Whispering Pines: “Go U Bears!”


In this month’s column, John Cross ’76 reflects on winter break, the ice of a snowless campus, and the cycles of tradition.

For me, beginning a new year involves recalibrating internal calendars and cycles, and adjusting goals and priorities to the realities of another year having passed without my having written the definitive word on the archaeology of Northeastern North America, achieved the physical fitness of a 25-year old, or even managed to sort the “stuff” that threatens to engulf me in my office. The holiday break for students lasts until January 23—ample time in which to do some research at Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, establish an exercise routine at the Buck Fitness Center, and eliminate at least some of my office clutter. Winter break is also one of my favorite times to take in Bowdoin sports events, in part because I’ve always felt as though each increment of crowd support matters a little more to the players when there are fewer fans in the stands.

A video tribute to Sidney J. Watson (1932-2004).

My most vivid recollections of Bowdoin hockey practices are from winter breaks in the distant past. On occasion, while I was still a high school student in Brunswick, I would get a phone call from Coach Sid Watson, asking if I would be interested in scrimmaging with the Bowdoin varsity hockey team. They sometimes needed another goalie for the practices scheduled closest to the holidays. He never had to ask me twice, although I’m not sure that I provided much of a challenge to the stickhandling and shotmaking skills of the defending ECAC Division II Champions (in fact, I’m quite sure that I didn’t). Later, as a member of the Bowdoin hockey team, my outstanding memories of the winter break practices were of wind sprints. Operating on the assumption that overindulgence in food and drink was a universal behavior for his players over the holidays, Sid would add extra drills that were simple in concept and painful in their execution. The exertion of all-out sprints, abrupt stops, reversals of direction, and all-out rushes back across the ice at Dayton Arena built up through a series of repetitions: once over and back; twice over and back; three times…four times…five times…six times…five times…four times…three times…twice…once.  I remember reaching a high of seven on one occasion. Encumbered by bulky equipment, the goalies were the last to finish each sprint, affording a little time for the rest of the players to catch their breath. The extra conditioning paid off during the second half of the season, although we didn’t necessarily appreciate that fact “in the moment.”

It’s hard to believe that it has been almost three years since the first intercollegiate hockey game was played in Watson Arena on January 18, 2009 (the Bowdoin and Hamilton women’s teams battled to a 1-1 tie). In the second game on that snowy day, the men’s team defeated Williams 8-3. For half the current student body, hockey has always been played in Watson Arena, and the site where Dayton Arena once stood has always been a large parking lot. For all Bowdoin undergraduates Sid Watson’s name is a familiar one, but it does not connect to any direct memory of the outstanding collegiate athlete, professional football player, renowned coach and athletic director, mentor, and friend, who passed away in 2004. Such is the nature of the passage of time and the turnover of student population on a college campus.

Admissions and graduation are bookends for the undergraduate experience, but there is enough variation within and between cycles to allow traditions to take root, flourish, or fade away with each cohort, and to be replaced by new customs and attitudes. For example, it may come as a surprise to some that the on-ice rivalry between Bowdoin and Colby took a back seat to the intensity of the Bowdoin-University of Vermont match-ups of the early 1970s or to the Bowdoin-Merrimack contests of the mid-late 1970s. In the same way, players from my era cannot fully appreciate the challenges faced by teams who not only played on an outdoor rink but who also worked to create, maintain, and shovel it. From the first intercollegiate hockey game played in the state in 1907 (a 4-1 victory over the University of Maine at Whittier Field) until the opening of a covered arena and a refrigerated ice in 1956, Bowdoin’s hockey program was at the mercy of temperature and weather. For many years an open-air skating rink was maintained on the Delta, a triangular piece of land now occupied by Sills Hall, Smith Auditorium, and Cleaveland Hall.

For a couple of seasons in the early 1950s an unheated airplane hangar at the naval air station provided cover for a hockey rink. Despite having limited practice time on less-than-ideal ice surfaces, the hockey teams of the early 1950s acquitted themselves well; the 1953-54 team won the New England Championship. In looking out on a largely snowless Brunswick landscape in this new year, I have gained an appreciation of how frustrating it must have been for hockey players in the pre-Dayton-Arena era to prepare themselves for mercurial weather conditions.

I hope to see you—and to hear you cheering on the polar bears—at Watson Arena, Morrell Gym, Greason Pool, the Lubin Squash Center, or Farley Field House during this winter break.


With Best Wishes,

John R. Cross ’76
Secretary of Development and College Relations


  1. Bob Spencer'60 says:

    Great stuff!

