Berlin High School
Berlin High School will take the ice for its 84th season of hockey this winter. It owns one of the longest and proudest histories in any New Hampshire sport.
The program’s golden age came in the 1960s and ’70s, when it won nine state championships and reached the title game of the New England tournament four times, winning once.
However the foundation for that success was put in place in the 1950s, when new coach Dick Bradley took over with three main goals: increase the amount of ice time his players would get; and increase the number of games they would play, which at the time was only ten; and increase the quality of players, which he went about by attending games of grammar school hockey league in town and promoting the high school program.
Across town, Notre Dame High School was playing in the neighborhood of 20 games a year and enjoying great success, playing in the first covered rink in the state (one owned by the parish) and winning the first 16 state championships recognized by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association. Berlin was only allowed to use the rink sporadically and spent the rest of their practice time on outdoor rinks.
A former standout goalie at Boston University, Bradley had contacts at schools like Norwich (Vt.) University and Hebron (Maine) Academy, and he would bus his teams there so they could get on the ice more. The progression was steady. By 1956-57, Berlin was playing 16 games a year. In the 1961-62 season, it defeated Notre Dame for the first time ever, 2-1, on goals by Bob Drouin and John Ramsay, and the goaltending of Bret Halvorson.
“By 1962, we were pretty formidable,” said Paul “Poof” Tardiff, a standout on those teams in the early 1960s and a local historian. “That started everything. The crowds started coming in.”
The next year, to prove it was no fluke, the Mountaineers went 14-8-2 and beat Notre Dame twice during the regular season – both by scores of 1-0, the second time on Sam Paquette’s goal in sudden-death overtime – and then again for the state tournament championship, 3-2, the first time since Notre Dame hadn’t won the title since the NHIAA began recognizing state champions in 1946-47.
“Dick said he got calls from hockey alumni all over the country,” said Walter Nadeau, vice president of the Berlin and Coos County Historical Society. “At night, people were driving by his house, honking their horns.”
That was the beginning of a glorious stretch of hockey. Bradley stepped down after the 1964-65 season, but the Mountaineers kept winning state championships under Marcel Morency, Bruce Parker, Bob Verge and future Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame coach Albie Brodeur, who coached briefly at Notre Dame – his alma mater – before taking over at Berlin in 1966.
Though they were preceded and followed by some superb skaters, players like Tardiff and Paquette, Roger Letourneau, Pierre Belanger and John Normand were some of the standouts of that era. Beginning with the 1966-67 team that went 20-5 and won the New England championship by defeating St. Dominic (Maine), 3-2 in overtime – with tourney MVP Letourneau scoring the game-winning goal – Berlin would reach the New England final four times in a decade.
“I think that’s when Berlin really picked up the name ‘Hockeytown,'” said Tardiff, who authored a three-book series about his hometown entitled, “Once Upon a Berlin Time.”
But times were changing and Berlin hockey was changing with it. In 1972-73, Notre Dame closed, sending an influx of students – and players – to Berlin. That year, the Mountaineers dominated during the regular season but got upset by Bishop Brady in the first round of the playoffs.
As the paper and pulp industries continued their decline, student enrollment and on-ice success mirrored it. In 1986-87, for the first time 1961-62, the Mountaineers lost more games than they won.
“The population of Berlin was declining,” said Nadeau. “In 1970 it was around 15,000 people. Now it’s less than 10,000.”
Even as enrollment kept dropping – the high school would drop football in the 1980s — and families moved out of town, the hockey program petitioned up to remain in Division I and play against the state’s biggest schools. Most of the school’s teams compete in Division III, the second-smallest of the state’s four classifications.
One of the program’s greatest modern-day moments came in 2005-06, shortly after the NHIAA began holding its division championship games at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. After upsetting Concord, 2-1, in the semifinals, the team took the ice at the Verizon to play Hanover, with local fans packing almost the entire lower bowl of the arena.
“The atmosphere was incredible,” said longtime Hanover coach Dick Dodds, who is also entering the N.H. Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame this year. “I think I’ve been involved in eight finals and that was clearly the best. As we came out of our locker room we were facing the Berlin side. That whole side was packed with red jerseys and it was loud. It was just a great setting to play hockey. By gosh, it was a challenge.”
Hanover won the game, 6-3, and Berlin has not returned to a championship game since. But that can’t take away from the proud history of a program that is being recognized by the N.H Legends of Hockey.
For the all-time record please download this pdf. Berlin High School Record