It’s Friday night at the Buffone Arena in Worcester, and a hockey game is going on.
This is no ordinary game. There are no referees to keep the peace — the players self-police just fine (indeed, they’re remarkably friendly). The skating, shooting, and passing are solid; the checking nonexistent. And the disparity of ages between the two teams is — well, “vast” might not be too strong a word. The older players have decades on their opponents. They also have ready access to beer on their bench.
The annual Clark University Alumni Hockey Game, held last November, continued the long tradition of pitting seasoned players against student-athletes to see if years of rink savvy can outpace fresh legs. The actual competition is only one part of the event, according to Lee Plave ’80, the game’s organizer and unofficial historian. In fact, the game is almost a distraction from the real purpose of the get-together: to reconnect with dear friends.
Hockey is just the excuse to do it.
Plave says the annual hockey reunion offers a chance to restart conversations “that have been going on for 30 years.” He describes the game itself as “a conversation interrupted.”
“We’ve all told so many stories,” he adds with a laugh, “and at least half of them might be true. My buddy’s rule is that if he’s heard a story three times, then he’s become a part of it.”
This night, Plave has made the trip from the Washington, D.C., area, where he practices law, but he’s sitting out the game. He made it all the way to Worcester before realizing he’d forgotten his shin pads. “I’ll play without a helmet. I’ll play without a cup. But I’m not playing without shin pads,” he insists.
Hockey at Clark has been a club sport for many years, but for four years beginning with the 1977-78 season, it was played as a Division III varsity sport, according to Plave. He served as both an assistant to the coach, and then assistant coach starting under Scott Abbey ’74.
“Steve Cooperman (’80) had 108 goals for Clark when we were D-III,” he recalls. “It was an NCAA record at the time.”
Plave easily ticks off names of the players who regularly return for the Alumni Hockey Game (as professional and personal obligations allow), like Tom Dolan Jr. ’79, Dave Kahl ’81, MBA ’84, Scott Love ’81, Dave Fried ’81, and Steve Kennedy ’88.
Most of the alumni players keep their skills relatively fresh by competing in recreational leagues; not long ago, several participated in a hockey camp in Minnesota. “Dave Kahl was the best player in camp,” Plave says.
Kahl, who played center and left wing at Clark, recalls attending a club fair during his first year at Clark “and there were all these crazy guys talking about the hockey program.” He joined, and quickly found himself among a fraternity of players who enjoyed a unique chemistry, linked by their love of the game and their reputation as “instigators of fun.”
“I’m not sure you can match the closeness of this group,” says the Chicago-based Kahl, who competes in the alumni game about every other year. He credits Plave with being “the glue that keeps this whole thing together.”
“I think of those Clark times very fondly,” he says, “especially my experiences with the people I played hockey with, and continue to play with.” Back in the day, Clark played its home games at Holy Cross and at a (long-gone) rink in Webster Square with ice surrounded by chicken wire instead of glass. This evening in the frigid Buffone Arena, the players on both Clark teams, mostly men but some women as well, bear down as they race across the ice, attacking the nets. There’s no shortage of scoring. Final tally: 10-9 in favor of the students. Youth won out this time.
No matter. “We love the game and we love each other,” Plave says of his comrades on blades. “It’s a brotherhood. We didn’t have frats at Clark, and for a lot of these guys, this was our chance to bond. You lived with other players who might not have been just like you, and learned a lot from each other. We worked together to achieve a common goal, even when things on the ice were not always optimal.”
Dolan notes that the “the hockey program has for a long time flown under the radar within the Clark athletic community, but true to our hockey spirit, we are a gritty, tight-knit group, and the bonds between us run deep and true. As hockey alumni, we are all pleased to see that the pool gets refreshed each year with new talent and leadership so that the hockey tradition at Clark can continue.”
The evening ended with the traditional players’ dinner in the Winton Dining Room on campus. There was some recapping of the game, but it was outflanked by all the back-and-forth about the other things old friends are keen to know about each other. No one was interrupting this conversation.