Kimball Union Academy
This winter, Kimball Union Academy celebrates 125 years of interscholastic hockey with its 87th year of boys’ hockey and its 38th year of girls’ hockey on their picturesque hilltop campus in Meriden, NH.
Since the first season of boys’ hockey in 1935-1936, and the opening season of girls’ hockey in 1985-1986, KUA has enjoyed many winning seasons, garnered multiple championships, developed hundreds of college hockey players, and represented Kimball Union with great pride and sportsmanship. The story of KUA Hockey begins on a pond and continues today in Akerstrom Arena.
Although recreational skating and ice hockey were nothing new on Chellis Pond, the first reported interscholastic game was played at the Academy in the winter of 1935-36. George Collins, a three year varsity skater at Hamilton College, arrived that fall to teach English and coach KUA’s fledgling hockey team.
Weather was always an unknown and often unwelcome factor in the early years of KUA hockey. A tremendous effort from coaches and players was required to maintain ice throughout the winter. The January 1936 edition of The Kimball Union described just how difficult the conditions were, “Coach Collins has been fighting the elements with his loyal puck-pushers … for the past two weeks hockey practice has consisted mostly of skaters shoveling piles of snow from Chellis Pond.”
In 1945, George Akerstrom took over as Head Coach, and the rink was moved to flat ground behind the Silver Gymnasium. There, the ice could be made from the ground up after a heavy snowstorm. The ski team would sidestep the snow, packing it down. Then the hockey team would flood the rink with water pumped from the swimming pool below the gym to create a smooth surface of ice.
In 1950, a full-size outdoor rink was built behind Chellis Hall, and the move ushered in great success for the team with 9 winning seasons in the 1950’s, including an undefeated 11-0-1 mark in 1955-56. In 1963, a Quonset-style roof was added thanks to a donation from local resident Annie Duncan, although some people thought it was still the coldest rink in New England! KUA/BU Alum Dave Carver ’57 joined Coach Akerstrom behind the bench, and the program continued to flourish with 18 winning seasons across the 1960’s and 70’s. Coach Akerstrom retired from coaching in 1977 after 28 winning seasons and over 300 wins, and was inducted posthumously into the NH Legends of Hockey in 2008.
KUA/SLU Alum Woodie Haskins ’69 took the reigns as Kimball Union’s Head Coach in 1979, and with help from Ass’t Coaches Larry Sparks & NH Legend Rich Ryerson, Haskins promptly led the Wildcats to a sizzling 3 year record of 61-16-2, culminating with NEPSAC’s first-ever New England Division 1 Championship going to KUA in 1981-82. Former US Olympian and NHL Philadelphia Flyer Head Coach Scott “Flash” Gordon ’82 was the goalie for the championship team.
Wildcat success continued under Coaches Sparks & Ryerson, and in 1986 Head of School Tom Mikula announced that KUA/UNH Alum Fred Whittemore ’49 had made a generous donation towards a new Athletic Center and hockey rink to be named Akerstrom Arena. On December 3rd 1988, Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr was in Meriden to play in the KUA Alumni Game and dedicate the arena to Coach Akerstrom.
The boys program had some ups & downs over the next 20 years, until Head of School Mike Schafer hired Head Coach Ryan Miller to re-energize the program in 2007. With the help of Ass’t Coaches Rich Ryerson & Gino Riffle, Coach Miller led the Wildcats to 3 consecutive 20+ winning seasons, including 3 straight Lakes Region League Titles (2009-11) and the New England Small School Championship in 2010. When Coach Miller left for a coaching position at UMass Amherst, Schafer hired Mike Levine who continued to elevate the program with 2 more Lakes Region League Titles, the 2012 New England Small School Championship, and a school-record 27 wins in 2013.
When Coach Levine was hired to scout for the NHL’s Las Vegas Golden Knights in the summer of 2013, Mike Schafer struck gold again when he hired former NCAA National Coach of the Year Tim Whitehead to run the boys’ program. In 2012, Whitehead had led the Maine Black Bears to their 7th NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years, a run that included 2 National Championship games, 4 NCAA Frozen Fours, and the 2004 Hockey East Championship.
