Andre ‘Pref’ Prefontaine
Whenever the conversation ’round the table in Manchester turns to the New England Hockey League of the ’60s and ’70s, the one name that always arises is “Pref” – Andre Prefontaine. To the locals, who back then filled the JFK Coliseum to root for the Manchester Blackhawks, “Pref” was a hero. He was a goal scorer, an aggressive forward with defense on his mind, always a needle in the necks of the opposition.
Originally from St. Hyacinthe in Quebec, his French-speaking family moved to Cornwall, Ontario when “Pref” was 5. For the next six years, he attended a school where only English was spoken. Then in 1950, just as Pref was entering the 7th grade, his father was killed in a railroad accident, forcing his mother to move Pref and his three siblings back to St. Hyacinthe. By then, he had a difficult time speaking French. His then-hockey coach, Father Romeo, made an offer: he would help “Pref” sharpen his French skills if “Pref” would play hockey. They agreed. There was one more catch, though. “Pref” would have to help his classmates improve their English by conversing with them during the day. “Pref” later entered Academy Girouard (high school) where he played on the same line with later-to-be Montreal Canadiens star, Bobby Rosseau. The goaltender that year was Dennis DeJordy, who later became a Chicago Blackhawk.
In the early 1960s, when a new league started locally, “Pref” signed on to play with the St. Hyacinthe Police Department team. In 1965, when he was 27, the team came to New Hampshire to play against the Manchester Blackhawks. In that game, he scored a few goals and afterwards was approached by Blackhawks owner, Claude Vaillancourt, who urged “Pref” to come to the States. His first full season in town was 1966-67.
Some Memorable Moments:
November 20, 1967: At the JFK, “Pref” agreed to switch teams for the evening, joining the shorthanded Merrimack Valley Chiefs. He scored 4 goals and an assist.
April 5, 1969: In game seven of the NEHL championship series, “Pref” scored 5 goals as the Blackhawks defeated arch-rival Concord Eastern Olympics for the title.
September 9, 1969: Al Dupont, then-Blackhawks owner, announced that “Pref” had been traded to the Nashua Maple Leafs.
January 13, 1971: “Pref” is selected for the NEHL All-Star team.
In 1970, the Blackhawks folded but quickly reappeared with a new name: Monarchs. “Pref”, after brief stints with both the Nashua Leafs and Lowell Chiefs, also came back to town and played for the Monarchs until the franchise folded in 1974. He later played a season with the Tri-City Coachmen then three seasons with the Concord Budmen.
In 1978, the old Blackhawks team, out of sight since 1970, was resurrected. And guess who was involved? For seven wonderful seasons, “Pref” was a player and the coach. For three of those years, he was team owner. The Blackhawks finally drew the curtain after the 1985-86 season ended. The memories, though, are still alive.