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    A tribute to McComb

    The John McComb Scholarship Fund, started by McComb's former players in mid-2002, already has received more than $13,000 in pledges. The scholarship will benefit Ohio University hockey players, trainers, managers and sports writers. For information on how you can donate to the fund, contact The Ohio University Foundation at 1-800-592-FUND.

  • February 20, 2003
    As national tournament approaches, hockey team reflects on its first coach
    By Joseph Hughes

    Listening to John McComb's friends, it's easy to see the imprint the school's first hockey coach left on Ohio University.

    McComb was here in 1957, when Bird Arena became the first indoor rink of its kind on an Ohio college campus. He was here a year later, turning a rough-at-the-edges collection of men into the University's first hockey team. And he was here eight years later, when his highly successful club hockey team gained varsity status.

    First Ohio Hockey TeamToday, the fruits of his labor are born each winter. Nearly 2,000 rabid hockey fans pack Bird Arena, cheering for the team McComb started. It's not a stretch to say that Ohio's three American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship banners - raised consecutively in the mid-1990s - wouldn't exist without the man known affectionately as "Coach."

    McComb, who passed away last April, came to Ohio University in 1957 to teach physical education and coach the Bobcat soccer team. But he soon found himself with new responsibilities. The native New Englander - no stranger to hockey - volunteered to coach a club team that would play its games in the newly constructed Bird Arena.

    Former Notre Dame coach shares thoughts on McComb

    Charles "Lefty" Smith, former head hockey coach at the University of Notre Dame, shared the following letter after hearing about an Ohio University call for memories about John McComb.


    December 10, 2002

    Mr. Dan Morris
    Hockey Coach
    Ohio University
    205 Bird Arena
    Athens, OH 45701

    Dear Dan,

    One of our former student trainers at Notre Dame when we started the varsity program in the fall of 1968 was surfing the Web and found a story noting that you and the alumni hockey people at Ohio University were going to have a tribute to your former great coach and fellow human being, John McComb, in January. Based on that, plus the fact that John and his Ohio University team were the first varsity opponents for the Notre Dame hockey team in November of 1968, I thought that I would like to give a few remarks about our association over the years.

    I got to know John through the American Hockey Coaches Association in about 1966. The association was much less formal than today and everyone was struggling to keep their programs afloat as we were trying to help hockey become the great sport that it is today. John was one of the most energetic and dedicated of the coaches in the AHCA. Back in those days we didn't have very many varsity programs. Plus, John really had to struggle because of the geographic location of Ohio University.

    We at Notre Dame owe a great debt of gratitude to John for giving us four games in the 1968-69 season. Not many teams wanted to play a new program, but John had great foresight and knew that someday we would have great college hockey programs over the entire country.

    Also, many years later as several of us were about to form the "Retired Hockey Coaches" group, John had retired from Ohio University and was living in South Carolina and enjoying his golf every day. He pitched right in and became a very active member of our newly formed group. In fact, he died on the very day that the AHCA was meeting for the Coach of the Year dinner in 2002. A great man and a great believer in college hockey.

    Sincerely,

    Lefty Smith
    Former Notre Dame hockey coach

    The weekend of Jan. 18-19, as part of Ohio hockey's annual alumni weekend, an overflow crowd gathered at Galbreath Chapel to honor McComb. More than 70 former players returned to Athens for the weekend to relive old memories, watch Ohio twice defeat Wisconsin-Whitewater and play in an alumni game.

    Dave Schwan, BSCOM '60, BSIT '60 and MBA '64, played on McComb's first team. He remembers cold, winter days when he and friends would gather for pick-up games on an East Green quarry pond.

    "We would lace up our skates next to a homemade fire," Schwan says. "It was cold, but fun."

    Bird Arena soon became a campus refuge for the men. While the desire to make Ohio hockey a success was there, he says, not always present were the fundamentals necessary for team success.

    "Coach played at Boston University and knew hockey," Schwan says. "Most of us didn't have much organized hockey experience like he had growing up in the Northeast. He saw how rough we were and spent a lot of time skill-building.

    "As a result, we weren't a finesse team. We played a dump-and-chase style of hockey, very bump-and-grind."

    The team members must have been quick learners. Ohio's icers, rolling after a 22-1 blowout of Ohio Northern in their first ever game, finished their inaugural season with a 6-2-1 record. McComb's teams won the next three Ohio Intercollegiate Hockey Association titles.

    The coach's even-tempered demeanor is famous among hockey alumni. Schwan talks about the time he fired an errant puck through a Bird Arena window.

    "Coach approached me, looking calm as always, and said, 'Dave, you've got to keep that puck down. I'm spending my entire budget having to replace those windows.'"

    Later, when hit in the shin with another stray Schwan effort, McComb - after cooling his heels - offered the same advice: "Dave, keep it down."

    "He would get red in the face," Schwan says, "but he was very well-controlled."

    Fellow hockey alumnus Tom Gosiorowski, BS '65, also appreciated McComb's influence. So much, in fact, he initiated a scholarship fund in his coach's name.

    "John was one of the finest men I've ever known," Gosiorowski says. "For many of us who went to Ohio to play hockey, John was much more than a coach. He was a role model, a guiding light, someone who cared, a friend."

    Others shared Gosiorowski's sentiments at McComb's memorial service. Former University President Vernon Alden and Gary Neiman, dean of the College of Health and Human Services (which oversees club sports, a status hockey returned to in 1973) spoke of McComb the dedicated coach and faculty member.

    Longtime Athens resident Gerald Mollica shared tales of McComb the family friend, with whom he took trips and celebrated New Year's. Senior Ryan Walicki, the current hockey captain, thanked McComb the benefactor for allowing hockey to build a strong tradition at Ohio.

    McComb's son David, who attended the memorial with his mother, Janet, and other family members, was touched by the speakers' remarks. "I see a little bit of Dad in every one of you," he said.

    After the emotional memorial, nearly 30 Ohio hockey alumni reconvened at their old arena for a game. Once done reliving old memories and working up a lather, they watched their current counterparts defeat Wisconsin-Whitewater for the second time in two days. Before the game, McComb became the first inductee into the Ohio Hockey Hall of Fame.

    For the first time since the 1995-96 championship season, the same Bird Arena in which McComb first coached hosts the ACHA national championship starting Wednesday. It would be a fitting tribute if Dan Morris' icers were to hang another banner in honor of the man considered the "Father of Ohio Hockey."

    Joseph Hughes is a writer for University Communications and Marketing

     

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