Notre Dame High School
It must have been a glorious moment on that long-ago day when the Berlin city road crew erected a sign over Route 16 that announced to all travelers entering the Paper City that they had just crossed over into Hockeytown, USA.
And, indeed, the locals back then did have just cause to strut their pride. There was the legendary Berlin Maroons senior amateur team. There was the formidable Berlin High School team. There was a whole collection of dominant Berlin Youth Hockey teams. But most of all, there was the Notre Dame High School team, perhaps the most extraordinary of all.
The Notre Dame hockey story unfolded beginning with the season of 1944-45. Father Omer Bousquet put out the word that Notre Dame was going into the high-school hockey business. Eleven skaters and two goaltenders responded. Father Leo St. Pierre agreed to become the coach and Father Armand Provost the manager. The school nickname was The Rams and the school colors were blue and white. However, in 1947, those colors were changed to blue and gold-colors the opposition never forgot and probably saw every night in their dreams.
For the season of 1945-46, Father St. Pierre continued as coach and Father Provost remained team manager. Father Bousquet, deeply dedicated to the cause, was energetic and his leadership led to the quick construction of Notre Dame Arena, which rose on the site of the old Coulombe rink, thanks to the mighty work and commitment of many citizens, including players. Construction began in the late summer of 1947 and was completed approximately four months later.
The structure had a roof, some bleachers and was enclosed but the ice was frozen naturally, never quite ready until the high North Country winter set in. Artificial ice-making equipment was still several years away, installed in 1966.
The third season, 1946-47, turned out to be historical, although no one at the time paid it any mind. There were more players, more games, more wins, a new head coach, a cross-town rival and, for the first time, a post-season tournament under the auspices of the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Barney Laroche now was coach and that season’s first game was in Berlin, against Magog High School of Magog, Quebec. Notre Dame, on a cold night in front of 300 fans, posted a 3-2 win. It was a sign of good things to come.
The local newspaper, on February 6, ran a story that said inter-city high school hockey, that very night, was about to happen; that Notre Dame would face-off against Berlin High School’s just-formed varsity team. It was to be Berlin High School’s first hockey game in four years. Notre Dame won, 13-0, and it marked the beginning of a Notre Dame win streak over Berlin HS that lasted 15 seasons, not ending until 1962 when the Berlin Mountaineers finally won, 2-1.
Late in 1947 came the official announcement that Notre Dame, thanks to its strong winning season, was headed for the very first NH State Tournament, to be played in Hanover at Davis Rink on the Dartmouth College campus.
In the ’47 tournament’s final matchup on February 23, Notre Dame and captain Ray Dugas defeated Concord High School, 2-0. The game-winning goal came in the first period off the stick of defenseman Bob Fisette assisted by Eugene Rainville. The insurance goal came in the third period on a shot by Emile Arsenault with Bob Fisette assisting. Fisette later was named to the All State first team, as was goaltender Robert Gosselin. Fisette’s seasonal point production was 17 goals and 7 assists. Gosselin accumulated 209 saves in 11 games.
That 1947 victory gave Notre Dame the first of its 16 consecutive State hockey titles, a record that might never be broken-nor even threatened.
Following that win, Notre Dame looked at the possibility of gaining a berth in the 1947 New England tournament at the Boston Garden. The Tournament, back then, invited the “Northern New England” champion. That meant the New Hampshire champion and the Maine champion had to square off for the right to go to Boston. So it was Notre Dame versus St. Dominic’s. The format called for a home-and-home series, with the total goal count determining the winner. If the goal count was even, a third game had to be played. At Lewiston, Notre Dame lost, 3-2. At Berlin, Notre Dame lost, 5-3. A New England Tournament invitation would have to wait.
The 1947-48 team was coached by Barney Laroche, and also Father St. Pierre. The 1948-49 team had Father Odore Gendron as coach. St. Pierre and Gendron both won State titles, Father St. Pierre a 1-0 shutout against Concord HS; and Father Gendron, 6-0, over Berlin HS.
For the next three seasons, there were three more State championships and three trips to the New England Tournament, all of which enlarged the legend of Notre Dame HS hockey. The Ram’s reputation, both in the State and out, now was stouter than ever.
Then came the 1952-53 season, and as it drew to a close, Notre Dame again won the State title and again went to the New England Tournament, which by then had relocated to Providence, RI. In the first round, the Rams defeated Massachusetts Champion Walpole, 4-3 in OT. In the semi-final round, Notre Dame was bumped 4-0, by longtime Massachusetts powerhouse, Malden Catholic HS. In the consolation game, Notre Dame lost 3-2, in OT to Hamden (CT) HS. Rams winger, Archie Primeau was named to the All New England first team, and forward Ray Poirier to the second team. Both players were personally saluted and then rewarded by local Berlin hockey enthusiast, Romeo Lavigne. He gave each boy a free trip to that season’s NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.
