The state’s Olympic Regional Development Authority has named its new bar and bistro in the Miracle Building after its hockey team, but not what you might think. It’s called Roamers Lake Placid.
For anyone who lived in Lake Placid from the mid-1940s to the early 1970s, the Roamers were the favorite semi-pro hockey team based at the 1932 Olympic Arena. They didn’t just play the arena; they filled it with screaming fans. As Fats Waller would say, had he attended the game, “The Joint Jumps.”
The Roamers served as the farm team for the New York Rangers and were a little unusual in that they included a mix of Canadian and US players. They also played during a time when the internet didn’t exist and when there wasn’t much competition on Saturday nights. As a result, a large part of the community turns out to be watching them play — mainly because their games are fun and struggling.
Initially, the Roamers were co-sponsored and organized by the North Elba Park District and the New York Rangers, who owned two other farm teams, the New York Rovers and the New Haven Ramblers. From its inception, the team, originally coached by Frankie Butcher, included Canadian players and members from Lake Placid and the North Country. They started the season with 24 weekends, often against Ottawa and Quebec teams. As part of the deal, the coaches and their team members coach local youth on Fridays throughout the season.
“Some of the locals always play in teams,” said Butch Martin, a former Roamers player who is currently the North Elba Park District manager. “In my day, Bernie and Bobbie Preston and Larry Barney played. Phil Beaney and Rik Cassidy play. I play. If we were at home during school breaks, we would play. Bob Allen, who serves as general manager, gave us a different name because he didn’t want us to lose our eligibility. He usually gave us skating names like Dick Button, Gus Lussi and others; we will play with their names. The guys from Cornwall, Ottawa and elsewhere are hard-core old Canadian hockey players – great fun to be around who play great hockey.
“If you’ve ever watched ‘Slap Shot,’ we’d be a perfect fit,” said Bill O’Neil. “Except the Roamers play better hockey. Some of the problems for local players are that the rivalry they had in high school continues, such as when they played Clinton, New York. When the Clinton kids walked in, a big fight broke out. We love it. Alice Beckel, the mother of everyone in the arena, was in attendance at the game. I remember him getting out on the ice, hitting some of the Clintons with his boot and telling them to behave.
The Roamers have talent and are rocking not only the rafters of the arena, but telling the Northeast semi-pro league that they are a team to be reckoned with. For example, their first match was a double win against a formidable team from Ontario. The Lake Placid News reported, “Roamers returned Cornwall twice, winning 3-2, 6-3. Displaying plenty of scoring prowess, the Roamers opened their 1946-47 hockey season here over the weekend with a double win over the Cornwall Falcons before a near-capacity crowd.
Not slowing down, the January 31, 1947 newspaper headline screamed, “Roamers Dazzle Mets with Speed, Won 8-1 13-3; New Yorkers Confused by Locals.” The article stated, “The Metropolitan All-Stars may be the ‘hot stuff’ for hockey fans in New York City, but here they are just another team as the Roamers give them a thorough check in the weekend series. They beat the invaders 8-1 on Saturday night, then gave them a 13-3 loss on Sunday afternoon.”
“When I was a kid, we scraped the ice between games,” said Rik Cassidy. “I think Butch did. Bob Allen will ask us if we want to scrape. We do it because we got tickets to the games, and it helps us with our ice skating skills, but the scrapers are heavy. We get enough exercise.”
Of course, the young hockey players want to watch the Roamers play, but many can’t afford the tickets, so if they can’t get on the scraper list, they sneak their way in. Before Lussi’s rink was built, there was a green door on the side of the building that was rarely locked or, if so, the kids would arrange for a friend to let them in. Plus there’s a loose window they can slip through. The trick was not caught by Bob Allen. Luckily, a few people threw away their single-entry tickets, which the kids took if Allen cornered them.
“We were lucky to have the facility built for the 1932 Olympics,” said Martin. “It doesn’t sit there; arena is used.”
The Roamers haven’t won every game or season, but they have the talent, potential, and heart for locals and visitors alike to know that when they’re in town, the Olympic Arena is the place to be. An added attraction is that they usually have high school hockey or piss games before the Roamers take on the ice; thus, most came to attend both events.
“I can go back to the mid-1960s,” said Martin. “The preliminaries are high school matches. Before I played, I remember going to see our high school and still watching the Roamers play. The place was packed; it’s a must-see every Saturday night, with the same amount of seating at every game. There’s a snack bar down the hall with Ed Heim serving hot dogs and hamburgers and popcorn that smells good of the place; it has a great community atmosphere.
When important events come to town, people volunteer across sports and often bring high school kids from class to help pack up the ski jump hill if needed. But when it comes to entertainment and sharing time with Placidians from all walks of life and parts of the city, nothing beats watching the Roamers play. They entertained, played hard, were competitive, and no matter what happened during the game, players from both teams shook hands before leaving the ice.
“We love it when the Canadians come down. They put Molsons’ luggage in our locker room, and we put Schaefers’ suitcase in theirs.” said O’Neil.
“Naming the cafeteria after the Roamers makes sense; they are a big part of our heritage.” said Martin. “And their locker room is still there. If entering the arena from the Hall of Fame passage, the room on the left is always called the Roamer Room. It was Percy Drouin’s pride and joy. He tracked it all week for the players, and he was the only one with the keys to get in there. He is another great story; he came to play and ended up staying here, working for Bart Patnode, and becoming a coach and local legend.”
(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has covered events for News for over 15 years.)
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