The Rise and Demise of the Brooklyn Skating Club

Posted on Behind the Boards (SIHR Blog). The ice hockey team of the Skating Club of Brooklyn, colloquially known as the Brooklyn Skating Club,...
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    The ice hockey team of the Skating Club of Brooklyn, colloquially known as the Brooklyn Skating Club, appeared as one of the four founding clubs during the inaugural 1896–97 season of the New York based American Amateur Hockey League (AAHL). The three others being the Brooklyn Crescents, the St. Nicholas Hockey and the New York Athletic Club. The two Brooklyn clubs played their home games at the Clermont Avenue Skating Rink in Brooklyn, while the St. Nicks and the New York Athletic Club played their home games at the St. Nicholas Skating Rink on the northeast corner of 66th Street and Columbus Avenue in Manhattan.

    During its first season in the AAHL the Skating Club, playing in light blue sweaters with “S. C. B.” in white letters on the chest of the sweaters, drew its players from the local American ranks, the most prominent one being forward and captain Howard Drakeley, a football player originally from Baltimore. 27-year old Jack Hallock from Jersey City guarded the goal posts, and the team also got brief help during the season from John Hall and William Barnett, two players from Yale University’s intercollegiate hockey team. Drakeley scored a team leading 6 goals for the season, but the team finished third in the league standing, well behind the New York Athletic Club and the St. Nicholas Hockey Club.[1]

    For the following 1897–98 season the Skating Club brought in a number of Canadian players to better compete with the two teams from Manhattan. Forwards Bob Wall and Bill Dobby were recruited from the Montreal Shamrocks of the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada (AHAC), the premier amateur league in Canada at the time. Dobby had led the 1896–97 Shamrocks in goal scoring and Wall had been its captain. Dobby and Wall both made a significant impact on the Skating Club, and although the team again finished third in the league standing, once again behind the New York Athletic Club and the St. Nicholas Hockey Club, the gap to the two Manhattan teams was much closer this time around, with the Skating Club trailing only by two points in the league standing.

    1897–98 Brooklyn Skating Club team​

    The Brooklyn Skating Club won its first and only league title in 1898–99 in impressive fashion, winning all of its 8 games and finishing 6 points ahead of the second placed New York Hockey Club. Frank Ellison, a former ice polo player, had taken over the job as the main goal-guardian from Jack Hallock. Diminutive forward Sarsfield “Sars” Kennedy, formerly of the Barrie Hockey Club of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA), had joined the team for the season, and the Skating Club also got help up front from another Canadian import in forward William Murray. With all the new Canadian forwards former goal-getter Howard Drakeley moved down to a more defensive position at cover point. Bill Dobby led the league with 21 goals in 8 games, eight more than second placed Benny Phillips of the New York Hockey Club.

    “Dobby was like a cat. He looked ungainly, hardly a hockey player from appearances,
    but he could sneak through the defense with a sly movement
    and then rap out a quick shot at the goalie. He was a great man in a pinch.”[2]

    – Former teammate Sars Kennedy describing Bill Dobby in 1932

    Clermont Avenue Skating Rink​

    The rivaling Brooklyn Crescents had been out of the league for two seasons – in 1897–98 and 1898–99 – but the team reappeared for new league action in 1899–1900. The core players of the Brooklyn Skating Club – including Wall, Dobby and Kennedy – were all members of the Crescents parent organization, the Crescent Athletic Club, where they played lacrosse. So when the Crescents reappeared in the league in 1899–1900 all of the core players on the Skating Club conveniently jumped over to the rivaling Brooklyn team. The Brooklyn Crescents also brought in Canadian forward Jock Harty of Queen’s University fame which made the team even stronger.

    The Brooklyn Skating Club tried to make up for the exodus of players by recruiting new talent, both from Canada and from the local ranks. Promising Canadian sharpshooter Artie Liffiton, a brother of fellow hockey players Charlie and Ernie Liffiton, joined from the local Heffley School team. Liffiton made a good showing (11 goals in as many games), but he couldn’t make up for the loss of Dobby, Wall and Kennedy all by himself. With the old championship core gone the Skating Club finished fourth in the league standing for the 1899–1900 season, while the Crescents ran away with the championship winning 10 out of 10 games.