The 1953-54 Rams continued their winning ways and earned another trip to the New England Tournament. When Notre Dame advanced to the finals, it was for the first time. But alas, a strong Hamden High School team, one that had dominated Connecticut schoolboy hockey for several years, refused to be denied and won the tussle. The All-Tournament team selections included three Rams players: goaltender Norm Arpin, defenseman Ray Blanchette and forward Al Brodeur.
Over the next two seasons, Notre Dame repeated as New Hampshire champion and then made the trip to Providence,
RI. The dream of winning its first New England title, though, remained unfulfilled.
But then the 1956-57 season dawned. The time had finally come. After once again taking the NH State crown, the Rams and coach Barney Laroche headed to the deep south-to Providence, RI.
In the opening round, Notre Dame stopped Massachusetts champion Lynn English High School, 2-1, and in the semifinals hung a 5-2 defeat on Massachusetts runner-up Melrose High School. Then came the finals on March 9. The opponent was an old familiar bunch-Hamden (CT) High School. Twice in past tournaments the teams had met and twice Hamden had scuttled the boys from the North Country. This time, Rams goaltender Rod Blackburn was invincible and posted an impressive and emphatic shutout, 7-0. Notre Dame was, at last, New England champion.
When the dust settled, Rod Blackburn was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Goaltender and Dede Villenueve was named Most Valuable Forward. Five Rams were All Tournament selections: Rod Blackburn, Richard Couture, Ron Deyette, Dicky Valliere and Dede Villenueve. The following day, the City of Berlin turned out en masse to offer the team a warm and noisy homecoming.
Over the next four seasons, Notre Dame continued to collect State championship plaques, soundly whipping Hanover, 10-2, in 1958; Berlin, 5-0, in 1959; Berlin, 9-1, in 1960; and Berlin, 7-1, in 1961.
With that 1961 title secured, coach Barney Laroche retired, having been at the helm for 12 consecutive State titles, plus that inaugural title he won way back in 1947, the first year of the State Tournament. That made 13 titles in 15 years, a record that perhaps will never be surpassed.
Barney’s successor was Albie Brodeur who steered Notre Dame to the 1962 crown, its 16th consecutive. The string ended, though, the following season, on February 9, 1963, when the Rams fell for the very first time to Berlin HS. The score was, oh, so close: 3-2. A year later, Berlin HS repeated as State Champion, beating Concord HS, 3-0.
When the 1964-65 season rolled around, Notre Dame was back at it, winning games and again owning the State title. The tournament opponent that season? Why, Berlin, of course. The score? A close one, 3-1, giving Notre Dame 17 titles in 19 seasons.
Then came an unusual dry spell of five straight years when Notre Dame failed to play in a single State title game. In all five of those years (1966 through 1970), it was cross-town rival Berlin HS that held sway, being the dominant New Hampshire team, winning four consecutive State crowns.
Down but certainly not out, Notre Dame bulled its way back to the top. With Romeo Tremblay as head coach, the Rams finished the 1970-71 season ranked third in the standings and went into the tournament as underdogs. In the semifinal game, they had to meet number-one Hanover. It seemed grim. During the regular season, Hanover twice had beaten the Rams and was favored to continue that dominance. But hockey life can take sharp turns and so it happened that night in Durham. The final score: Notre Dame 4, Hanover 0. In the other semifinal match-up, Berlin HS squeaked by Concord HS, 4-3, in overtime. Ahead was the final game for the State title. Once again, it would be Hockeytown USA drama at its best: the Rams versus the Mountaineers.
Rams’ goaltender, Denis Parent, focused like a lad possessed, rose to the occasion. When the final buzzer sounded inside Snively Arena, it was Notre Dame 6 and Berlin 2. And, as they say, the joint was a-rockin’!
The win, indeed, was joyous but throughout that miraculous hockey season, and even in the months before it happened, there had been talk in all corners of the City that Notre Dame High School might have to close. Low enrollments, higher operating costs, dwindling resources. There was a conspiracy of circumstances at work.
In the end, the students lost out and Notre Dame was forced to draw the shades on all of its windows.
The closing, though, didn’t happened until after the 1971-72 academic year was done and commencement had been held, which meant the skating Rams had one more crack at a New Hampshire State hockey title.
Fittingly, Notre Dame, prior to the State tournament, played its very last home game against cross-town rival, Berlin HS. The score was close, 2 to 1, in favor of the Rams.
Both teams also qualified for the State tournament and met in the semifinal round. The game went to overtime, tied 2-2. With 30 seconds remaining on the clock, Buzz Beaudoin scored for the Rams and put Notre Dame into the finals. The ending was shaping up to be of storybook quality.
