ON THE SCENE: Roamers remembered at new ORDA bistro

1960s Roamers: The coach was Stan Moore and players were Dave Fogarty-Tim McAdam, Tim Smythe and Tom Mellor — with goalies Butch Kackle and Pete Sears. (Provided photo)

The state Olympic Regional Development Authority has named its new bar and bistro in the Miracle Building after a hockey team, but not the one you’d 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 a beloved semi-pro hockey team based in the 1932 Olympic Arena. They didn’t just play in the arena; they filled it with screaming fans. As Fats Waller would have said, had he attended a game, “The Joint is Jumpin’.”

The Roamers served as a farm team for the New York Rangers and were a tad unusual as they included a mix of Canadian and U.S. players. They also played at a time when the internet didn’t exist and when there weren’t many competing events on Saturday nights. As a consequence, a large percentage of the community turned out to watch them play — especially as their games were exciting and hard-fought.

Initially, the Roamers were jointly sponsored and organized by the North Elba Park District and the New York Rangers, which had two other farm teams, the New York Rovers and the New Haven Ramblers. From the start, the team, initially coached by Frankie Butcher, included Canadian players and members from Lake Placid and the North Country. They began with a 24-weekend season, often going up against Ottawa and Quebec teams. As part of the agreement, their coach and team members coached local youth on Fridays throughout the season.

“A couple of locals always played on the team,” said Butch Martin a former Roamers player who is currently the manager of the North Elba Park District. “In my time, Bernie and Bobbie Preston and Larry Barney played. Phil Beaney and Rik Cassidy played. I played. If we were home on break from college, we’d play. Bob Allen, who served as the general manager, gave us a different name as he didn’t want us to lose our eligibility. He usually gave us figure skating names like Dick Button, Gus Lussi, and others; we’d play under their names. The guys from Cornwall, Ottawa, and elsewhere were hardcore old-time Canadian hockey players — great fun to be around who played great hockey.”

Roamers Lake Placid is the new bar and bistro located on the second floor of the Olympic Center’s Miracle Plaza. It is named after a former Lake Placid hockey team. (Provided photo)

“If you ever watched ‘Slap Shot,’ we’d fit in pretty well,” said Bill O’Neil. “Except, the Roamers played better hockey. Some of the problems for the local players is that the rivalries they had in high school continued, like when they played Clinton, New York. When the Clinton boys came in, there was a huge brawl. We loved it. Alice Beckel, the mother of everybody in the rink, was at the game. I remember her going out on the ice, hitting some of the Clinton guys with her shoe and telling them to behave.”

The Roamers had talent and shook not only the arena’s rafters but let the Northeastern semi-pro league know that they were a team to be reckoned with. For example, their first game was a double-header win against a tough Ontario team. The Lake Placid News reported, “Roamers set back Cornwall twice, winning 3-2, 6-3. Displaying plenty of scoring power, the Roamers opened their 1946-47 hockey season here over the weekend with a twin win over the Cornwall Falcons before a near-capacity audience.”

Not slowing down, the paper’s Jan. 31, 1947 headline screamed, “Roamers Dazzle Mets with Speed, Win 8-1 and 13-3; New Yorkers Baffled by (the) Locals.” The article states, “The Metropolitan All-Stars may be ‘hot stuff’ to hockey fans in New York City, but up here they were just another team as the Roamers gave them a thorough going over in the weekend series. They whipped the invaders 8-1 on Saturday night, then gave them a 13-3 mauling on Sunday afternoon.”

“When I was a kid, we’d scrape the ice between games,” said Rik Cassidy. “I think Butch did. Bob Allen would ask us if we’d want to scrape. We did because we’d get a ticket to a game, and it helped us with our skating skills, but those scrapers were heavy. We got quite a workout.”

Naturally, young hockey players wanted to watch the Roamers play, but many couldn’t afford the tickets, so if they couldn’t get on the scrapers’ list, they snuck in. Before the Lussi rink was built, there was a green door on that side of the building that was rarely locked or, if so, the kids would arrange to have a friend let them in. Plus there was a loose window they could sneak through. The trick was not being caught by Bob Allen. Fortunately, some people discarded their tickets once in, which the kids scavenged for in case Allen cornered them.

Lake Placid Roamers hockey players Larry Straight, Phil Lalande and Ken Lebel skid to a stop in the rink. (Provided photo)

“We were fortunate to have that facility built for the 1932 Games,” said Martin. “It didn’t sit there; the arena was used.”

The Roamers did not win every game or season, but they had the talent, potential and heart for locals and visitors to know that when they were in town, the Olympic Arena was the place to be. An added attraction is that they usually held a pee-wee or high school hockey game before the Roamers took the ice; thus, most came to attend both events.

“I can go back to the mid-1960s,” said Martin. “The preliminary game was the high school game. Before I was playing, I can remember going to watch our high school and staying to watch the Roamers play. The place was packed; it was the place to be every Saturday night, with many having the same seat at every game. There was a snack bar in the hallway with Ed Heim serving hot dogs and the hamburgers and popcorn smelling up the place; it had a great community atmosphere.”

When significant events came to town, people volunteered across sports and often took high school kids from class to help pack the ski jump hill if needed. But when it came to entertainment and sharing time with Placidians from all walks of life and sections of town, nothing beat attending a Roamers game. They were entertaining, played hard, competitive, and no matter what happened during the game, the players from both teams shook hands before leaving the ice.

“We loved it when the Canadians came down. They’d put a case of Molsons in our locker room, and we’d put a case of Schaefers in theirs,” said O’Neil.

Former Roamers hockey player Butch Martin, of Lake Placid, is currently the manager of the North Elba Park District. (Provided photo)

“Naming the cafeteria after the Roamers makes sense; they were a great part of our heritage,” said Martin. “And their locker room is still there. If you enter the rink from the Hall of Fame hallway, the room on the left was always called the Roamer Room. It was Percy Drouin’s pride and joy. He kept track of it all week for the players, and he was the only one with the key to getting in there. He’s another great story; he came down 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 been covering events for the News for more than 15 years.)

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