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Bison History

The History of the Bison Hockey Organization

A little Background

In 1959 the Buffalo Shamrocks Athletic Club was created to provide young boys the opportunity to play organized municipal hockey in Western New York and Canada. The Dann Memorial Rink on the Nichols School campus has been our home facility since inception. Nichols School has provided a beautiful roof over our heads since birth. 

Over the past 44 years the Shamrocks A.C. has grown into what is now known as the Buffalo Bison Hockey Association. In the late 1980's we began a girls program that has grown into a significant part of our program today. In April 2005, Bison Hockey merged with North Buffalo to strengthen our program. We now have over 575 boys and girls ranging from 2 to 17 years of age involved in our program.  Captured below are some personal histories of the early years of our association. We welcome your input as well. Don't forget to go to our Photo Album so you can combine some faces and names to the stories shared below.

Bison and Shamrock Hockey History

By Warren Gelman

The first Shamrock hockey team played during the 1959-1960 season. The previous year, Bill Russell had started a muny team under the name of Paul Batt Buick.  Bill then changed the name to the Shamrocks and he and Trey Coley were the first coaches of our Midget team. These two gentlemen went on to guide the Shamrocks AC (Athletic Club) program for years. Trey Coley had been a great high school and college hockey player for Nichols Schooland later for Colgate University. Bill Russell also attended Colgate and he was the great organizer of the Shamrock teams for many years to come. Along with their wives Betty Coley and Sue Russell they were joined in their organizing efforts with Barbara and Jack Gelman and Jack and Sally Walsh. These four families helped launch the Shamrocks for their young boys. It wasn’t very long before numerous teams were being formed at a variety of ages.

That first Midget team was made up of Clay Hamlin, Bruce Fennie, Paul Sullivan, Lou Surdam, Bill Constantine, Chip Clark, Allen Kew, Bill Cooley, Bill Loweth, Jack Walsh and myself from Nichols, Chip Coley and Ackley Blocher from Amherst, Tim O’Conner and Kirk Kuhlman from Canisius, Bill Russell and Andy McGennis from Park, Jim Darnell from Alden and Mark Fennie from St Mark’s.

The team played in the Buffalo Municipal Hockey League and played against such teams as the Pepsis, Webers, Blasdells and the Buffalo Regals.  Our chief rival was the Pepsi’s who had a strong forward by the name of Oscar Johnson.  The Shamrocks won both the league and playoffs that year with a final record of 20 wins and one tie.

During the year, we took a bus trip to GuelphOntario and played an exhibition game.  I believe that the players stayed with the Guelph players in their homes.  At the end of the year, the team went to Lake Placid for the Midget State Tournament which was held in the old Olympic Rink.  We stayed at Marcy Hotel.  Lake Placid had a strong team led by a very good player by the name of Larry Straight.  Massena had an excellent team led by Tom Hurley who later played at Clarkson.  The day before the tournament began we had  practice outdoors on Mirror Lake. Massena beat the Shamrocks 4-3 in the opening round for our first and only loss of the season. We defeated Potsdam and Lake Placid to win the consolation in our first season.

The following year, which was the 1960-61 season, was my sophomore year at Nichols. Our team had 23 wins and 1 tie in the regular season to win the Midget Division of the Buffalo Muny League. We went on to win the playoffs and a return trip to Lake Placid for the NY State Midget Tournament. This time we had quite a following as 31 carloads of Shamrock players, parents, grandparents and fans made the trip to stay at the famous old Lake Placid Club. It was a great weekend as the Shamrocks defeated Massena 5-4 and Lake Placid 4-1 en route to our first state championship.

