Random Thoughts

Old time hockey

... Priestley recalls glory days on the ice.

from Christopher Hurley

For Russ Priestley, the game of hockey has always been the perfect escape.

Like many Melrosians, the Cottage Street resident celebrated Hockey Weekend Across America last week, fondly looking back at his established career, which has spanned the decades.

And he still has the clippings to prove it.

“I was chosen to be on the Greater Boston League All Stars, when we played against Catholic High of Montreal,” said Priestley, now 88, still sporting the clipping of the game from the Boston Herald, which was published Feb. 23, 1940. “Not only did we beat them, 4-1, but I scored two goals and one assist.”

According to Priestley, the headline writer for the Herald appeared to have made an error at the time, dubbing his team ‘Greater Boston Catholic High.’

“Where was that reporter from, Montreal?” he mused.

Just two days later, Priestley was making even more headlines, as a member of the Boston Globe All-Star team in its Feb. 25,1940 issue. Back then, there were six surrounding communities to Melrose, a total of eight teams which made up the GBI League. Out of that pool, Priestley was chosen as one of the six first team all-stars.

His selection came fresh off another notable victory, beating the Bay State League All-Stars, 4-1. Priestley scored a goal and an assist in that game, sharing the ice with another Melrose legend.

“Charlie Holt played on my line and earned a goal and an assist,” said Priestley, a MHS graduate Class of 1940. “Charlie was an excellent three-sport athlete at Melrose High and Dartmouth College and was later a strong success as the hockey coach at the University of New Hampshire.”

Holt passed away a few years ago prompting Priestley to write a fitting tribute in The Melrose Mirror, an on-line publication produced by the seniors of Melrose and sponsored by MIT.

Priestley remained active in hockey circles heading into the 70s, representing Melrose on behalf of The Heart Fund, Feb. 25, 1970. He was recruited by then-Melrose Mayor Tom Sullivan, who challenged former Boston Mayor Kevin White to a hockey game.

“We were just a bunch of WWII vets who didn’t know when to quit,” Priestley said. “We played once a week at any rink we could find, this one happened to be in a converted bus garage relabeled Hockeytown.”

Despite going up against White’s All-Star line-up, which included the likes of former Boston Bruin goaltender Gerry Cheevers, as well as other ex-Bruins and several municipal employees, Melrose remained on top.

“I think the final score was 4-2 in our favor,” Priestley said. “I know one thing, I had three goals and everyone tossed his or her hat onto the ice. It seemed ridiculous to me [at the time], but it’s the tradition known as the 'hat trick'.”  Ridiculous or not, Russ was voted the silver trophy as the game's Most Valuable Player.

And for Russ Priestley it was another hats-off achievement.

This interview was previously published in the Melrose Free Press on February 24, 2011, and is reprinted here with their permission.

March 4, 2011

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