We were a group of friends who loved to play sports, including hockey. With roller skates clamped to an old pair of shoes and a taped-up hockey stick, we played choose-up games on Caldwell Avenue near 82nd Place. Why there? It had a smooth blacktop surface and little motor traffic. With hockey nets made out of idle pieces of lumber and chicken wire, we could play for 10-15 minutes without having to stop for a passing car. When we tired of playing hockey, we drew chalk lines on the pavement and played roller derby.
I am not sure how it happened but one year in the mid-fifties, we joined a YMCA Saturday Hockey League. It was probably Freddie Thompson’s doing as he was a rabid hockey fan of the Chicago Blackhawks – hence our team name. Our home field was a park up behind Grover Cleveland HS. To get there we threw our skates over the handlebars and with our hockey stick waving over one shoulder, we bicycled back and forth. Our fan base consisted on a few stragglers walking in the park of a cool autumn morning. But we loved it and played our hearts out. In fact, one year we even won the league championship. We got to display the trophy in the shop window of Andy’s Delicatessen.
Just a few remarks about some of the players. Ricky was the “Rod Gilbert” of the team and could he “fly” on skates. George Holzhauer, our leading scorer, had a wicked high shot that must have terrified the opposing goalie. Ray Matzelle and Bobby Holzhauer, our centers could stickhandle and pass with the best of them. Richie Duckowitz, (“Ducky”) was forever scrapping and hustling, if not hollering. But Freddie Thompson was the “soul” of the team.
When not playing, we used to get discount tickets to NY Ranger games and sit up in the side balcony. But sometimes we got to sit in the box seats for $4.00 for Sunday afternoon Rover games. And by the way, we used to go to some armory somewhere to watch roller derby.
Ah, but wasn’t it grand.
PHOTO: Elmhurst Black Hawks, 1955: Front Row (l. to r.): Billy Dwan, Bobby Holzhauer, Freddie Thompson, Ray Matzelle, and Richie Duckowitz.
Back Row (l. to r.): John Brennan, Tom Groarke, Hugo Kendall, George Holzhauer, and George Reichenbacher.