Bringing Hockey Home to Harlem

Previously published by The Campus

Forty-seven years ago in October of 1971, The Campus published an article entitled “Icemen Skate Past Stony Brook 6-0; Tagarelli Stars with Hat Trick Magic.” Decades later, The City College of New York is without a hockey team.

But, not for long.

Nick Tagarelli, Norb Ecksl, Leo Strauss, Vinny Cuomo, and their fellow alumni are adamantly working toward a future where CCNY is once again the epicenter of hockey in Upper Manhattan. While it’s common for graduates to drift away from each other after they are finished with classes and games, these men have stayed together through the love of hockey and a common camaraderie. Furthermore, they are there for each other in their collective loss.

On May 2, 2008, John Stark, a 1958 graduate of CCNY and a counselor in the Office of Curricular Guidance of the College of Liberal Arts and Science, passed away. None of the alumni who spoke of Mr. Stark had a negative word to say, regarding the administrator’s character, work ethic, or helping hand. An illustration of this respect is found in the hockey team’s collective purchase of a proper headstone for Mr. Stark’s unmarked grave.

In order to continue Mr. Stark’s legacy and their own journey at CCNY, the former hockey players knew they had to do something. That something has transformed into a passion project – one fueled by hockey alumni’s fondness for their alma mater.

Leo Strauss, class of ‘71, shared, “We all gained so much. […] I had a fifteen year successful career as a high school hockey coach. I never would have even thought of having that if I hadn’t been involved in City College.”

Norb Ecksl, class of ‘75, agreed, “My career path was made at City College. The people that I associated with, the hockey program that I was involved with, that all led to my career of 40 years in sports administration. […] That was the stepping stone for me. […] It was all because of my involvement in hockey at City College. I’ve worked for three National Hockey League teams- Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues, and Florida Panthers – and I never would have had that opportunity if I had not started off at City College.”

Vinny Cuomo, class of ‘79, attested, “It was a point of pride that we came from the city. There weren’t many opportunities for city kids and it was a good incubator for all of us from different backgrounds to come together and just play hockey.”

Nick Tagarelli, class of ‘75, concurred, “From the first day I walked on campus in 1971 to the day when I left after meeting [with The Campus], I have never felt more proud of attending any institution, and I have done a lot in my career – from the FBI academy on down. I have never been more proud than to […] go to that school and be committed to the people that I’ve been working with and people that I had class with. I think it was an honor.”

On top of bringing back the program that, as delved into above, has shaped their lives, Strauss, Ecksl, Cuomo, Tagarelli, and the rest of the involved alumni hope to expand CCNY hockey in two main ways.

First, they plan to, and are already in the works of, partnering with “Ice Hockey in Harlem.” According to their website, “Through participation in ice hockey, IHIH student-athletes learn the fundamentals of the game, engage in an active lifestyle and broaden their life experiences.”

Started in 1987, “youngsters donned mismatched, secondhand equipment and wobbled onto the ice of Lasker Rink, an outdoor facility at the northern end of Central Park. Under the tutelage of founder Dave Wilk, former New York Ranger Pat Hickey, and other volunteers, the students were soon skating, shooting, and passing as though they had been playing the game for years.”

Today, IHIH serves more young people than ever before. By joining with this organization, the alumni aspire to promote education and community. Speaking to the vast reach of IHIH, Ecksl exalted “They have between 70 and 80 girls playing in their program.”

On the same page, the second expansion they plan to make centers around inclusivity. In the past, when CCNY’s hockey team graced the covers of this publication weekly, there was only a men’s team. Embedded in the outline to bring back what Ranker, a polling site for entertainment, brands, sports, and culture, deemed America’s fifth favorite sport, and first favorite winter sport, back to CCNY is the pull for a women’s ice hockey team as well – and the amount of girls at IHIH is encouraging.

This all poses the inquiry: “What steps are left in making this dream a reality?”

  1. They need to gauge the popularity of ice hockey at CCNY. This looks like student outreach, media presence, and other tactics. If you or someone you know is interested in playing ice hockey on the men’s or women’s team, alumni encourage you to email: ccnyhockeyclubs@gmail.com.
  2. Next, they are required to present their whole plan to President Boudreau and his office in order to be granted permission to form an official hockey presence at CCNY. This entails practical information, such as: how will uniforms be paid for, where will the team play, and more.

All in all, the aforementioned alumni are proud of their past and eager for their future together, and the future of CCNY ice hockey. As Strauss, whose whole demeanor lights up when talking about his and his peers‘ history, recounted: “We, as former players, since even after we graduated, walk together. This is with us for our lives and we want to impart that, hopefully, on the students that are there now.”

Design by Loretta Violante

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