Wednesday, 4 June 2014

SUNY Pit Hockey

I don't know much about SUNY. I do know that SUNY stands for State University of New York, but I'll admittedly tell you that's about where it ends for my knowledge of the institution. I also know that ESPN's UniWatch writer Paul Lukas went to SUNY-Binghamton from my discussions with him and from his comments on UniWatch, so there's the list of alumni I am aware of as well. I do know one fact about SUNY: they were dedicated pit hockey players in the late-1970s and early 1980s!

Back in 2012, I discovered this game called "pit hockey" that was referenced on a couple of sites. No one seemingly could explain what pit hockey was, however, so I was left with a void in terms of knowing what this game was all about.

I received an email from reader Seth H. who alerted me that he used to be a pit hockey player! He writes,
I played for a year for my dorm team, the Hamilton Headbangers in 1989. Check out page two of this edition of the Stony Brook Press.
That's outstanding! Thanks, Seth, for giving me something to work with, and even more thanks for telling me about your team and that you were a pit hockey player! Too cool!

Thanks to Seth's email, I began walking down the path that pointed to SUNY rather than Stony Brook University. Stony Brook Press, "The University Community's Weekly", that Seth linked in his email talked a little about how SUNY ended a great tradition of pit hockey "by planting trees and shrubs throughout the area that was the pit". That article, as seen on the linked piece, is from 1990, so Seth's 1989 Hamilton team was one of the last to play pit hockey at SUNY!

However, like the 2012 article I penned, I'm still no closer to knowing exactly what "pit hockey" is other than some sort of game played at colleges. I continued my journey deeper into the interwebs on the SUNY path. And then I came across this horrible newsprint photo, but one that has a couple of interesting points.
First, that looks like a building in the background. Second, the player in the lower-right appears to be wearing shinpads and what looks like a hockey helmet. Lastly, it doesn't appear that there are boards set up of any kind, so I'm not sure that pit hockey would be played on ice at all.

With these questions looming, I discovered a small clip in June 28, 1984 edition of the Stony Brook Press. As seen, SUNY tore up and excavated a pile of G-Quad where the pit hockey pit was located! So we now have a location where the SUNY pit hockey players played their games! Unfortunately, I'm no closer to answering the questions about what pit hockey is.

And then I found it: the pit hockey compendium! The March 7, 1983 edition of the Statesman weekly publication talks extensively about pit hockey! Let's work through this piece by Howie Hershenhorn (great name, by the way).
  • 1983 marked the sixth season of pit hockey at SUNY. According to the article, 1976 was the inaugural season. I couldn't find any info on that '76 season, but the fact that a weekly campus paper devoted an entire article to a student-run activity shows the popularity of the sport.
  • The league was started by students who wanted to play street hockey like they did at home. So pit hockey is comparable to street hockey in terms of surface and game-play! According to the article, "[p]it hockey, like street hockey, is played on foot using a rubber ball instead of a puck. Most players only wear shin guards and gloves, not many of them wear helmets, or any other protective gear. However, the 'checking' (hitting) is very tough." WOW! Great info!
  • The teams are made up of students from all walks of life on campus, and do not have to be affiliated with specific halls or buildings. In other words, any student can play on any team without penalty! Trades and player movement may have happened!
  • The league, run by Gary Schatzberg and Wayne Rosenberg, features fourteen teams split into two seven-team conferences. The top-four teams in each conference then advance to the playoffs where a champion would be crowned in a best-of-three championship series. The league runs from March until early-May with each team playing ten regular-season games. Games are scheduled daily with weekday games played at 3:30pm, and weekend games played at 1pm and 3pm! This league sounds highly organized and very well run!
  • All games were played in the "pit" in G-Quad. The pit, from what I can gather, is simply a road or paved area that the games were played on, much like a street for street hockey.
  • Here's the piece that absolutely blew me away: "Pit hockey, now in its second week, attracts more fans than almost any other Stony Brook sport. There are an estimated 50-150 spectators at every game" A non-university-sanctioned, student-run sport that is basically a collection of students who love street hockey attracted MORE fans than the vast majority of sports featured at Stony Brook?!? Incredible! I'll elaborate more on this below.
So that's the story of pit hockey at SUNY! We now have a defined outline of what pit hockey is, how it's played, and SUNY's story of its pit hockey league! In regards to the fans, if there are fourteen teams and they play ten games each, and the league averaged, say, 100 fans per games, that's 14,000 fans for the regular season games alone! That's OUTSTANDING!

