Seven Inducted Into Hershey Hockey Immortality
Photo courtesy TOBHS Facebook page
If you walk around the concourses of Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, MassMutual Center in Springfield, or Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, you will find plaques, banners, and jerseys honoring those players who have been inducted into each team’s (or city’s) Hall of Fame. Fans get to relish in each city’s rich hockey tradition and history by honoring legends of their past, bestowing upon them great honor of being inducted into their team’s version of immortality. Bears Nation has had to sit idly by while teams around the American Hockey League beat us the punch on this great way of honoring days of hockey past. That all changed last night as the Hershey Bears inducted their first seven members to their own Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame itself will be located on the concourse of Giant Center and will be in the southeast corner of the building.
On the 76th anniversary of the opening of HersheyPark Arena, then known as the Hershey Sports Arena, way back on December 19, 1936, the regular season record crowd of 10,936 watched emcee and NHL legend Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (with the help of Bears current GM Doug Yingst) induct Willie Marshall (player), Mike Nykoluk (player), Ralph Keller (player), Arthur Fausnacht (official), Lloyd S. Blinco (builder), John B. Sollenberger (general), and Frank Mathers (player-builder) as the inaugural class at the Giant Center, prior to the Bears shutting out the Noroflk Admirals. The ceremony was attended by Nykoluk, Marshall, and Keller, while family members of Sollenberger, Mathers, Blinco, and Fausnacht were in attendance as they were all inducted posthumously. Here is a breakdown of who these gentlemen are and why they have been chosen as the first class…
Willie Marshall (Player)
Willie Marshall could be called the greatest AHL player of all time, playing in 1205 games in the league. He leads the AHL in scoring (1375 points) and he ranks fifth all time in scoring in a Bears uniform (570). He won two Calder Cups in Chocolatetown (1957/58 & 1958/59) and won the John B. Sollenberger trophy for leading the AHL in scoring in 1958/59. His #16 is retired and hangs in the Giant Center rafters and he was elected to the AHL’s Hall of Fame in its inaugural class of 2006. The league has honored him by naming the league’s leading goal scorer award after him.
John B. Sollenberger (General)
Mr. Sollenberger is credited with introducing hockey to Hershey way back in 1931 and he also helped found the Bears predecessor, the Hershey B’ars Hockey Club, the following year. He helped moved the franchise into the AHL in 1938-39 and was the team’s GM until he retired in 1949. Mr. Sollenberger was also the Chairman of the AHL’s Board of Governors for a period and has been honored as the namesake of the league’s leading scorer award.
Mike Nykoluk (Player)
‘The Big Bear’ spent the last 14 of his 16 professional season in Chocolatetown, leading the Bears in all-time games played (972), assists (636) and points (808). He recored seven straight 50 assist seasons from 1963/64 to 1969/70 and won the AHL MVP award in 1967. After his playing career was over, Nykoluk went into the coaching ranks, winning two Stanley Cups as an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1974 & 1975, and then coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs for three and a half season in the early 1980s. Nykoluk has his #8 hanging from the Giant Center as well and was elected into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2007.
Arthur Fausnacht (Official)
The late Mr. Fausnacht was an AHL linesman for 23 years and then a goal judge for 26 years. He also graduated from Hershey Vocational School.
Ralph Keller (Player)
Mr. Keller spent the final 11 season of his career as a Hershey Bear. When he hung up his blades, he was the Bears all-time leader in points (408) and games played (737) by a defenseman and was the leader in goals scored (111) by a blue liner when he retired. He captained the 1973/74 squad to a Calder Cup. Keller also went into coaching after his career was over, coaching the Fort Wayne Komets of the old International Hockey League for two plus seasons. He is another player whose number is retired by the Chocolate & White as his #3 hangs in the rafters of the GC.
Lloyd S. Blinco (Builder)
The late Mr. Blinco was an important part of the Bears early history, serving as a player, coach, and executive with the franchise for over four decades. He played on the B’ars squad in 1932/33, and became President and GM of the club from 1949 until 1973. He also had a brief stint as coach of the Hershey Cubs of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League in 1938/39.
Frank Mathers (Player-Builder)
Last, but certainly not least, Mr. Hershey Bear himself, Frank Mathers. Mr. Mathers was one of the most accomplished AHL players in history, finishing his career as the all-time leader in points scored (407) and assists (340) in the AHL for defenseman. He won 10 Calder Cups in his career as a player, coach, & executive, eight of them while a member of the Bears. He is the all-time leader in coaching wins with 610, and first in the AHL in games coach with 1,256. His tenure in Hershey lasted from 1956 to 1991 and he remained a loyal ambassador for the franchise until his death in 2005. Mr. Mathers was elected to the NHL Hall of Fame in 1992 and to the AHL Hall of Fame in its inaugural class of 2006. His #3 is also retired by the Bears and his portrait hangs right by the guest services booth on the Giant Center concourse.