Revisiting the fabled Emerson Hockey Club

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Media: Beacon Archive

Emerson Hockey Club ran from 2005 to 2015.

By Nate Lannan

Boston is clearly a hockey town. When winter arrives, people in New England lace up their skates, grab their sticks, and hit the ice. The city is home to the Bruins, one of the NHL’s oldest and arguably best teams, as well as several reputed college hockey programs. 

But since 2015, Emerson hasn’t been a part of that environment.

The college first immersed itself in Boston’s vibrant hockey culture in 2005 when first-year journalism student Matt Porter ‘08—now the Bruins beat writer for the Boston Globe—started the Emerson Hockey Club with a close friend, Evan Goldman. 

Since the team called Cambridge’s Simoni Memorial Rink home for practices and a majority of its games, players often hauled their equipment on the green line to the Lechmere station. The team eventually joined a men’s league representing Emerson College in their first year and acquired purple practice jerseys. 

The club’s founding members successfully garnered formal status and funding from the athletic department that year, and “things kind of took off from there,” Porter said. He cites that first meeting in 2005 as one of the more memorable moments of the club’s inception. 

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“We actually had somewhere between 20 and 25 people that showed up and said, you know, yeah, I’d like to play hockey,” Porter said in a phone interview.

Porter played as a defenseman and was voted as the team’s captain. Without a permanent coach, responsibility fell on the players—especially Porter—to run the program smoothly and organize practices. Porter said that his teammates acknowledged his role and referred to him as coach as well. To get the club started, Porter put up flyers around campus and secured a spot at the annual Org Fair.

“We had a spot at the Org Fair to try to draw some interest, and, eventually, I got an email list together,” Porter said. “From there, we rented some ice and started to get together and play.

At first, games drew about 50 or 60 fans to Simoni. Jesse Leibman, an Emerson alumnus and former member of the Hockey Club, said family and friends were usually the only ones in attendance.

“The fans in attendance were either just roommates of our teammates or their girlfriends or whatnot,” Leibman said. “Occasionally, parents would be in town.”

The energy at these games was infatuating, and that vibe was best reflected during the Boylston Cup, an annual matchup of the Emerson Hockey Club and Berklee College of Music’s club. Both clubs joined the burgeoning hockey community around the same time and jumped at the opportunity to create an annual rivalry game. Berklee, similar to Emerson, is a relatively smaller school in the Fenway neighborhood with less of a sports presence than schools like Boston University, Harvard University, and Northeastern.

The schools played at Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena, a neutral site. The turnout was often much larger than in normal games, and the fans were far more raucous, Leibman said. The game became a sort of spectacle. Paul D’Amato, also known as the villainous Dr. Hook McCracken from the hockey movie Slap Shot, even coached Emerson in a Boylston Cup one year. 

The team once asked journalism professor Mark Lecesse to coach a game. After losing to Berklee one year, he was under the suspicion that not all of Berklee’s players went to the college. 

“I swear that most of those players on the other team were not for Berklee,” he said. “My guess is they rounded up students from colleges around Boston, you know…wherever they could find students.” 

Fans from each school would chant and taunt each other at games, with Berklee students often shouting “Safety school!” at Emerson students. The Emerson fan base chanting “Back to bandcamp!” in response.

Leibman reminisced on the atmosphere the Boylston Cup generated, like in 2008 when his friends showed up with his name painted on their midriffs. He called it a “truly special moment.”

“I’m skating by the boards on my way back to the bench there along the glass,” Leibman said. “They lift up their shirts, just expose their midriffs, and they have my name “Leibman” on their stomachs. I was like, ‘Holy shit.’ Everyone was so fired up. That is something that is gonna stick with me forever. I mean, it still does 10 years later.” 

Jesse also described a goal he helped set up, which electrified the fans. 

“Somehow, I ended up with the puck on my stick. I flipped a backhand pass right into the slot loop and jammed it home…we were up 1-0,” he said. “I was never a talented hockey player by any means. But, for one small moment, that was what I imagined it would be like to play for a Division I college hockey team.” 

The club disbanded in 2015 after a lack of student support hamstrung them. Those involved with the club described an environment that was clearly electrifying to be a part of, and one that sparked excitement and interest. While it would certainly require some effort, and a solid amount of money to recreate the team, Lecesse said it may not be impossible. 

The most obvious and glaring problem of restarting the hockey club would be finding the money to rent ice and buy equipment. But with enough interest, he said it could happen.

“You could find enough people at Emerson who played hockey,” Lecesse said. “You know, you just have to identify them.”