Thurston County History: Hockey Teams in Olympia, Washington


Today Olympia is not known for winter sports. But for a brief time on the eve of World War II, it became a regional hockey powerhouse. Thurston County’s history includes an interesting tale of the hockey teams in Olympia, Washington.  

Southwest Washington Ice Hockey League Forms

Talk of creating a city hockey league began before the Olympia Ice Arena’s September opening. On October 19, 1939, the Southwest Washington Ice Hockey League incorporated with Fred Kislingbury, Ice Arena manager, as president.

Four hockey squads were organized. These groups sought corporate sponsorship. The Meadow Lark Dairy sponsored the Larks while Olympia Oil and Wood Products supported the Fuelers. In December H.L. Wolf and Company signed up to sponsor the Orphans, renaming them the Wolverines. In response, the unsponsored Ice Arena team took the name Orphans.

The league kicked off the season with an Ice Hockey Jamboree exhibition match on November 10, 1939. The double-header also started the local celebrations of Washington State’s 50th birthday.

Games were held Tuesdays at 8 p.m., followed by a free skating session. Besides playing against each other, the Olympia teams started to play against Tacoma, Bremerton and Seattle. These games became more important when the Orphans folded in late December, never having found a sponsor.

A January 1940 game in Bremerton ended badly for the Wolverines when player Stan Goldsberry ended up with a dislocated shoulder from a fight that kept him off the rink for a month. The game was a draw.

Though the league’s final game was February 27, 1940, the arena invited the White Pines from Vancouver, B.C. to play an exhibition match on March 9. Before a packed house of 600 fans, the Olympia All-Stars, a team of selected top Olympia players, won 9-8.

black and white print ad with a drawing of a hockey player and text on it.
This ad from the Daily Olympia promoted a December 26, 1939 game at the Olympia Ice Arena. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Polar Bears of the Washington Hockey Tri-City League

In May 1940, Jack Bradley of Tacoma tried to organize a summer ice hockey league, arranging for an exhibition match between the Tacoma All-Stars and the Wolverines that month. Summer hockey hopes fizzled, but organizers were able to create a Tri-City Ice Hockey League that fall, bringing together teams from Tacoma, Bremerton and Olympia. Games were Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. Olympia’s first home game was November 13, 1940.

With the Southwest Washington League now defunct, Olympia formed a new team: the Polar Bears. Former Larks goalie Bill Rochelle managed the group. Several of the players were soldiers stationed at Fort Lewis. Goalie Toivo “Tug” Lampe came to Olympia after his Works Progress Administration job ended for the winter in Virginia, Minnesota, to join old friends Ernie Alstrom and Rudy Pullman. They worked the same shift in the Olympia Veneer Plant and played for the Polar Bears. Former Orphan Pullman and Wolverine Ernie Alstrom were forwards. Alstrom, the “Aberdeen speedster” and former All-Wisconsin forward was elected team captain.

After a few initial losses, the Polar Bears had a string of victories. Ernie Alstrom, the Daily Olympian reported after another win against Bremerton, “racked up goals with the speed and dexterity of a cashier ringing up sale items at a bargain counter during a Christmas rush.” An aggressive player, he was labeled the “Demon Captain.”

Despite these successes, the Tri-City League collapsed in early December 1940. Bremerton pulled out for local games, leaving only Tacoma and Olympia in the group. The league disbanded. While there was talk of re-initiating Olympia games, except for a short-lived Junior Hockey League in early 1942, the era of hockey in the State Capital was over. The Olympia Ice Arena closed in 1946.

black and white photo of men playing hockey in 1939.
Olympia mayor Dave Gammell, in silk hat, about to toss the puck for the first hockey game in Olympia on November 10, 1939. Windy Wenala of the Larks and Ernie Alstrom of the Fuelers are about to face off as Walt Batchelor looks on. The match was sponsored by the American Legion. Image from the Daily Olympian, November 11, 1939. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Olympia, Washington Hockey Players

While hockey may have been short lived in Olympia, the sport meant everything to the players, most of whom were from the Midwest or Canada. Wolverine Walt Batchelor whom the Daily Olympian labelled “the handsome goalie who flicks the disc away with the greatest of ease and when the going is the toughest runs a temperature of about the same as the arena surface,” was from British Columbia. Considered one of the best goalies in the Pacific Northwest, he had a long hockey career in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver B.C. Brothers Stan and George Goldsberry of Montreal lived in Tacoma and played with the Wolverines. Stan originally played for the Orphans and Larks.

Most players were in their early 20s, but a few were Olympia High School students. Evert Johns, praised as “a smoothie on skates,” played tennis for Olympia High School and was an avid skier. Tryvge “Trig” Elwick, was on the Olympia High School debate team and was traded from the Fuelers to the Wolverines.

black and white photo of men playing hockey in 1939.
Merwyn Haskett, manager of the Fuelers, gives last minute advice to player Wes Johnson. Canadian Merwyn played amateur and semi-pro hockey in his youth. Image from the January 29, 1940 issue of the Daily Olympian. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Chicago-born John “Bunny” Oldham was another local hockey player. He also participated in other sports: football for Saint Martin’s University, softball for the Spartans, and baseball for the Senators. Larks manager O.U. Tatro called him “The Spoiler” because his expert defense spoiled opponents’ plans.

Many players continued to play after their years in Olympia. For some, hockey would remain important throughout their lives. Seattle’s Everett “Windy” Wenala, a member of the Wolverines, was one of the Seattle Center ice rink’s original “Rink Rats.” He also performed comedy skating routines with traveling ice shows and later owned a skate shop in Seattle with his wife Marcella. He taught all their children how to skate at age two!

But perhaps hockey had no better advocate than Merwyn Haskett, manager of the Fuelers and Olympia city commissioner.  He had the fever, he claimed, playing amateur and semi-pro hockey in Toronto, Owen Sound and Saskatoon. “Ice Hockey,” he told reporters in 1940, “is more than a great game, it is a disease. Once it gets into your blood there is no shaking it. Hockey is a wonderful sport.”

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