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.
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.
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.