At the other end of the telephone, Tom Feeley recalled his days playing high-school hockey.
“It was simpler times,” he said. “We were on the ice with referees and the goaltenders had equipment.”
Feeley graduated from Archbishop Wood in the spring of 1975. He skated for the Vikings in the 74-75 season, the first year the school had a team. The year before, as a junior, he played for Hatboro-Horsham in the Suburban High School Hockey League’s inaugural season.
A lot of high school kids wanted to play hockey around that time. The reason was the Philadelphia Flyers, who won their first Stanley Cup the same year the SHSHL got started.
“The Flyers were doing great,” Feeley said. “It was just so cool to be on the ice. Playing hockey and occasionally scoring goals and lifting your stick up it just felt like you were a Flyer; you felt like you were not a professional, but you kind of better understood the game and watching it by playing it.”
Feeley grew up in Southampton. He and his friends got their start like many others did in that time and place, playing street hockey.
“That’s where most of us learned how to play,” he said. “We would play very day after school in the backyard of one of the neighbors who had an asphalt court about one third the size of a regular basketball court.
“We usually ended up with one net, one goalie, and that goalie would play full-time goalie for both teams. That’s where we were all the time.
“Then, when the local pond or creek froze, we got a chance to put skates on, but most of the time it was street hockey in sneakers.”
By 1973-74, Feeley’s junior year of high school, the Flyers were starting their seventh season and attracting a fair amount of attention A lot of teenage boys wanted to be hockey players. That combination of circumstances led to the launch of the SHSHL that year.
While Archbishop Wood didn’t field a team that year, Hatboro-Horsham did. The issue of ‘purity’, of players actually attending the high school they played for, wasn’t as big a factor then as it would later become, which explains why Feeley spent his junior season in the Hatters’ red and black instead of the Vikings’ black and gold.
“I think we may have wanted to get a team going at Wood my junior year,” he said, “and there just wasn’t enough interest.
“There were a couple of us from Wood that wound up playing for Hatboro-Horsham; I don’t know how that happened; someone must have known someone there.”
The Hatboro-Horsham program had its origins in the 1972-73 season. While it was founded by three Hatboro-Horsham students, Bob Sands, Gary Rossler, and John Wszalek, it was less a high-school hockey team than a community hockey club, one that was open to men as well as boys. The group would get together at the Wintersport rink on York Road in Willow Grove.
The following year, the group became the Hatboro-Horsham Ice Hockey Club. The founders became the first coaches and the team joined the high-school league that had been created at Wintersport midway through the previous season.
The 1973-74 is considered the Suburban High School Hockey League’s first official season. All league games were played at Wintersport, usually late on Friday nights or Saturday mornings and occasionally on Sundays.
They were not necessarily prime time games,” Feeley said. “Maybe during the playoffs they would mostly have evening games, but we had a couple games that would start at like 10:00 on Saturday morning.”
Wintersport was a no-frills facility. In those days, there was no glass above the boards.
“There was a black chain link fence that went around behind the goalies,” Feeley said. “It kind of stretched up to maybe the blue line and then it was kind of open in between.”
Feeley recalls that Hatboro-Horsham’s first head coach was Ray Reynolds. “His son, Ray Junior played on the team,” he said. “He was probably, if not our best, one of our best two players. He was fast, he could skate, and he had come from a background of hockey He was one of the few kids on our team that actually played some hockey before they started playing high school.”
Feeley notes that primary job of the coaching staff was to make sure the players came off the ice when they were supposed to. “They tried to control the line shifts,” he said, “but there was many a time when I player didn’t come off and his teammates were yelling at him, ‘Come on, come on,’ because it would mess up the lines. For most the part, we would short shift everyone would come on as a group and go off as a group.”
There were no organized practices because of the cost of the ice so the players sharpened their skills by continuing to play street hockey.
“I remember taking a piece of plywood and putting car wax on it,” Feeley said, “It was a piece of paneling actually. and using that in my driveway and shooting a regular, vulcanized puck with a hockey stick off of that to try to develop a wrist shot and shooting that against the garage door.
“We would come up with ideas and ways to get some practice, even though it wasn’t on the ice.”
Feeley was a defenseman throughout his high-school career. “ I was a pretty good skater,” he recalls. “We had a few guys who were definitely better skaters I but could skate. And with defense, you’re just on the ice longer because we typically went with two pairs of defensemen. We had a third pair but we’d get more ice time, an extra shift a period, if you played defense.
“So I played defense and I tried to be more of an offensive defenseman. My partner at Wood, Ron Fetch, was more stay-at-home.”
That 1973-74 season saw the Hatters win one of nine games. The following year, Archbishop Wood had a team organized by Ray Reinhl, an influential figure in the early years of the SHSHL.
Feeley scored the team’s first official SHSHL goal in a 4-2 season-opening win over North Penn. That team reached the league championship series before losing to Abington two games to one.
Feeley recalls that he and his teammates were enthralled by the opportunity to play hockey. The players had a do-it-yourself attitude.
“There would be a core group of spectators at every game,” he said, “Sometimes kids from school, sometimes some parents, but back then, you didn’t have parents involved in every single thing your kids did.. We took ourselves to the games, and practices. Our parents would come but they weren’t in the face of the coach, they weren’t trying to influence who gets to play. It was pretty pure back then.
“It was right around the (oil embargo) in the early 70s; sometimes you didn’t know if you were going to get enough gas in your car to get to the rink and back but the playing was just pure fun.”
After high school Feeley headed to California University of Pennsylvania. His efforts to start a club team there were unsuccessful, although he did play in some pickup games
He played in a men’s league for a time after college but today he’s a successful businessman in the Pittsburgh area and an ardent fan of the Penguins.
He looks back fondly on his days playing high-school hockey. “It was just fun, joyful, low stress,” he said. “No one was playing for a scholarship, no one was playing for any other reason than because we enjoyed it.”