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Six decades later, Beanpot memories still served up

Bud Purcell, 83, Walt Greeley, 82, Joe Morgan, 83, Jim Campion, 82, and Dick Rodenhiser, 81, (left to right) gather regularly to share memories of their days as pioneers in the first Beanpot Tournament.

Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe

Bud Purcell, 83, Walt Greeley, 82, Joe Morgan, 83, Jim Campion, 82, and Dick Rodenhiser, 81, (left to right) gather to share memories of their days as pioneers in the first Beanpot Tournament.

FRAMINGHAM — They had no idea that it was going to turn into the battle for college hockey bragging rights in Boston.

On Dec. 26, 1952, at Boston Arena, Boston University defeated Northeastern, 4-1, and Harvard edged Boston College in overtime, 3-2.

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The following night, Harvard outslugged BU, 7-4, for the championship, while BC blanked Northeastern in the consolation game.

The Beanpot was born, even though only a handful people called the tournament by that name. The players thought they were playing in the “New England Hockey Invitational.’’ It took a couple of years before the games between the four schools took on the name “Beanpot.’’

“During the season we heard we were going to play a couple more games, sort of a mini tournament,” recalled John “Bud” Purcell, captain of the 1952 Northeastern team, who played at Newton High.

Former Harvard hockey player Walter Greeley.

Former Harvard hockey player Walter Greeley.

One of his Northeastern teammates, Jim Campion, remembered that “the games were the first day after Christmas and I was a commuter and I didn’t want to go to Boston. It was such a surprise.”

Campion and Walter Greeley, who was a team captain at Harvard, had been linemates at Framingham High.

Greeley recalled that the four college hockey teams used to travel west for games during the Christmas break. “I think the athletic directors said, ‘Why not have our own tournament and save money?’ ”

No one understood where it was going or whether it would last.

“Look what it’s blossomed into,” said Dick Rodenhiser, a star at BU back then and later a two-time Olympian.

The first round of the 62d Beanpot Tournament will open Monday night at TD Garden, with the consolation and championship games scheduled for the following Monday.

They are octogenarians now — Greeley and Campion are both 82, Purcell 83, and Rodenhiser 81 — and they are all proud to say that they played in the first Beanpot.

For over a decade they have met for lunch a week or so before the tourney, usually in the Framingham area, to rehash the good old days, have a beer, a few laughs, and tell hockey stories. The foursome has been joined by former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan, a Walpole High standout who starred on the ice at Boston College.

Greeley was no stranger to Boston Arena. His Framingham High team played there as a member of the Bay State League; it was at the arena that Framingham lost to Arlington High, 7-0, in the state championship game.

Greeley scored the game-winning goal that beat BC in the first Beanpot, and he was named MVP of the tournament after scoring three goals in the 7-4 win over BU for the title.

“Rodenhiser scored three of their goals,” said Greeley, who later entered the financial world in Boston. “I don’t know what made the tournament take off, but the next year it was played at Boston Garden.”

Northeastern hockey player Bob Purcell.

Handout

Former Northeastern hockey player Bob Purcell.

Attendance was sluggish at first, with 4,000 or 5,000 fans showing up. But in 1961, the Garden was sold out, 13,909 strong.

“We grew up in the golden age of hockey in Boston,” Greeley said. It was a time when the local college teams were comprised mostly of players from the area. Today, that net stretches across the country, to Canada, and to Europe.

“Players from around Boston could play with anybody,” said Greeley, who lives in Wellesley. “Some of them played in the Olympics.” Harvard’s Bill Cleary was one, along with Rodenhiser, the flashy center from Malden.

A Framingham resident for nearly 50 years, Rodenhiser ran Loring Arena from the year it opened, 1963, until 1996. “The first municipal rink in Massachusetts,” he said proudly. He also played there for eight years for the Framingham Pics in a rough-and-tumble semipro league, retiring at 40.

Following his sophomore year at BU, Rodenhiser was drafted into the Army, where he spent two years. Before going in, he had made the US national team in 1955. A year later he was on the Olympic team that won a silver medal in Cortina, Italy.

The US team had stopped in Boston to play against Northeastern, BU, and BC. “We played a period against each team before going to Europe,” said Rodenhiser.

Four years later, the US team won gold at Squaw Valley in California. “We beat the Canadians and Russians. That was quite a thrill after losing to them in ’56,” said Rodenhiser.

Although he traveled to many exotic places, Rodenhiser didn’t stray far from the rink. “People would say, ‘Why didn’t you go see some things?’ I was obsessed with playing hockey.”

Purcell said, “I was a better football player than a hockey player at Newton High.”

He was not recruited for either sport, but wound up at Northeastern, attending evening classes at first. He made the freshman hockey team. “We felt we could beat the varsity, and we did.” His junior season was “a golden year for Northeastern,” said Purcell. “The football team went undefeated and in hockey we split with BC, Harvard, and BU.”

His overtime goal beat BC.

Shortly after the Beanpot moved to the Garden and drew capacity crowds, “it became a social event,” said Purcell.

Purcell retired from the insurance business in 1994 and lives in Beverly. “Hockey made my life,” he said. “And if I hadn’t gone to college, I’d probably have been a day laborer.”

The initial Beanpot “had no signature; it was just another game,” said Campion, who went on to work for Sikorsky Aircraft in Connecticut for 37 years. But he particularly remembers Rodenhiser. “He was so fast.”

When Framingham High played Walpole, Campion said, “I wanted to stop the great Joe Morgan because he was so good.” Did he? Campion could not remember.

Morgan, the Bay State League MVP in hockey and baseball as a high school senior, recalled that “there was a sheet of ice at every corner in Walpole. I’d be out there until 8 at night, working on my stick-handling.”

He went to BC on a hockey scholarship, and led the Eagles in points as a junior. But Morgan did not play in the first Beanpot as a senior; he had signed with the Boston Braves a few months earlier. He remains a big hockey fan, and attends BC games and the Beanpot.

Since the 50th Beanpot — 12 years ago — these forever-young men of hockey have met to revisit the past, catch up on their present lives, and tell Beanpot stories, 62 years after they were on the ground floor of something big. But how could they have known?

Lenny Megliola can be reached at lennymegs@aol.com.
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