred Winsor standing third from the right

During the 1910–11 campaign the Boston Hockey Club had sported a winning record against Canadian competition, with six victories and two losses, defeating the Sherbrooke Saints, Halifax Crescents, Ottawa Cliffsides, Chatham Hockey Club, Montreal Westmount and Montreal Hockey Club, while losing only to the Toronto St. Michael’s and Queen’s University, with Trafford Hicks registering 14 goals in eight games. Hicks also scored four goals for the Boston Victorias – a conglomerate team made out of players from the Brae Burn Country Club, Boston Crescents and Boston Hockey Club – in a March 29, 1911 9-3 routing of the Sherbrooke Saints.[2]

Alfred Winsor retired as a player halfway through the 1911–12 season due to injuries, aged 32, but Hicks and his teammates still held up a decent record against Canadian competition, winning five out of nine games. Boston AA won over Ottawa College, Montreal Hockey Club, Toronto University, Amherst Ramblers and the Allan Cup holding Winnipeg Victorias, and lost games to McGill University, Grand-Mère Hockey Club, Montreal Victorias and Sherbrooke Saints. Hicks himself amassed an impressive 19 goals in nine games against the Canadian opponents.

Over the course of the 1912–13 campaign the Boston AA played in 12 games against teams from Canada, coming out on top 10 times, only losing to Toronto University (4-9) and the Allan Cup holding Winnipeg Hockey Club (1-2), with Hicks hitting the back of the net 22 times in 12 contests.

While Hicks and the Boston AA showed up strong against Canadian competition in 1912–13, they also failed to defeat the Hobey Baker led Princeton Tigers. On February 4, 1913 at the Boston Arena the Princeton septet won 6 goals to 3 with Baker scoring four times, while also being involved in the other two Princeton goals scored by his centre forward teammate Wendell Kuhn. Hicks himself went without a goal in the game.[3]

While the Boston AA maintained a strong showing against Canadian competition also over the course of the 1913–14 season – with three wins and a tied game in four tries – the team again failed to topple the black and orange coloured Princeton crew from New Jersey. On January 3, 1914 at the Boston Arena the Princeton septet won a close fought contest 4 goals to 3, with Baker scoring twice including the game deciding tally. Baker’s whirlwind skating and clever dodging again were the deciding factors between the two aggregations. Hicks again went scoreless against Princeton, with Princeton goalie Frank Winants making a particularly fine save on a long Hicks drive that seemed almost certain to count.[4]

Princeton Tigers themselves went up against Canadian competition thrice during the 1913–14 campaign, defeating Toronto University 5 goals to 1, and losing two close overtime decisions against Ottawa College 2-4 and 2-3. Baker against Toronto had one goal and two primary assists, and his overall speed and cleverness were the deciding factors behind the decisive victory. But against Ottawa College Baker and the rest of the Princeton lads didn’t find the same winning formula.

 Illustrations from January 30, 1912 issue of Boston Globe
Illustrations from January 30, 1912 issue of Boston Globe

Trafford Hicks – in his Boston Globe column from January 30, 1912 – attributed much of the overall American success against the top amateur Canadian teams to the fact that the games were played on American soil, on home ice at the Boston Arena, which he claimed gave the American teams a default advantage.[1] In comparison, between 1911 and 1914, the Boston Hockey Club/Boston AA men had a close but losing record against the Cleveland Athletic Club (4-2, 1-3, 0-1), another top American team at the time.

Both Hicks and Hobey Baker joined the American Amateur Hockey League (AAHL) for the 1914–15 season, Hicks with the Boston AA and Baker with the St. Nicholas Hockey Club in New York. Hicks registered 9 goals in five games, whereas Baker scored a league leading 17 goals in eight games leading the St. Nicholas team to the league championship. In 19 games over three AAHL seasons – with the Boston AA, Harvard Club and Boston Hockey Club – Hicks scores 18 times, whereas Baker scored 26 times in 15 games over two seasons with the St. Nicks.

Hobey Baker had a famous contempt for the professional game, never seriously contemplating going that route, and he left the game entirely in 1917 aged 25. He eventually died in an aircraft accident in Toul, France on December 21, 1918, aged 26, related to his service as a fighter pilot in World War I.

Baker, posthumously, was in the first Hockey Hall of Fame class of 1945.

Trafford Hicks, who also preferred the amateur game in front of the pro circuit, is mostly known today for his 1912 instructional book on the game, entitled “How to Play Ice Hockey”, where he put forward the basic fundamentals of how the game is played.[5] But even if he never reached Hobey Baker levels of fame, or on-ice achievements, he was still a very respectable hockey player in his own right.

 How to Play Ice Hockey by Trafford Hicks
How to Play Ice Hockey by Trafford Hicks

Alfred Winsor coached the American national team at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, finishing in second place behind the Canadians, only losing one close game (1-2) to the gold medalists. Winsor was eventually inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in its first class of 1973.



[1] Boston Globe, Jan. 30, 1912

[2] Boston Globe, Mar. 30, 1911

[3] Boston Globe, Feb. 5, 1913

[4] Boston Globe, Jan. 4, 1914

[5] How to Play Ice Hockey (1912) by S. Trafford Hicks (American Sports Publishing Company)

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