My First Hockey Memories
November 18, 2003
by Grady Whittenburg
With Dusters Throwback Night coming up on December 6th with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in town, I began going back through my memories of the first ever professional hockey franchise in Binghamton.
My memories do not go back as far as some of the true diehards that still come out to the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena these days. My memories began with a bang, however, in the spring of 1978 and I have the Broome Dusters to thank for that.
Hockey was foreign to me growing up in the sticks in Newark Valley. My first sports love was baseball. With only four television channels to choose from, the NBC Game of the Week was the event that was circled on my calendar each week so I could get my fix.
It could have rained for five straight days and kept me from playing outside, but if a picture perfect day rolled around on Saturday and broke the streak, I’d forfeit fun in the sun for that one televised game a week at 2 p.m.
Cable television wasn’t an option at my parent’s home (nor was it until around 1990…) so this weekly baseball exposure was it, other than radio broadcasts (which blossomed into another passion of mine, but that’s another column for another time).
As life rolled along, anything associated with baseball took precedence. From collecting bubble gum cards, watching major leaguers and playing Little League, backyard whiffle ball contests with my cousins and neighborhood friends, to hitting rocks with an old bat down near the creek behind our house when there was nobody around to play with…you name it, I did it.
My only memories of hockey growing up during my “baseball years” were those of trying to teach myself to skate in stylish black figure skates on a neighbor’s frozen pond. And there was the time that my cousin nearly lost a couple of toes due to frostbite that had set in during one of our mid-winter skating sessions. While I struggled on figure skates, he was outfitted with hockey skates, complete with holes in the toes. What he was thinking that day I may never know, but I may inquire at our next family get-together.
Then came the night of March 17th, 1978.
It was the first hockey game I had seen in person. My limited exposure to the sport was back when NBC used to broadcast a Sunday afternoon match from time to time.
The tickets to the game were my dad’s. Actually, they were his company tickets, usually reserved for entertaining clients and the like.
But on this evening, I was one of the 4,855 spectators jammed into the Arena on St. Patrick’s Night in that season’s 11th and final sellout of the year.
Jacques Cossette turned the full house on its collective ear with his second hat trick in the month of March and did so in grand style.
Cossette not only got the hat trick, but totaled five goals in all, and was bearing down the wing in search of goal number six when the final horn cut ended his pursuit. The result was an 8-3 demolition of the Hershey Bears.
The big win, the wild crowd, some a little too much into the green beer that vendors were peddling that night, and the speed of the game…it got the blood of this 14-year old pumping and I knew I had to come back for more.
From that night forward, getting my dad to take me to a Dusters game was my goal every night I knew the team was going to be at home.
Even though Cossette was the hero that night, my subsequent return trips to the Arena saw my allegiances turn to the goaltending of Kenny Holland and the spirited play of Randy MacGregor.
That season, the Dusters’ first in the American Hockey League, was anything but memorable. A 27-46-8 record and a last place finish in the Northern Division and a league-high 377 goals against had the Dusters packing their bags for home after a 7-1 win over the Philadelphia Firebirds on the season’s final day.
While the big picture painted was a rather forgettable one of a team that finished 25 points out of a playoff spot, my love for the fastest game on earth was born and that passion continues on today.
With Dusters Throwback Night around the corner, I hope you, too, have fond memories of Dusters hockey that you relive from time to time. It should prove to be a memorable evening with the brown and gold flashing up and down the ice and the old style organ music pumping through the Arena speakers come December 6th.
While baseball held a special place in my heart as a youngster, and was the sport I was most successful at during my high school years, hockey took over the top spot in my heart on that cold winter’s night in March of 1978 at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
Whittenburg is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Binghamton Senators and can be heard on game night broadcasts on 680-WINR and at www.binghamtonsenators.com.