  2. Nathaniel Harrison says:

    So Dayton Arena is now a parking lot. Can anyone reassure me that in the destruction of the arena and the construction of the parking lot those magnificent, towering pines that — in my memory at least — loomed over the site were NOT sacrificed?
    Many thanks nonetheless for another compelling edition of the Pines.
    Nathaniel Harrison ’68

  3. Thanks John

  4. Barbara Kaster says:

    As always, enjoyed the article!

  5. Steve Loevs says:

    I remember Bowdoin and Colby playing hockey in the early 50s on outdoor ice in Waterville and Brunswick, with the rink flooded the night before by coaches, athletic directors and athletic director’s son (me). It was frigid but fun, I will take indoors, though. First hockey game in Dayton Arena was huge. Thanks for the history.

  6. There are still towering pines around the parking lot :)

  7. Mark Pletts '80 says:

    I am SO happy Kip shared this with me as it has brought back some unreal memories.Growing up in the Bowdoin Pines I was at every Bowdoin hockey practice from the age of 5 to about 12. At one point before Terry’s tenure I believe I had seen more Bowdoin hockey then anyone besides Sid.A quick walk down memory lane (John you’ll enjoy this)Bob Pfiefer,Doug Brown,The Hardy Brothers,Kenny Martin,Bobby Kullen,Bobby Hall,Eddie Good,Neddy Dowd,(probably an entire generation that doesn’t know he’s Olgie Olgathorp)Alan Quinlan,Rob Menzies, Gerry CiaCia,Jean Roy. Sid found them all.

    On Thanksgiving and Christmas morning I waited in the Bowdoin Pines to share the Watson family skate with them. Thanks Henrietta for letting me as I didn’t even know I wasn’t really part of the family those mornings!

    Bowdoin hockey created so many family memories for us that I can’t even put into words how appreciative I am of having that experience. It wouldn’t have happened if Sid hadn’t taken a chance on us…Thanks John for keeping this memory alive in all who read your article.

  8. Erl Hardy says:

    John-Thanks for another great column. Mark-We’re all lucky that we found Sid.

  9. Dave Doughty 1968 says:

    Thanks for the memories John, especially of the good old days when the games were played outside. My Uncle Richard Steer played for the 1935-1937 teams while my dad, David Doughty, Sr., was captain of the 1940 club. Dad played with Doc Hanley and Nels Corey for several years. The old photos you included were precious. The one of the late 30s game really caught my attention as it could be my father carrying the puck…the photo is just a tad too fuzzy for me to be sure. Just looked on the Bowdoin hockey history website and see my dad sitting between Nels and Doc Hanley in the 1939 team photo. I saw Nels at the 2010 Bowdoin Athletic Hall of Honor breakfast where we spoke about the days he and dad played together on that outdoor rink (he informed me that my father’s nickname was “Dubious”, but couldn’t recall how he acquired that moniker). Most of the players from those days remained life-long friends. Your article brought back many fond memories for me of Dad and his old Bowdoin hockey buddies from the past. He used to take me to Bowdoin to watch him play at Dayton Arena in the annual alumni hockey games long before I attended the college as a student. Those visits are what got me so interested in the college that it became the only school to which I applied for admission. Memories of playing intramural fraternity hockey at Dayton arena also frequently float through my mind…I loved that place. Watching hockey games there was very exciting and fun…I can still clearly hear the sound of fans kicking their heels against the stands to make a tremendous racket during games. Once again, thank you for the memories…I always bee-line for your stories when this communication arrives in my mailbox.

  10. Bowdoin’s heritage endures and continues to expand. John’s thoughtful remembrances are penetrating. How lucky we alums are to have been touched by so many dedicated women and men on our college’s staff and faculty.

