WARWICK—Nostalgia is one of the most powerful emotions.
At the 17th annual Rhode Island Reds reunion, sponsored by the Reds Heritage Society, fans, players, reporters, and coaches united among the common feeling of remembering the past.
“We thank the fans, new and old, of the Reds, which, in our minds, still lives,” Buster Clegg, the benevolent former general manager of the A.H.L franchise said in his opening statement.
Clegg, who is also the president of the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society (RIRHS), is not in denial. Although the puck in the Rhode Island Auditorium in Providence hasn’t dropped in 40 years, the Reds are still prevalent today as a Rhode Island institution.
Everybody remembers the Reds: the smoke-filled stadium; the fights; Tom McDonough, the voice of the Reds; the snowy Providence nights; and the brilliant hockey. And even if they’re too young to remember the games, they’ve surely heard the stories.
“It’s just the stories,” guest of honor Bryan Berard said. “My father played hockey and my mom was a big fan, so they would always tell me stories about going to the auditorium, watching the players kind of becoming stars,” Berard added.
Berard, the 1995 N.H.L. rookie of the year, won the President’s Award for courage. The Rhode Island-native’s career was significantly impacted by a scary eye injury.
“I mean, it’s an honor to be on stage with a lot of the older players. Obviously, the Reds were such a big part of growing up and playing hockey in Rhode Island,” the N.H.L. star said.
Joe Cavanaugh, who was honored as a Rhode Island-native who has had a profound impact on the hockey community, agrees with Berard and says that the Reds spawned so much of the hockey culture Rhode Island still exhibits today.
“[The Reds] made hockey a special game,” Cavanagh said in his award acceptance speech.
Cavanagh, the Rhode Island-native who played collegiate hockey at Harvard University, decided to become a lawyer instead of pursuing his hockey dreams. He is now one of the most prominent attorneys in the state.
Although the Reds were always a minor-league team in the A.H.L., their players had tremendous talent. At the time, there were only six teams in the N.H.L., so the quality of play at the Reds games was top-notch.
Unlike Berard, Reds fan Levi Greene was a frequent spectator in the 1960’s. Additionally, Greene has attended most of the reunions to relive his fond memories.
To Greene, the Reds represent a different era of hockey; a more violent, barbaric sport which has been lost in translation over the years.
“Hockey used to be a tough sport, you had to be incredibly tough to play. There was fighting going on, it was unbelievable. No helmets. It was a different brand of hockey. Rough, tough. These days, you really need to have skill. Then, you just had to be a tough hockey player,” Greene said.
Greene reminisced when his hero Orland Kurtenbach, who played for the Reds in the early 60’s, won the Tops Award, the most prestigious honor the RIRHS hands out. Mark Divver was also recognized for his coverage of Rhode Island hockey in the Providence Journal.
In addition to preserving the history of the Reds, which is their primary mission, the Reds Heritage Society promotes scholastic and athletic success in hockey by recognizing high school “unsung heroes.”
Six high school hockey players—Liza Farnham (LaSalle/Moses Brown), Mary Greenwell (Warwick), Sean Murphy (North Smithfield), Kayla Gravel (Burrillville), Erin Drumm (Smithfield/Coventry), and Jim Varin (Smithfield)—received awards for their excellence on the ice and in the classroom.