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College Ice Hockey… in Texas?

In the News, University Archives
UH Men's Ice Hockey Team, 1936, from the UH Photographs Collection, available in the Digital Library

UH Men’s Ice Hockey Team, 1936, from the UH Photographs Collection, available for high resolution download in the Digital Library

Our congratulations to the Union College Dutchmen who upset the top-seeded Minnesota Golden Gophers in Philadelphia over the weekend to claim their first ever NCAA men’s collegiate hockey national championship.  Union College triumphed in a bit of a Cinderella story, emerging as champions of the Frozen Four by defeating the the likes of Vermont, Providence, and traditional collegiate hockey power Boston College before skating past the Gophers with a 7-4 victory.

And here at the University of Houston, we know a thing or two about traditional collegiate hockey powers.

Oh what’s that, you say?  They don’t play real hockey in Texas and the University of Houston, of all places, certainly does not have a rich hockey tradition.

Oh ye of little sporting history.

Patrick J. Nicholson’s In Time reminds us that an upstart Cougar hockey team forged a cross-town rivalry with Rice University over at the Polar Wave Ice Palace on McGowen Avenue four decades before these two schools would ever square off on the football field.  Out of the blocks the Houston Cougar ice hockey team barnstormed through their season’s schedule, thrashed their competition, and went undefeated, outscoring their opponents on average three to one.  As one might imagine, however, finding opponents for a brand new hockey program representing a very young Houston Junior College was not easy and counted among the victories that year was a besting of Rettig’s Ice Cream Parlor among others.  The Houston hockey establishment was less than impressed with the Cougars’ competition and, as the 1934 Houstonian informs us, “Because of an incomplete schedule, the city championship was forfeited.”

For a few years the hockey program lay dormant until 1939 saw a new hockey team become the first sport to be sponsored by the newly chartered University of Houston.  The high water mark for Cougar hockey may have been the 1940 season as they attempted to reclaim a city title stripped from them just a few years prior.  This time there were no questions about incomplete schedules when a would-be dream season saw a regular season split with “Rice Institute” deal the Cougars their only loss and the Owls would go on to win a unique tie-breaking scenario, claiming the city championship for themselves.

From there, it would seem, enthusiasm for a University of Houston hockey team melted under the heat and humidity of Houston.  A war was waging half a world away and the nation’s youth turned their attention away from diversions like collegiate athletics.  Once the war was over and the veterans returned home, the diversions returned as well.  UH ice hockey, however, would not make a comeback and, to this day it persists in its slumber.

But, who knows.  In a 21st century where everything old is new again, perhaps that sleeping giant will wake up soon.

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