    Artie Liffiton played another season with the Skating Club, in its new maroon and white coloured sweaters, scoring 10 goals in 10 games in 1900–01, before joining the Crescents himself for the 1901–02 campaign. William Murray was also back with the Skating Club in 1900–01, after having been off the team for a year, but he got himself barred from the league for life after only three games after he clubbed Fred Cobb of the New York Athletic Club in the head with his stick during a January 16 game.[3] The team finished tied third in the standing alongside the St. Nicholas Hockey Club.

    It soon became evident that the Skating Club no longer could compete with the better teams in the league, namely the Brooklyn Crescents and the New York Athletic Club. In the following seasons the team would rely more and more on local intermediate or interscholastic talents, either from the Heffley School or from the Polytechnic Preparatory School, and less on high profile Canadian imports.

    For the 1902–03 season the Skating Club recruited Toronto native forward George Harmon to their ranks, and Harmon went on to lead the team in scoring with 8 goals in 7 games. Harmon had a friend from his high school years in Toronto also living in New York at the time, named Walter Huston. Harmon convinced Huston to try out with the club, and the 19-year old youngster got into a league game on January 7, 1903 as a defenseman, with the Skating Club losing 2 goals to 10 against the New York Hockey Club.[4] Huston didn’t appear in any other league game with the Skating Club, but instead went on with his promising acting career.[5] He is better known today as the patriarch of the famous Huston acting family – including his son John Huston and granddaughter Anjelica Huston – than he is as a hockey player.

    1903–04 team​

    Tom “Attie” Howard took helm of the Brooklyn Skating Club for the 1905–06 season, as a playing manager. Howard was a former Stanley Cup champion with the Winnipeg Victorias in 1896, and between 1899 and 1905 he had been a member of the New York Athletic Club and the New York Wanderers in the AAHL. The Brooklyn Skating Club had been a non-factor in the league, either at the mid-range or at the very bottom of the standing, ever since its old Canadian core had left for the Brooklyn Crescents prior to the 1899–1900 season. Howard attempted to change the course of the team, and make it competitive again, by recruiting a number of new Canadian players, among them Horace Gaul of the Ottawa Hockey Club. He also tried to recruit Frank “Pud” Glass of the Montreal Wanderers and Ernie “Moose” Johnson of the Montreal Hockey Club.

    Horace Gaul got into one league game for the Skating Club – a decisive 0-6 loss to the Brooklyn Crescents on December 20, 1905 – but the league’s rules committee went down hard on the Skating Club, barring all of the Canadian imports on ground of its Clause 9 resident rule. The rule stated that a player had to be a member of the team for at least 30 days before being eligible to represent it.[6] Tom Howard was also cautioned against by the league committee for using abusive language on the ice during the December 20 game against the Brooklyn Crescents. The whole transfer imbroglio ended with the Skating Club departing from the league after playing only two games of the 1905–06 league schedule, and the team effectively ceased its operations.

    With the Brooklyn Skating Club out of the picture hockey as a sport also vanished from Brooklyn ice for over a decade, since the Brooklyn Crescents moved over to the St. Nicholas Skating Rink. In 1916–17, the last season of the AAHL, the Crescents finally moved back to Brooklyn and into the newly opened Brooklyn Ice Palace at the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Bedford Avenue.


    [1] Spalding’s Ice Hockey and Ice Polo Guide (1898) by J. A. Tuthill (ed.)
    [2] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Nov. 20, 1932
    [3] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 18, 1901
    [4] Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 8, 1903
    [5] September Song: An Intimate Biography of Walter Huston (1998) by John Weld
    [6] New York Times, Jan. 1, 1906

    Posted on Behind the Boards (SIHR Blog)

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