PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island has always punched above its weight when it comes to hockey.
Natives of our tiny state, as well as men and women who were born elsewhere but played or coached here, have made their mark at all levels of the game, on and off the ice.
That continues today with Providence’s Lou Lamoriello as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Warwick’s John Hynes coaching the New Jersey Devils and Johnston’s Noel Acciari skating for the Boston Bruins.
But one thing that’s been missing is a central location where Rhode Island’s illustrious hockey history can be celebrated and preserved.
With the establishment of the Rhode Island Hockey Hall of Fame, that’s no longer the case.
The official announcement was made on Jan. 19. That date couldn’t have been more fitting.
It was the 120th anniversary of the first recorded college game and the first game involving a Rhode Island team, as Brown University defeated Harvard, 6-0, at Franklin Field in Boston in 1898. Four of Brown’s seven skaters that day were Rhode Islanders.
The first high school teams took to the ice — outdoors, of course — a couple of years later. And we’ve been playing ever since.
Teaming up to make the hall a reality are two organizations — the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society and Rhode Island Hockey, the local affiliate of USA Hockey. Both groups deserve a lot of credit for taking the initiative.
To start, the Hall will be an virtual shrine located at RIHHOF.com. Take a look — it’s a great-looking website that promises to be even better down the road. The hope is that eventually the Hall will grow to include a Wall of Fame in some public venue and a permanent public exhibit.
On Tuesday, Vin Cimini, chairman of the hall’s nine-member founders’ committee, talked about what hockey means to Rhode Island and the hall’s mission at an introductory news conference in the State House rotunda.
“Over six generations, the puck and the passion for this great game has been passed from father to son and, now, from mother to daughter. We believe that the best of those who have played it, served it and distinguished themselves in doing so should be honored with their achievement preserved so that they may continue to inspire and pave the way for present and future generations of young men and women who dream of reaching the highest heights of our great game,″ he said.
“We say ‘our’ great game, because of all the major sports in the modern era, our state has produced and contributed more players, coaches and executives to the highest levels of the game of hockey than to any other sport.″
For Cimini, a former goaltender at La Salle Academy who later worked for the Providence Reds, hockey’s history here was something he started thinking about a few years ago when he gave a gift to a young nephew. It was a Boston Bruins Bobby Orr replica jersey.
“He opened it up in the locker room with all of his teammates and he looked at the back of it and he said to his father, ‘Who’s Orr?’ That amazed me,″ he said.
Later, Cimini gave another nephew a Rhode Island Reds hat.
“He asked, ‘Who are these guys?’ So it occurred to me that the history of the game as it relates to Rhode Island or this region was kind of being lost in the fog.″
The establishment of the Rhode Island Hockey Hall of Fame should make sure that our great history never fades away.
The charter class of inductees will be announced on March 1. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the selection committee.) They will be enshrined on Sept. 20 at the Twin River Event Center in Lincoln.
“Our belief is that hockey is not simply a sport in Rhode Island. It is an integral part of our state’s shared culture,″ Cimini said.
Amen to that.
By Mark Divver
Assistant Sports Editor