Is there anybody who hasn’t seen, read, or at least heard about a movie or a memoir about a reunion of former high school teammates?
For members of the Bedford High School 1970-71 hockey team, their recent 50-year reunion not only celebrated a sports milestone but also ratified a value system that players feel is everlasting.
“It truly is a wonderful story of a team that went from the basement of the Dual County League to the top and started a winning tradition, a foundation for BHS sports,” said Mike Lane, a senior on the team. He added that it’s a formula for a story “that has been told before but needs reiteration, especially in this troubled and complex world we live in today.”
“I think our team was unique and special, but the benefits of participation in school sports, arts, etc., win or lose, is timelessly important in development of character and confidence,” Lane asserted, adding, “It’s a story for all ages!”
“It’s been great that we have been able to stay in contact with most of the hockey guys,” said his classmate Charlie Stefanelli, who has organized four team reunions with Mike Lane’s brother Mark. “Many of the hockey guys are still some of my best friends.”
The group first got together after 20 years but began reconnecting more after the passing of one of their teammates, Tom Griffiths, almost six years ago. Griffiths, who later played at Elmira College and in Europe and coached at BHS for several years, died of cancer at age 61.
“We all grew up together playing youth hockey, so the dynamics and friendships were already there,” said teammate Robert Landfear. “And each year we matured, we hit a new level of competency and success.”
Mark Lane said that in 1970-71, “a third of the team were kids I grew up with on Brooksbie Road. I knew them since I was six years old. That made it a little more special.” Half of the Buccaneers went on to play college hockey, said Mark Lane, who played at Babson.
Stefanelli recalled the origins of Bedford Youth Hockey. “Some of the founders were Fred Songin, Joe Lane, Joe Colliton, and Greg Ashe. Those guys worked extremely hard to get the hockey program off the ground.”
Landfear said his freshman year—1967-68—BHS hockey was at the bottom of the league standings. “Each year we got better, and success breeds that bonding, friendship, and cohesion.” And that has continued for more than a half-century.
Their coach was Paul Sainato, an elementary school teacher who was at the helm at BHS for a decade and officiated high school games up until about four years ago. “I went down to the Edge this week and did some skating for exercise,” said Sainato, who is 86. “Last weekend I went out and played some golf.”
“We were very lucky to have such a great coach in Mr. Sainato,” said Stefanelli. “He was a tough coach but very fair. Back in those days whatever the coach said, we did it. No backtalk, no whining to your parents, just go out and do what the coach said.”
Landfear concurred. “Paul was a very tough coach. We would go in the gym in full pads and do half an hour of calisthenics because he wanted us to be in the best shape we could be — and we were. That added to our success as well.”
“Coach Sainato was a great mentor for all the players. He taught us to play hard but clean hockey. Always respect the referees,” Stefanelli said. “He taught us the importance of playing as a team, not a bunch of individuals. Some hockey teammates seldom played in the games but everyone had a role. Working as a team is something that I definitely continued in my business career.”
Sainato gave the credit to the Buccaneers. “We had some kids who wanted to win and work hard at it. That means an awful lot.” One reason the team was successful was “we all got along. There weren’t any outliers,” Landfear reflected.
“Some of the Bedford kids actually had rinks built in their back yards,” Stefanelli said. His father Duke and Al Pitts, a neighbor who played at Boston College, built a rink 100 feet long and 40 feet wide, he said, “and sometimes there were over 30 kids skating at once. Duke’s rule was that anyone could skate but they had to help clean the ice at the end of the day.”
Fifty years ago, Bedford was swept up along with the rest of New England by the hockey madness that accompanied the arrival of Bobby Orr and the championship success of the Boston Bruins.
“Hockey was hitting a crescendo in the Boston area,” Landfear remembered. “The level of hockey in high school and college improved dramatically. As high school players, we wanted to be on that bandwagon. We wanted to represent our town and our high school.”
“I remember the tryouts being very competitive with over 100 kids trying out for only 18 spots on the roster,” Stefanelli said. Landfear also recalled, “They had to take buses to the tryouts at Middlesex School.”
Most of the games took place at the Billerica Forum. Mark Lane related, “If you had a team that was halfway decent, people came to the games. There could have been 1,500 or 2,000 people at the Forum. In the last game I played vs. Burlington, there were over 4,000 people at Boston Arena. We were on the coattails of the Bruins. The support was fantastic.” Stefanelli agreed: “The games were so exciting and always packed with fans. Everyone caught the hockey bug back in those days.”
“Freshman year, we probably had the parents of the players,” Landfear related. “As the team got better there was more of a following. The Forum was packed senior year every game. It was an amazing time in my life to go through that.”
Part of the culture was an incessant demand for ice time. “Our parents were driving us at 5 a.m. The dedication and sacrifice that our parents made was remarkable,” Landfear said. “As his only son, my father took that to heart. in retrospect, I really see the value of that.”
A landmark of the hockey world was—and still is—up on North Road. H.A. Zwicker was not only the place for gear but also the all-important skate-sharpening. When the store located in Bedford, “We were thrilled because you could go up there on a Saturday morning and get our skates sharpened,” Landfear said.
Sainato, who played at Malden Catholic High School, recalled that as a Providence College Friar, he would occasionally drive up to Zwicker’s in Arlington with his and teammates’ skates for sharpening. “One of the most important aspects of hockey equipment is making sure you have good edges, said Landfear, “If the edge isn’t there, you’re out. “
“There were lots of contributors,” Mike Lane reflected. “Parents who paid for ice time and skates, Greg Ashe, a Bauer Hockey Sports Equipment sales guy who sold the program equipment at cost or less, fans coming out in droves to support us, our coach, who even got his bus driver’s license to reduce travel costs, and Athletics Director Arthur McManus, quietly supportive of our team and motivational.”
Then there was Charlie’s father Duke, who at the time was part of his family business, Bedford Fruit Store. “Each game Duke would supply oranges and orange juice for in between the periods. I remember getting fitted for jackets for being Dual County League co-champs. All the measurements were done in the back of Duke’s store. It was a little crowded. “
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 781-983-1763