  11. John, your column brought back vivid memories of Bowdon Winter breaks and freshman hockey early in the season against St. Dominic’s school of Lewiston. It was played in that outdoor rink beside the library in a snowstorm and we were ill prepared. After all we were “Men of Bowdoin” against mere preppies.
    They skated rings around us assisted by the puck disappearing in the accumulating snow. I don’t remember the score but it was humiliatingly in their favor. Coach Dan McFadden(sp?) smirked at our embarrassment post game. We paid more attention to his pre-game remarks from then on. He warned us they were fast and able and not to take them lightly. We ignored him.
    Coach urged me to try out for the freshman team after seeing an article in the Orient listing me as a Foreign Student from Canada. He thought I was just being overly modest when I disavowed any hockey talents as a transplanted Skowhegan born boy living in Canada. He finally believed me during those drills you mentioned when I had to skate backwards. Nevertheless I stayed the course for the season and earned my numerals mainly warming the bench.
    During Winter break my senior year I went home to Canada, married Kathleen McNeill in London Ontario and we moved into a Mustard House apartment on Main St. Professors Abrahamson and Huntington were our neighbors. Kathleen was informed she was pregnant in May by Doc Hanley and the rest is history.
    Kathleen and I now live in Central Oregon, a long way in miles from Maine and Bowdoin but not in our memories. We have you and your Orient colleagues to thank for keeping them alive with campus news. The beautiful annual Bowdoin calendar which graces the wall over my desk helps too. Thank you!

  12. Nancy Bellhouse May says:

    Thanks for prompting me to remember that Bowdoin hockey was the pivot around which the Saturdays of those long-ago winters turned. Everyone on campus–or so it seemed when you looked around Dayton Arena–went to the games.

  13. John Watson says:

    Hi John:

    Let me know when you achieve the physical fitness of a 25 year old and how you got there…I’m sure Pletts would love to know as well. :)

    Your writing brings back fond memories of a rink and the players of the late sixties/early seventies that Mark mentioned as well as the rivalries that had us all rooting for Bowdoin. Many of those players were iconic heros to a lot of Brunswick kids. “Snow days” home from school were filled with hours of unsupervised, four hour pick up games with a generation of kids trying to “rag” the puck like Kenny Martin, throw a hip check like Kully or throw off the gloves like a Bowdoin – Colby game the night before.

    Thanks, John, for stirring those memories, especially of my dad opening that side door to the rink, turning on a few lights and making a tradition my kids will remember as well.

    And Mark, Mike and I were sure you had a key to the rink hidden somewhere…

  14. Al DeMoya, '72 says:

    Once again you amaze me, inform me and entertain me with another of your wonderful tales of Bowdoin. Erl Hardy’s comments bring to mind his leadership of the Bowdoin hockey teams of that early 70’s era along with his twin and co-captain Steve.

  15. Peter Fenton '64 says:

    John’s article reminded me that the first hockey game I ever attended was at the old navy base in one of the hangers. I was in third or fourth grade at the time and my dad was in charge of publicity for Bowdoin’s 150th anniversary. As I recall dad got a broken stick after the game and cut it down for me – my first hockey stick. I tried out for freshman hockey in the fall of 1960 but dropped out at Christmas when it became clear that if I wasn’t cut, I wouldn’t play much anyway. I did play interfraternity hockey regularly, mostly as a defenseman.

  16. Bill Heath 1966 says:

    John, thanks for another excellent column. Though my vintage precedes the era you write about, I have fond memories of cheering on the Polar Bears at Dayton Arena, and also of skating with other students as well as people from Brunswick on Sunday evenings. Keep up the great work, and Happy New Year!

  17. Nancy Watson Jordan says:

    Great article John!
    It brought back many memories of fun times on and off the ice with my family, friends and his players.
    Susan and I loved my Dad’s rule of no slap shots or lifting when we were playing!
    Thanks and take care!

  18. Bill Dugan - 1966 says:

    Very Enjoyable. That missing building held a million memories for me since I was the Head Monitor for it for 3 years. Bill Morgan would give me a tray of $ and a roll of tickets and I had to be there every time the ice was available to the public from 63 through 66. Also was drafted by Prof. Elroy LeCase to play music for the skating club on Tuesday evenings. I had a small safe in Sid’s tiny office to store the $ and a bottle of Southern Comfort which was purely for medicinal purposes. From 68 to 2004, my wife and I saw about 95% of the tilts and we never had a bad show. Loved to come early, bring our own food and sit behind the players and YELL our heads off. The arena was also the best place to physically connect with our 2 sons who were at B from 89 through 95. Here’s hoping the new arena will generate the same level of adoration embodied by its predecessor.

  19. Carolyn Morrell "85 says:

    I just had lunch with Peter Race ’52 who was describing the outdoor rink during his Bowdoin days. Great to see the pictures and to hear these wonderful stories (from both Pete and John)!

  20. amy sanders says:

    John I love whispering pines. You always bring me back to bowdoin days! Thanks!

  21. Rebecca Osgood Hoerner MD says:

    Thank you!

  22. Ed Good says:

    John, thank you for another thought provoking column. So many wonderful memories and all had one person in common-Sid. More to come.

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