THE AMESBURY MAPLES
AMESBURY — There is an indelible scene from the movie Miracle, in which Jim Craig, played by actor Eddie Cahill, makes an obvious — yet problematic — observation about the make-up of the as-yet miraculous 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team.
“A lot of guys, from Minnesota and Boston,” says Craig, via Cahill, to his teammate. The sarcastically reply? “Yeah, that’ll work.”
In hockey, where you’re from matters almost as much as where you’re headed. It’s a community that defines itself by allegiances: BU or BC? Bruins or Canadiens? Private school or public? It’s a vestige of the organic growth of the game and a tribute to the difficulties associated with playing it.
Unlike many other sports, hockey is full of natural gatekeepers. You don’t accidentally fall into the sport (though falling, at first, is definitely a major part of it). You play hockey because someone in your life loves the game and they pass it on to you.
But, you’ve got to be wiling to learn to skate. You’ve got to be willing to get up early and freeze your tail off. You’ve got to have access to a rink and a team. And while those barriers create roadblocks for players, they also — almost consequentially — build communities that support those who love the game. The fact that hockey is a life-long sport plays a role, too. Many folks play well into their 60s and 70s in the same rinks they grew up in, long after other sports leave their players behind. There is also the truism that, in the end, regardless of how far someone makes it in competitive hockey, everyone ends back in the beer leagues.
Walk into a local rink on a Sunday and you’ll see tributes to those who made it to the NHL. But, you’ll also see that many of the same coaches who taught those future pros how to skate in years prior are still there teaching a new generation in the same rink. It provides a collective, living memory of what each community values in a player.
There are 24 players from Massachusetts playing in the NHL right now. It’s no mistake that many of them share the same attributes. The hockey communities in Massachusetts value a blue collar work ethic and -- by result -- those who make it to The Show tend to reflect that.
At Maples Crossing, we seek to honor one of those communities: namely, the Amesbury Maples, one of America’s earliest and most successful amateur hockey teams.
“This area was so prominent in producing high quality talent because of tutelage that was available on on the ponds, every Saturday and Sunday morning, and after school,” said Mark Allred, a hockey-lifer, Bruins podcaster, and resident Amesbury Maples historian. “This sport was what made Amesbury big, back in the day. Football was big, too, but hockey was it.
“It is unbelievable, reading the old newspapers from the Amesbury News and the Newburyport News, talking about thousands of people coming to watch these games in bitter cold conditions.”
Understanding the Maples’ story is important as we seek to honor it by giving a new home to the region’s long-standing tradition of excellence.
“In the mid-1850s, to the 1870s, there was a mass influx of French-Canadian workers that came down from Canada to work in the mills, alongside a lot of the the waterways that made these companies and factories operable,” said Allred. “With them, being from Canada and they brought the game with them, which they called Shinny back in they day.”
Allred describes those initial games as something more akin to “King of the Mountain” where one player would lug the puck around the pond attempting to evade every other skater. Upon losing the puck, the attention of the group would turn to the next skater, and so on.
“But, as these workers continued on and had kids, the game evolved,” said Allred. “In the early 20s, the Biddle & Smart company had shop leagues. There were several of them all over the place. There were a lot of players that were already in these shop leagues, but there were two gentlemen that wanted to start their own franchise. Those men were Emilien “Mickey” Jutras and Armand Hudon.
“Those two guys went to the shop leagues and scouted out the best players and basically signed these guys to contracts. It was a lot bigger deal back in the day.”
As it turns out, the team played themselves right out of the league.
“They took these players and they entered these shop leagues,” said Allred. “But these shop leagues were getting overrun by this team. They were so good that Biddle & Smart threw them out and they had to find their own rink, which ended up in downtown Amesbury.
“It just erupted from there. Back then, in the 20s, 30s and 40s, they were known as one of the best amateur teams in the United States. They were covered by the Boston Globe and some New York papers. They went to Lake Placid and played the University of Minnesota. It was a big deal. They played in a lot of New England amateur tournaments, even at the Old Boston Garden, several times, simply because ice wasn’t around in the spring when the playoffs were happening.”
The team hung on for 75 years, passed down from generation to generation. Its members counted celebrated high school and college players among their ranks. But — most importantly — they largely remained in the Amesbury area, teaching future players about the game.
With Maples Crossing, we aim to bring that history to the forefront, to provide a new home for a a hockey community steeped in tradition.
"I think the legacy is about the development," said Allred. "It about making the next generation better. And that’s exactly what these men did, from the first days back in 1924 those guys playing on those homemade rinks and traveling around. There was a responsibility to pass it down to the this thing forward to the next generation and it did for a long time."
Not everyone who walks though the doors of Maples Crossing will earn a gold medal (though it’s pretty cool that our Director of Athletic Development, Kacey Bellamy did!). But, providing a home to this historic hockey community will pave the way for players who understand what it means to work hard, stay humble and be kind. And when one of them does make it, it will be a reflection of the community that nurtured that player’s growth.
We look forward to being the home base for the next generations of Maples.