If anyone attended SUNY between 1976 and 1990 and was a player and/or fan of the pit hockey games that went on there, please contact me. I want to hear more about this! And thank you, Seth, for pushing me down the path to enlightenment!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Stony Brook University said...

Love this post! I put the pic and link up on the university's Facebook page in case any of our alumni have more information. Link:

Stony Brook University said...

Awesome! I put the story and photo up on the Stony Brook Facebook page in case some of our alumni have more information.

Anonymous said...

I was a pit hockey goalie from 1984 - 1988. In all four years I played about 50 - 60 games (probably more total games than any other pit hockey goalie). Just an incredible experience of hockey I've ever had playing hockey. Nothing beats playing in the G-Fest night games. My first one ended in tie. The second I pitched a shutout. Hundreds of people (many "lit up") watching and yelling at us in the pit under the lights. In addition, the brutaltity in the pit is an understatement. Many players left games with broken bones, separated shoulders,... Alas, I had no injuries as I played the safest position in the pit.

Anonymous said...

I played pit hockey from 1985 till 1988. There are many stories, including some repeat parallels to teams of the past.

My Career - all on defense:

Anyway, let me start by saying I have played hockey in some form since 7 years of age, and it has generally been viewed by many of me as a defense men. I also managed to make the ice hockey time in spite of not skating organized in 6 years. Most Improved Player 1988, based on speed endurance and size. Making me an extremely fierce checking forward. Many might say as aggressive the stony brook ice or pit hockey has seen. This at 225 lbs and a 5 minute mile, not bad for big man.

Oddly a move to Michigan omitted this style of play, in beer leagues and many amateur teams Ive played on in Michigan, Ive had to learn purer European game instead of the old style Canadian game.

However, strangely enough my increased weigh, now 270 lbs, has only promoted a leg strengthening which I'm sure old style hockey checking would be as fierce or more today, as I have excelled and improved in many ways as the years have gone by. I have hit 400+ golf drives, shot puck through boards, sent players many feet(and spinning) off the ice.

Back to the pit. I played on the Vigilantes in 1986(1 season), Brew Crew in 87-88(2 seasons).

In 1985, the two top teams were the Virgins, and UTA. UTA was the underdog in the final but they clearly had the most intriguing jersey, showing of course a beautiful comic strip of a woman getting fill attention from a rather lower posterior a helping hand from a hockey stick. They had an incredible captain played defense with an awesome shot

The Virgins were mostly made of talented ice hockey players, headed by David Newell. There jerseys were white with a dual cherry on each shoulder. Although UTAs captain scored a great long distance slap shot, Virgins were crowned champion by 2-1 score.

Other teams were the Mother Puckers, headed by Jack Adams, William Britt, and Dave Pelligrino, and awesome saint Marys ice Hockey Player Jeff "Poncho" Williams. Sorry to all those MPs I missed.

Finally the Terminators(our university football team) made it to the semi-finals but had to face the Virgins which for them was a losing cause. The Virgins were so good, that Jack Adams only spoke highly of them and Newell. I watched them pass from behind their own net and proceed 5 passes later to a shot that scored uninterrupted. The only other time I saw that was our Brew Crew.

That aside the Terminators were clearly a developing team that would contend for the next 3 years, more to come. This headed by Chuck Downy(All American punt returner), Jim Hayes(240lb Tight end), both offensive tackles, numerous linebackers and corner backs. Very fast and strong unit.

In 1986 the forming of the Brew Crew returned with Lacrosse All County from East Willston, John Schmitz, a super hard shot, and Lenny Episcopio from Coney Island, Martin Skip Luther from Bay Ridge, and the names from the above MPs, and others that formed the first team.

Paul Fierro

Anonymous said...

Sadly, in playoffs some players decided not to show, out of some form of fear, as the pit was dangerous. However, with so few in a turn out with Armageddon defeated us and went on to play the Terminators. The Terminators were victorious.

I was livid with those that did not show, but the next year began and John Schmitz requested me to take over the captain ship. Which giving care to the future strategy of the team accepted the offer.

I combined the ice hockey team and the remaining brew crew and had tryouts. We lost Will Becchina to Rugby, and Eposcopio, Schmitz, and Luther continued large rolls as the number one line. But we added Jay Mckenna, and others to round out the squad.

We went into the Terminator Brew Crew game both undefeated @ 7-0 each, and managed a win, 1-0 on solid defensive struggle. as the season wound down the night game was curiously close, and Episcopio scored with under a minute to play to keep us unblemished. There was lots of chatter about how Terminators were winning games that we had that were closer.

