Rice Hockey, the “orphan of the Institute”

That’s what they called it in a short article that appeared in the student magazine The Owl in 1940: “Although Rice has one of the smoothest working hockey clubs in the Southwest, few students even realize the existence of the team . . . Imagine a sport for which players actually pay to practice, playing for pure love of the action and bruising competition involved–for the Rice Institute hardly recognizes hockey. There is no award of letters, no fanfare of publicity, no coddling of the players–only sticks and playing suits are provided for the team.” They weren’t kidding, either. From the fragmentary evidence we have in the Woodson, it seems that Rice fielded a hockey team every season from 1933 to 1941. They made it into the Campanile exactly twice–in 1939 and 1941.

This is 1941. The skinny guy with the bandage on his head was Louis Girard, who wrote the lyrics to the Rice Fight Song and the Rice Hymn.

They had a couple of really good teams in there, too, led in the earlier years by the team’s star, a talented wing named Bill Eckhardt. (David Westheimer, later famous as a writer, played goalie for a couple of seasons.) For its first year, the team wasn’t even in a league, but just played all comers. The next season they joined the City Amateur Hockey League, where they were very competitive with the University of Houston, the Lone Star Creamery, the Falstaff Brewery, the Spalding Blue Streaks and the Houston Polar Bears. I’ve had to dig around quite a bit in old newspapers for this information, and I admit that it’s been kind of hard to figure some of this out–both teams and players seemed to shift around rather loosely. One thing that’s clear is that there was a constant search for competition. Even after joining the city league, the Owls always played whatever other random opponents they could scare up and some of the more talented players appear to have played on teams in other cities also. You get a really strong sense of how badly they just wanted to play.

Here's Girard again, in the Houston Post in 1941.

They tried to get Institute students down to the games, which were all played at the Polar Wave Ice Palace (on Hutchins at McGowen–built in the 1920s and for a long time the only rink in the city), by offering free admission and a reduced price of 25 cents for a skate after the game. This worked only intermittently. When the Owls played for the city league championship in 1939, over 1100 fans were there to see them lose to the Lone Stars. They finally broke through and won their first championship in 1941, only to disband right afterwards.

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3 Responses to Rice Hockey, the “orphan of the Institute”

  1. Louise Bell Girard says:

    Louis Joseph Girard was my husband for 36 years. He just lost his battle with Alzheimer’s Disease this past December 27, 2010, three months before his 92nd birthday. He often told me stories of his hockey days at Rice Institute with much pride and an equal amount of humor.
    He would be pleased to read the account published in The Owl from 1940. Louis graduated Rice in 1941 and went on to attend medical school at UTMB in Galveston.
    He had an illustrious career in ophthalmology for 55 years and fathered a wonderful, large family, 4 generations of Girards, who will delight in reading “The Orphan of the Institute”.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Mrs. Girard. He was obviously a wonderful man. I like hockey players a lot in general, but these guys were special. They had to really work and scrape to be able to play in Houston in the 1930s. I bet it was tremendous fun.

  2. Pingback: The Rice Fight Song, 1944 | Rice History Corner

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