Gonzaga's Short, But Rich Hockey History

Feb. 23, 2006

While hockey only graced the Gonzaga University campus as a varsity sport for a short period of time, its success on the ice was remembered long after they had departed the campus.

Started in 1936 when Rev. Paul Corkery, S.J., wanted a way to attract more Canadian students to campus, hockey became an instant hit in the Inland Northwest.

In 1937 Gonzaga was playing teams up and down the West Coast and in the adjoining Canadian Provinces. The Bulldogs even played against defending Big Ten champion University of Minnesota.

Over the next three seasons Gonzaga would continue to build its hockey program, culminating with the 1940 season in which Gonzaga played in two different leagues. GU played collegiately in the Pacific Coast Conference and also as a member of the West Kootenai Hockey Association, a semi-professional league made up of Canadian clubs and Gonzaga.

While Gonzaga struggled in competition against its professional Canadian counterparts, the Bulldogs did establish themselves as one of the premier collegiate programs, defeating all comers.

One of the biggest wins of the season came against the Minnesota Gophers as the Bulldogs won the contest by an 18-2 count in front of a standing room only crowd at the 3,000 seat Spokane Ice Arena located on Elm Street.

A reporter for the Spokesman-Review was quoted as saying, "The game was the hottest display of offensive hockey this town has ever witnessed."

The Bulldogs lost only one collegiate game in 1940 falling to the University of Toronto in the finals of the International Collegiate Championships in Los Angeles. During that season Gonzaga defeated squads from Seattle University, Loyola Marymount University, UCLA, USC and the University of Washington.

In the International Collegiate Championships, Gonzaga knocked off USC in the opening round and UCLA in the semifinals before the championship loss to Toronto. The Trojans would go on to win the 1941 national championship under USC Hall of Fame coach Arnold Eddy.

Following the 1940 season Gonzaga ended varsity hockey citing overwhelming financial costs while competing in two leagues. The Bulldogs were also coming off a last place finish the West Kootenai Hockey Association. An attempt to start varsity hockey took place in the mid-1960's with a couple of seasons of competition, but that quickly faded and hockey was dubbed a club sport at the university.

Despite its short-lived history, Gonzaga did produce some outstanding hockey players including one record holder in the National Hockey League. Former Bulldog goalie Frank McCool was given a tryout with the Chicago Blackhawks while still an undergraduate at Gonzaga. He turned returned to finish his collegiate days at GU before playing two seasons for the Toronto Maple Leafs. McCool helped guide the Leafs to the 1945 Stanley Cup, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy for NHL Rookie of the Year. McCool also had an NHL record for shutouts in the NHL playoffs.

Also a member of that team was Cyril "Cheddy" Thompson who would later gain fame as a top collegiate coach at Colorado College. He won 153 games appearing in five National Collegiate Tournaments and winning the 1950 NCAA Championship 13-4 over Boston University. Thompson also coached Colorado College to NCAA runner-up finishes in 1952 and 1955.

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