Hats off to Armageddon, as we really won 1-0, but gained 2 empty nets goals later for 3-0 win in semifinal. The Terminators and Brew Crew were now set for final that had not occurred from the year before.

One problem, I had a final overlapping the game. I attempted to remedy the scheduling conflict, but to no avail. The only solution to the most important championship game to date was to take the electrical circuits 3 final rather quickly to make it to the game.

After 35 minutes I was on my way to the pit hockey final. When I arrived I had mentally prepared for the game all week, intending on the most physical game I had ever played. I being a fierce hitter, with good size, and less obvious massive acceleration, which led to early momentum advantage.

I guess previously, the terminators had dominated the 1st period but the score was still 0-0, as the 2nd period began. I now arrived to the pit and some in the area had noticed. When I jumped onto the pit the crowd that was hopeful to the brew crew, as well as those that loved to watch my massive checks, also began to cheer loudly. They were hopeful I might shift the game.

As the puck dropped it entered into our zone and many fast terminators pursued leaving 3 terminators and Greg Lasar(my fried from the hockey team) were next to the ball. I pursued the whole group and hit them all so hard including Greg, that they all just fell to the ground. I pulled the ball away and fed Schmitz. I will say that they pursued and fore checked me relentlessly.

Suddenly I had a rare partial breakaway, with Jim Hayes closing gap to me, causing me to shoot early, it went just wide.(Crowd Yelled)

Anonymous said...

I later was beaten to my right causing me to have to recover position thru running, I did pursue and targeted the 2nd largest offensive linemen, 265 lbs and Chinese. I hit him so hard he left the pit and fell into spectators. I ran in a banana path and left the ground literally flying thru the air, at impact I placed my legs down again.

The other offensive tackle was so livid that he had a rare opportunity to hit me, 280 lbs. I could have gone the other way and attempted avoidance, but instead I decided to take the hit. He sent me face first into the pit concrete, crowd yelled.

Jim Hayes, sort of looked like Biff(Back To Future), him and his girlfriend were quite tough beating up people around campus. Now at this point I have dominated the game physically, end up against him in the corner, and in front of Terminator fans, he kisses me on the cheek to try an lighten up the intensity. I turn with intense anger face toward him and the crowd. It was a Cuba like moment.

I smiled at everyone and walked away, and went back to intense focus. The last major physical moment was a muscle bound corner back came flying at me at high speed, and I timed my bend over lean perfectly, and he went right over the top of me. I went upright again and he was upside down, hanging on. Sadly for him I stepped away and he fell on his head.

It was an intense game that I played very well. I guess at roughly 19:50 or so of the 2nd overtime, the terminators won their 2nd championship, as the perfect play in hockey a cross ice pass to the slot, exposing goaltender out of position, coupled with a perfect wrist shot, beat the great Brew Crew goaltender Richard Lilling to his waffle side.

There are many more stories. I recommend David Newell and Jack Adams, as well as Skip Luther as all good resources

Captain Brew Crew 1987-1988, Paul "Electricman" Fierro

Unknown said...

I played from 88-90 Lethal Weapon was the name name of my team. In short. It was the most brutal form of street hockey. There were basically 1 type of penalties. Slashing. Everything else was fair game. A fight per game was almost a given. There was an ambulance at the ready for every game. During our spring fest. the games were highlighted under portable lights. You are correct that there were no boards. Just a 2.5 foot cement wall where the "pit" was sunken in.
- Mike DiCarlis - Lethal Weapon.

Unknown said...

In Short the most brutal form of Street hockey. 1 type of penalty. slashing. All else was fair game. Expect a fight per game with an ambulance on stand by. You are correct in no walls. just a 2.5 foot cement wall with the "pit" sunken in. During our spring fest the games were highlighted with night games with portable lights.
Mike DiCarlis - Lethal Weapon, 88-90

Anonymous said...

My name is Marty Haberer and I was co captain of Nemo in 1985/86. I took over the team from a guy named Brad, who graduated a semester earlier. The team had been called the Nemo Nihilists but John and I changed it to Nemo. We almost shocked the world in 1986 when we lost 1-0 in the semi final to UTA on a Scott Sherwood slapshot from the right wing. We held Ugly Pete Gordon scoreless.
I refed the final between The Virgins and UTA( I played for the Virgins in 1983 when they sucked ).the Virgins beat UTA 2-1 for the championship. I turned the team over to Dan Guerzon upon my graduation in May of ‘86. Nemo was a force to be reckoned with again in 1987 though we did not win the championship. I failed Physics lab because the Monday class conflicted with my game times. No regrets!!