It wasn’t very long before a second Shamrock team was formed. This time it was at the Peewee level. Trey Coley and Bill Russell again served as coaches and the team was known as the Bisons. They wore the red replica jerseys of the AHL Buffalo Bisons with the Pepsi bottle cap logo saying “Buffalo” on the front. After dominating the Buffalo Muny League all season this team qualified for the NY State Championships, which were  held in Lake Placid. Once again a caravan of Bison families made the trek to the Adirondacks for the tourney. The Bisons didn’t disappoint their supporters. Lead by the Highland Avenue line of Eli Tubbs, Max Becker and team captain Michael Walsh, the Bisons defeated Clinton 6-0, Canton 5-3 and Lake Placid 4-3 to win the New York State crown. Dick Coley, Brad Cooke, Donnie Tracy, Rusty Collins, Mike Rush, Eddie Ambis, Steve Fernow, Tim Brennan, Jim Campbell,Steve Harbor, Jimmy Oshei, Alex Creighton, and Piper Stevens were on this team. These players formed the nucleus of Bison teams throughout the 60’s.

By this time two great volunteers had quietly joined the Shamrock ranks. Peter Rush who brought with him two very talented goalie sons, Michael and Patrick, had become involved. In addition, Chuck Rogers, whose son Freddie played in the organization, began to coach our youngest skaters for the Shamrocks. The number of teams were expanded as younger brothers arrived eager to replicate the experience their older siblings were having. Additional teams at the Bantam, Peewee and Squirt house level were formed. Peter Rush and Chuck Rogers were a big part of this expansion

In 1966-67 another NY State Championship banner was added to the rafters at the new Nichols rink – The Dann Memorial Rink was built in time for the 1965 season. This two surface facility was outstanding. The Shamrock Peewees, who were coached by John Williams, Bill Russell and Peter Rush, were made up of  a group of skaters who played together from Mites through High School. Lead by future College Hockey All-American Rick Zeller the Shamrocks were undefeated in league play. There were however some occasional wake-up games against older Canadian teams scheduled by Bill Russell to keep these boys modest. Chip Williams, Jay Waters, Peter Butzer, Peter Scamurra, Warren Schintzius, Danny Kreiner, John Moot and Barney Walsh were on the team that traveled to Syracuse to the state fairgrounds to win the New York State Peewee Championship. Then it was on toBraintreeMassachusetts to play in the National Peewee Tournament where the team ended up ranked fourth in the nation.

The next season Warren Gelman returned to Buffalo and became coach for this same core group as they became Bantams. Lead by Ted Walsh and Michael Moot this team once again competed for the NY State Championship where they lost in the semifinals to Potsdam.  The boys went on to compete for future NY State Championships over the next few years.  Tournaments with Bill Russell and even Freddie Shero, former Buffalo Bison (AHL) Head Coach and later NHL great, go down in Shamrock history. Those annual pilgrimages toLake Placid with scores of Shamrock teams taking over the Lake Placid Club are etched in a lot of family memories. Playing on the Olympic Arena was a special experience and siblings skiing at Whiteface Mountain and skating on Mirror Lake all symbolize the Shamrock and later Bison culture. The focus on hockey was great but the overall family experience came first. Shamrock Hockey was built for great families who really enjoyed each others company. That same focus holds true for the Bison program today some 45 years later.

In the early 1980’s the Shamrock organization merged with the Tonawanda Hockey Association as youth hockey enrollments began to shrink in western New York. Our name was changed to the Bisons so that neither organization felt taken over. Since then numerous Bison teams have competed in the Western New York Amateur Hockey League (WNYAHL) and gone on to play for NY State titles. The Bison experience is designed to introduce young skaters and their families to the great game of hockey. Success on the ice in terms of winning games is important but it has not been as important as developing skills and displaying good sportmanship. We have been very fortunate to have had great leadership, supportive coaches and parents and wonderful skaters wearing the Bison uniform in rinks all over New York and Canada the last five decades. It has been a great run so far.

We plan to expand this portion of our history as our next season unfolds. In the meantime we welcome the input of others. Please share with us your pictures and stories of past Shamrock, Bison or North Buffalo experiences. Just email or call us with your news.