The very last opponent in Notre Dame’s epic hockey history would be Manchester Memorial HS, the first southern New Hampshire team to reach the tournament’s final round. And on March 11, 1972, a close 3-2 win gave Notre Dame its 19th State title in 26 years. Captain Louis Parent had the privilege of skating around the rink with the championship plaque held high-the very last Notre Dame player ever to do so.
The Rams named to the All Tournament team were top scorer Ray St. Onge, Roger Roy, Ray Roy and goaltender Bob Rodrigue.
Ironically, Bob Rodrigue’s father, Robert, in 1947 starred on Notre Dame’s first championship team and 26 years later watched as his son was cited as a star on Notre Dame’s last championship team.
On February 27, 1969, the snow-laden roof of Notre Dame Arena tragically collapsed during a junior varsity game and Notre Dame goaltender Norman Boucher sadly was killed. The City was in shock and mourning for a long time. The strategy to repair the roof was drawn by Monsignor Alpheri Lauziere who dedicated himself to the project and saw to it that the rink was reopened.
During the 14-year era between 1949 and 1962, Notre Dame met Berlin HS 13 times for the State championship. Each time, Berlin HS fell heavily with Notre Dame outscoring BHS, 84-10. Five games were shutouts.
For the 1947 to 1976 period (30 years), the City of Berlin celebrated 28 schoolboy titles. Notre Dame collected 19; Berlin won 9.
From its inception in 1948, to the three straight Granite State Hockey League championship series it played against
the Manchester Tam O’Shanters, to young Bobby Sheehan, who would go on to play eight seasons in the National
Hockey League, the Nashua Royals amateur team left a large mark on the state’s hockey landscape in its two decades of
Shortly after the conclusion of World War II, Nashua High School and its athletic director, iconic football coach Buzz
Harvey, explored the possibility of fielding a school hockey team. By 1948, other city leaders had planted the seeds to
create a senior amateur team for players age 16 to 21 that would compete against other senior amateur teams in the
Nicknamed the “Royales,” the team turned to city ward alderman Tony Joyal as its coach and plans were underway to
build a rink in the rear of the St. Francis Xavier church on Chandler Street.
Paul and Bob Dionne were chosen as captains of that inaugural team, and were joined by players like Renee Joyal,
Gil Dumais, Roger Kerouac, John Lanoie, Jim Connor and Roland McLoud. But the weather didn’t cooperate that
first season, with rains and some unseasonably warm weather conspiring to keep their outdoor sheet on Lock Street
The next season saw Elmer F. Blakey, the city’s park and recreation commissioner, step in as head coach and the
nickname altered to “Royals.”
By 1952, Joyal was back as coach and the Royals had established themselves on the state scene, meeting the Rye Sea
Hawks for the New Hampshire Amateur Class B League championship. Behind 59 saves from goalie Berube, Nashua
won the game, 8-4.
Beginning in 1963, the Royals were coached Ron Peters (Legends of Hockey Class of ’08), a former practice goaltender
of the Boston Olympics of the EHL. He guided the team to the championship of the Granite State Hockey League
in 1964, the first of three straight memorable championship series the Royals would play against the Tam O’Shanters.
The Tams got the better of it in 1965, sweeping the championship series in three games despite a four-goal game from
George Marineau in Game 3, a game that finished 7-6. Nashua came back to win the title in 1966, closing out the Tams
with a 14-8 win.
Some of the standout players included Marineau, Buzz Littell (Legends of Hockey Class of ’06), Pete Merrill, Mike
Frigard, Joe Bellavance and Leo Gould (Legends of Hockey Class of ’06). Also featuring prominently was Sheehan, who would reach the NHL in 1969-70 with the Montreal Canadiens and play several seasons at that level, including the 1978-79 campaign with the New York Rangers, skating in 15 playoff games as the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup finals, losing to the Canadiens. Small in stature, he was listed at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds in the NHL but was one of the fastest players in the league.
Member of the 1965-66 Championship Team included: Front Row left to right: Kevin Palanski, Joe Monahan, Coach Ron Peters, Captain Mike Frigard, Norm Charland,Bobby Sheehan (aka Bob Terry), Paul Joyal, Pete Maggio Back Row left to right: Guy Marcoux, Pete Merrill, unidentified, Buzz Littell, Bob Christy, Ed Ziflak, Leo Gould, Jean Brosseau, Ed Donahue, Jean Cote, unidentified, Dave Bellavance, George Marineau. Other Championship team members not in photo were. Goaltender Joe Bellavance, John Gilday, Ron Therrien, Dick Daigle,Ken Thompson, Dick Bordeleau, Paul Fisher, Den Cote and goaltender Connors.
The Nashua Royals concluded play after the 1966-67 season.