A Hockey Memory: Seaver Peters, The Man Who Made Snooks Kelley’s Dramatic 500th Win Possible

Peters, product of Melrose, Massachusetts, as captain of Dartmouth hockey.

The news of the passing of Seaver Peters, the man who was Dartmouth College athletics as its director from 1967 to 1983, brought back yet another fond sporting memory from my own school, Boston College.

Seaver was a distinguished gentleman and sportsman — a hockey man, of course – and someone whose opinions were always sought on burning issues of the day.  A good guy he was. May he rest in peace.

That fond sporting memory was of the ragtag Eagles’ dramatic 7-5 win over defending and soon-to-be-repeating national champion Boston University in 1972. That game was BC’s own little Miracle on Ice. It gave retiring coach John “Snooks” Kelley his 500th career triumph, an unprecedented accomplishment at the time.  Like the 1980 Olympic team and the Russians, BC would have lost to their opponents nine times out of ten.

But not that night. And a decision by Seaver Peters back in November of the previous year was an indispensable step in allowing BC to come into its meeting with BU with 499 career wins on the Snooker’s record.

Jack Kelley after his NCAA championship win against Cornell in 1972

That decision was straight-laced and principled, but it looks rather quaint in hindsight.

On the eve of the season, Mr. Peters canceled a scheduled game against Boston University. Dartmouth then needed another game, and BC athletic director Bill Flynn obliged.

Why the cancellation? The hot, contentious issue swirling through Eastern college hockey at that time was the so-called “Colgate proposal,” which allowed freshmen to compete on the varsity squads. Teams like Colgate and RPI, who saw themselves at a financial and recruiting disadvantage, were all for it. The whole Ivy League was against it.

BC and several others declared that they would not use freshmen. But BU coach Jack Kelley stated that while he would not do so initially, he would reserve the right to use freshmen if necessary.

Jack Kelley’s declaration was enough for Peters, who stated that it was “implicit in the original contract” that freshmen would not be used. The Terriers feigned outrage, then shrugged it off and picked up a game with UMass, a Division Two program at the time.

I remember distinctly the day of the addition. I worked odd jobs around the BC athletic department in those days. I had put together the hockey guide for the season, and we were all ready to go to press. When I arrived at the sports information office, director Eddie Miller had an updated printer’s proof in his hand. The schedule, printed in color on the back, showed a game at Dartmouth inserted in late February.

“We’re adding a game with Dartmouth,” he said matter-of-factly.

Snooks Kelley with 1972 team leaders Ed Kenty, left, and captain Vin Shanley, right.

OK, fine, I thought. But the actual placement of the contest looked positively insane.

The game was to be played on a Monday night. But on the previous weekend, BC had to take the brutal North Country swing. They would fly to the tundras of far upstate New York to play at Clarkson on Friday and at St. Lawrence on Saturday.  Then they’d fly home on Sunday and take a bus up to Dartmouth on Monday. Two nights later they’d face the Terriers.

And before that weekend trip, things looked pretty bleak. BC was struggling. They lost the Beanpot opener to BU and barely squeaked out a consolation game win against Northeastern. They lost the Beanpot sandwich game, at home, to Dartmouth.  Snooks had only 497 wins. Four games in six nights, all against teams that were better than they, faced them.

But it spun out into a Hallmark ending that started with a 6-4 upset of Clarkson, a team coached by Snooks’ eventual successor, Len Ceglarski. They lost the next night, 7-5.

Oh, let’s not forget the weather. The team’s chartered flight, on a DC-3 from Air New England, barely made it to Massena, New York before a massive snow storm hit. The snow had stopped by Sunday, but the flight home was delayed. It finally arrived in Boston late on Sunday after a lusty buffeting by the winter winds. Several of the players made use of their barf bags. There was no time to practice for the game at Dartmouth.

But at least they played the game and somehow pulled it out.  Dave Pearlman and Bill Bedard were the BC broadcasters. I was sitting with them, as an “objective” journalist in my capacity as Eastern College reporter for The Hockey News.  If memory serves, it was a breakaway goal by Ed Hayes that made the difference in the 6-5 contest. The game would never have been played, were it not for Seaver Peters and his stand against freshman eligibility.

I also recall boarding the bus outside drafty old Davis Rink after the game. BU alumnus Jack Garrity, who had refereed, shook Snooks Kelley’s hand and said, “Well, just one more, coach.”

Snooks did get that one more two nights later in a well-chronicled upset. Then he retired. Jack Kelley directed the Terriers to another national title, then left to coach the New England Whalers. It was their last meeting. The series between the two schools stood at 50-50-4 after that game.

Seaver Peters stayed on at Dartmouth for another decade. He hired football coach Joe Yukica away from BC. Later on, Seaver went into the investment business. Joe ended up working for him there too.

And what about freshman eligibility? Did Jack Kelley ever exercise his right to use freshmen?

Seaver Peters in his retirement years

Yes, he did.  It was in the NCAA final game at Boston Garden. BU blew away Cornell, 4-0. When the game was safely won, freshman defenseman Vic Stanfield took a few turns on the ice. He was, I believe, the first and only BU freshman to play that year.

And the issue of freshman eligibility melted away like April snow. Everybody except the Ivy League teams was using them the following season, and pretty soon they followed suit too.

But at the time, it was important to many people that the structure of college sports remain as it had been, that freshmen compete only on freshman teams while they got used to the rigors of college life. It was a good idea then, and it remains a good idea today if you believe in the “student athlete.” But there’s no going back.

Seaver Peters believed in that idea. And he didn’t just talk about it.  He put his beliefs into action.

Thank you, Seaver Peters. We’ll always need leaders like you, in every walk of life. And once again, rest in peace.

2 Responses to “A Hockey Memory: Seaver Peters, The Man Who Made Snooks Kelley’s Dramatic 500th Win Possible”

  1. Jack Parker Says:

    Tom, Great article. Making freshmen eligible was a sad day. It changed college athletics forever and not necessarily for the better.
    To this day I tell people that the most fun I ever had playing hockey was playing on the freshmen team at BU and the most fun I ever had coaching hockey was coaching the freshmen team at BU. Jack Parker

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