Miracles relived daily in seaside gem
Bay State legend Jeremy Roenick (Marshfield, Mass.) with WYHA players at Larsen Rink. (Photo/Winthrop Youth Hockey Association)
By Phil Shore
Sometimes, it seems like sports these days are more of a business and more competitive than ever before. There’s competition for roster spots, for viewers’ eyeballs, for college scholarships, you name it. It seems like sometimes we can forget that sports are supposed to be fun.
Not Winthrop, Mass. Sure, competition can be a good thing, but the hockey players in Winthrop don’t forget to just enjoy themselves.
AT A GLANCELocation
The oceanside community of Winthrop is located in the Greater Boston area. It sits at the north end of Boston Harbor, connected to Revere by a narrow isthmus and to East Boston by a bridge over a harbor inlet. It is the southernmost part of Boston’s North Shore and has a 7-mile shoreline.
Winthrop was settled in 1630 and was originally known as Pullen Poynt. It was named Winthrop after John Winthrop, who was the second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop is home to five places on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Deane Winthrop House, originally built in 1675.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Winthrop was 17,497 people.
Winthrop is the birthplace and current home to 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team captain Mike Eruzione (above). Super Bowl-winning tight end Mark Bavaro was born in Winthrop, as was World Series champion pitcher Art Ditmar and 1969 NIT MVP and NBA veteran Terry Driscoll. Musician Steven Van Zandt, most famous for his work with Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, was born in Winthrop.
“Winthrop is definitely a hockey community,” said Steve Rogers, president of Winthrop Youth Hockey Association. “Hockey is number one. We have a rollerblading park where they have nets. Go down there any day of the week and you see 6-year-olds playing with 18-year-olds. The older kids teach the young kids. It really is special. They just fool around and have fun. There’s no coaching — it’s just about having fun and laughing.”
That pick-up style of hockey — which doesn’t seem to really exist much in today’s world, where so much of the hockey being played is organized leagues and tournaments — is a big part of Winthrop’s hockey history.
Long before a rink was built in Winthrop or there was a youth organization in place, kids still wanted to play ice hockey. To do so, they played on a frozen Lewis Lake and frozen-over tennis courts.
“You got there seven o’clock in the morning. If it snowed, you brought your shovels,” said Bob DeGregorio, the commissioner of Atlantic Hockey and a native and resident of Winthrop. “At the neck if it wasn’t frozen you’d fall in. You’d fall in but you didn’t go home. If you went home to change you couldn’t get back in the game. We froze off our fannies, but we wanted to play.”
The tradition of playing outdoors for fun continued throughout the years. USA hockey legend Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team that defeated the Russians and won the gold medal, is from Winthrop and remembers learning to skate outside of Winthrop High School thanks to Lawrence Larsen, a key booster from Winthrop Youth Hockey Association.
“Mr. Larsen used to freeze the tennis courts,” Eruzione recalled. “You’d make teams and just play. It was fun. I became a better player because of it. In high school … I’d skate before school started and then for lunch or study hall I’d go on the tennis courts and just skate.”
“Miracle on Ice” Eruzione is the pride of Winthrop. His run at Boston University and the 1980 Olympic team has made him a very popular figure in the town, which renamed the rink in Winthrop the Larsen Rink at the Mike Eruzione Center, complete with a section full of old photos and the like commemorating the namesakes of the building.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the town, obviously out of joy for his success,” DeGregorio said. “Michael is living proof if you stick with something, work hard and are dedicated, you can reap the benefits and be successful. His contributions speak for themselves for what he’s done for the game and community.”
Much like Eruzione remembers the older players helping the younger players when he was growing up, today he uses his experience and presence to give back and help the young hockey players in the town.
Rogers said Eruzione is involved in assisting the youth program, and Eruzione also has acted as a volunteer coach for the Winthrop High boys hockey team. Eruzione said he took off from coaching last year but intends to return for the upcoming season.
“Since the Olympics ended I’d go to practices and just go out and the ice and pass pucks around and offer advice and opinions,” he said. “It’s fun to see kids develop and become better and better players. We get a kid as a freshmen and it’s fun to see how far they’ve gotten. It’s important to give back. I was fortunate to have great parents and support when I was playing, and I like to think I can offer that as well.”
Rightfully so, the kids soak up all the Eruzione information and help they can get their hands on. Rogers said that the youth program even organized a trip for its players to see where the kid from the same town as them became a national hero.
“This past year for the first time we implemented a Lake Placid trip,” Rogers said. “They all want to go. Every other year the Bantams and U14 go as a graduation thing. … We’re trying to do that every other year.”
There are other talented players to come from Winthrop. Former NHL first-round draft pick and All-Star Rick DiPietro is from Winthrop, as is former BU star and AHL and NHL player Dale Dunbar, who currently coaches the Winthrop High hockey team.
“People are seeing that there is an opportunity and hard work does pay off,” DeGregorio said. “Those guys are prime examples of it.”
Opportunities for success are there, but the most important thing for men like Rogers and Eruzione is that the kids enjoy themselves and the sport brings the community together.
“We do a beach day in the summer. The day before our season starts we do a big cookout,” Rogers said. “We have a big event on girls hockey weekend. We do pond hockey. We invite girls from communities around us.”
The community has taken notice and responded positively. “The community enjoys watching the kids play,” Eruzione said. “They’re hockey fans and know we’ve got some good players that play. They enjoy watching the kid next door and supporting the program.”
Winthrop High Vikings players stand with Mites before a recent game.
It doesn’t matter if you play pro or just for some good times with your buddies, it brings a smile to people’s faces in Winthrop to drive through town and see people playing hockey.
“I played my entire life. I still play today. The fathers are playing pick-up hockey. The college kids are playing,” said Rogers. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done. Everyone’s worked really hard.”
This article originally appeared in the August edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to read the digital edition for free.