Over the past 8 seasons under Coaches Whitehead, Bryant Harris ’04 and Matt Underhill, the Wildcats have compiled a remarkable 233-44-15 record, which includes 4 straight 30+ win seasons (2016-19), 3 consecutive New England Elite Division Championships (2017-19), the 2014 New England Small School Championship, and 8 Lakes Region League Titles in a row (2014-22). KUA has also produced 9 NHL Draft picks since 2014, with AJ Greer ’14 (BOS) and Jordan Harris ’18 (MTL) currently on NHL rosters.
From the earliest days of KUA hockey, many KUA student-athletes have gone on to play at top colleges & universities, with several playing in the NHL and with the US & Canadian National Teams. After their playing days were over, some became college or pro coaches like Don Sennott ’48, Billy Riley ’64, Paul Schilling ’65, Don Cahoon ’68, Steve Mattson ’73, Scott Gordon ’82, Tom Pratt ’83, and Peter Roundy ’06 … and at least one became an NHL referee, former Dartmouth star Vin Godleski ’55.
The list of KUA Hockey luminaries is long and other legends include UNH’s Ed Mullen ’58 and Bob Blood ’74, Maine’s Ray Jacques ’81 and Cory Larose ’00, BC’s Whip Saltmarsh ’49 and Jim Mullen ’62, BU’s Jimmy Riley ’52, and Brown’s Dick Cleary ‘55.
KUA Girls Hockey
The first season of girls’ hockey at Kimball Union in 1984-85 was run as a club program under the leadership of Sean Crotty ’80. The following year, Roberta McLain took the reigns as varsity Head Coach and led the team to its first winning record in 1986-87. Just 3 years later, the 1989-90 girls team finished 12-4-0 under Coach Don McMillan, and the program began to grow with top prospects enrolling each year.
In 1991-92, Coach Chris Rokous led the Wildcats to a 19-5-1 record, and in 1993-94 Coaches Peter Bartlett & Kristin Dykstra earned the program’s first 20 win season. Then remarkably, after just 10 years as a varsity program, KUA Coaches Lori Charpentier & Chip Audett led the Wildcats to back-to-back New England Division 1 Championships in 1995-96 and 1996-97!
Leading the charge to the top of New England prep hockey were two future Canadian National Team stars; Samantha Holmes ’96 (UNH ’00) and Nadine Muzerall ’97 (UMinn ’01), both of whom played for many years after college with Team Canada and within Canada’s NWHL pro league. Muzerall was a 2x All-American, 2x Patty Kazmaier Award Finalist, and a National Champion at the University of Minnesota. In 2016, she was named Head Hockey Coach at Ohio State University, and in 2021-22 Muzerall led her Buckeyes to their 1st NCAA National Championship.
KUA’s winning seasons continued through the 1999-00 season when Head Coach Natasha Fine-Cohen led the team to a 15-6-1 record. After several down seasons, the Wildcats recaptured their winning ways in 2007-08 with a 10-9-1 season under Coach Deanna McDevitt, and in 2009-10 with an 11-9-4 record under Coach Ashley Johnston.
The girls program continued to build legitimacy and success in the next decade when Schafer and Athletic Director Mike Doherty hired a series of high-end coaches to run the program starting with current Norwich Head Coach Sophie Leclerc (2011-13), current NHL Calgary Flames Ass’t Coach Cail MacLean (2013-14), former US Olympian and current UMaine Head Coach Molly Engstrom (2014-16), and former Dartmouth College Head Coach Mark Hudak (2016-20). Over his 13 years as Head Coach, Hudak had led the Big Green to 6 NCAA Tournament appearances, including 2 NCAA Frozen Fours, 2 ECAC Championships, and 2 Ivy League Titles.
Under Coach Hudak’s leadership, the KUA girls’ team compiled a 57-32-12 record over 4 seasons, including back to back New England Tournament appearances in 2017 & 2018. When Hudak switched to full-time teaching in 2020, Mike Doherty hit another homerun, naming former St Anselm’s star and 18 year pro Sam Ftorek as Head Coach. Coach Ftorek and Ass’t Coach Bill Diamond have continued the positive trend with a two year record of 21-13-1, and lots of excitement surrounding the program.
As is the case with the boys’ team, many student-athletes from the KUA girls’ hockey program are going on to play at top colleges & universities across the country. Most notably in recent years; Greta Close ’17 (UVM), Mia Brown ’18 (NU), Bella Parento ’20 (UVM), and Lucie Turcotte ’22 (Stonehill).