When Ramapo College of New Jersey opened its doors on September 16, 1971, athletics were not an integral part of the landscape. The Athletic Department offered a minimum number of programs: baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s tennis, and men’s soccer. Certainly, an ice hockey team wasn’t even a remote consideration in the early plans.
During the spring term in 1972, a group of students led by Art Mueller and Andy Wyszomirski approached Jim Barrow, Director of Computer Services, about starting an ice hockey program. Jim, a native of Michigan, had grown up playing ice hockey. He responded enthusiastically. With no funding available in the newly formed Athletic Department, Jim applied to the Student Government Sports Council. The Sports Council awarded him a $1,000 grant to form a club team. Jim agreed to be the team’s first Head Coach. He used approximately $200 of the grant to purchase team jerseys and spent the balance on ice time at $40 an hour. Thus, the eventful journey of the Ramapo College icemen began.
The team’s first jerseys are a sign of how modestly the program began. They weren’t the school’s colors. It was less expensive to purchase NHL replica jerseys than to have customized jerseys made. With a limited budget, replicas were the only way to go. However, at the time there weren’t any NHL teams with the same red and gold colors as the College. Jim settled on the St. Louis Blues white home jersey with blue and gold trim and RAMAPO in blue letters across the chest. He would have selected the Detroit Red Wings road jersey of red with white trim but the local sporting goods store only had St. Louis in stock.
Tryouts were held in early fall at Lo Tor Rink in Garnerville, New York. After a rigorous workout, nineteen players were selected to be on the first roster. Rather than pit themselves against the veteran teams of the highly regarded local Metropolitan Intercollegiate Hockey League (MIHL), the fledgling Roadrunners chose to operate as an independent team and play against non-league opposition.
Jim scheduled seventeen games for the inaugural season. With few rinks in the area, ice time was at a premium. Practices and games usually didn’t start until 11 p.m. and they ended in the wee hours of the morning. One of the biggest challenges that first year was getting enough players to show up to fill out the roster. Sometimes, even Coach Barrow laced up his skates. Having little time to schedule any scrimmages, Ramapo had no way of gauging how well they would fare against collegiate competition. The question would be answered on November 14, 1972.
Ramapo’s first opponent was the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry at Branch Brook Park Rink in Newark, New Jersey. On goals by Art Mueller (2), Andy Wyszomirski, Kerry Uhler, and Tom Spense and goaltending of Art Chill, the Roadrunners won their first game 5-1.
Following a defenseless 7-7 tie with cross-county rival Bergen Community College (BCC), the Roadrunners defeated a local non-collegiate team known as the Jersey Canadiens, 4-3. With each game the team gained confidence. They carried their three-game unbeaten streak into a rematch with BCC. However, the feisty Bulldogs handed a flat Roadrunner team their first ever loss, 6-3. In the second game of a “home-and-home” series with BCC, Ramapo avenged their previous loss with an 8-7 shootout victory. Then, successive losses to Newark College of Engineering (NCE) 4-3 and the Jersey Canadiens 8-3 brought the team’s record down to .500 for the first time that season.
After a 7-3 rout of Livingston College, the Roadrunners experienced their first extended losing streak. A tough 8-7 loss to Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU), was followed by a 5-3 decision to Upsala, and one-goal losses to Livingston, 6-5 and NCE, 4-3. At 4-7-1, Ramapo faced the frighteningly real possibility of a losing season. The one consolation in the four-game losing streak was that they only lost by a total of 5 goals. The Roadrunners were competitive even in losing. This would be an important factor in their comeback.
Whether it was hard work, fear, or pride that brought the Roadrunners back is not important. What is important is that the team would not quit in the face of adversity. They showed the poise and maturity of a veteran squad in their quest to turn the season around. They won the final five games of the season in an explosive way, outscoring their opponents 45-15 (9-3). The prolific streak started with an 11-6 smashing of BCC. Then, led by the incredible seven-goal attack of right-wing Bob Hogan, Ramapo annihilated the Panthers of Livingston College, 15-5. The next victims were the Highlanders of NCE, 6-3. The team was now back to the .500 mark for the second time at 7-7-1. A win over Upsala would guarantee the Roadrunners they would not have a losing season. In the most important game of the season, they over powered the Vikings 7-1. Only Brookdale Community College stood between Ramapo and a winning season. A loss would drop Ramapo back to .500. The Roadrunners dominated the Blazers from the opening face-off to win 6-0. Goalie Art Chill turned back twenty-seven shots en route to the College’s first shutout. Ending the season with a 9-7-1 record, the icemen became the first Ramapo College athletic team to post a winning record.
One of the highlights of that inaugural season was a practice session with the World Hockey Association’s (WHA) New York Raiders on February 14, 1973 at Branch Book Park Rink. The Raiders practiced at the same rink as Ramapo, and Mark Singer, Director of Public Relations at the College, was able to arrange the meeting of the two squads. The WHA was a new League that was competing with the National Hockey League (NHL). The Raider squad was made up of a number of former NHL players, as well as budding new WHA hopefuls. Among the Raider standouts were former NHL goalie Gary Kurt and Kent Douglas, Calder Trophy winner for rookie of the year in 1963. The two teams ran drills together and ended with a scrimmage game. Fortunately for the Roadrunners, score was not kept. The players who attended that practice session had the thrill of a lifetime playing against professional competition.
The publicity of the practice session with the Raiders prompted WCBS-TV to do a story on the team. A CBS camera crew followed team captain Andy Wyszomirski and goalie Art Chill around campus on March 2, 1973. Later, the crew followed the team to Branch Book Park Rink where Ramapo lost a tough game against NCE, 4-3. The game started at 11 p.m. and ended at 1 a.m. The story was broadcast nation ally by WCBS-TV on March 12, 1973. It was the firstyear ice hockey program that brought not only local but national attention to the newly founded College.