What do Gen X’ers, Millennials and Gen Z’ers have in common? For some in St. Lambert, Canada, and in Marblehead, it’s a love of hockey that manifests itself in a bi-annual weekend-long cultural exchange.
In the early sixties, Bill Haskell, a Marblehead Youth Hockey coach traveled frequently to Montreal to purchase lumber for his business. In 1964, he had the crazy idea to bring along some of his hockey players to play a team from Montreal. He, along with Donald “Bud” Orne, Marblehead’s Recreation Department Director, and Ed Tufts, a Marblehead Youth Hockey coach, reached out to several of their contacts in Montreal and were connected with Eric Sharp, St. Lambert’s first Recreation Department Director.
The timing was right as Montreal, preparing for the 1967 World Expo, had just purchased land on St. Helen Island from St. Lambert to host the event. With the proceeds of the sale, a brand new municipal arena was being built in St. Lambert, and plenty of ice time would soon be available.
Two teams from St. Lambert traveled by bus to Marblehead during the winter of 1964 to play hockey. The following year, Marblehead sent two teams to St. Lambert. After a few “competitive disputes,” Bud and Eric decided to focus on the cultural aspects of the exchange: fun, inclusion and friendship.
A tradition was then born and has continued uninterrupted for 55 years with the support of countless families, volunteers, local businesses and organizations, making it the oldest hockey cultural exchange of its kind in North America. Whether participants went on to play and coach professional hockey like Marblehead’s Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils’ goaltender since 2013) or St. Lambert’s Steve Kasper (Boston Bruins’ forward from 1980-89 and Bruins’ coach from 1995-97) or others who chose different life paths, all participants from three generations still keep fond memories of the Exchange.
Stuart Wales, who participated in the exchange between 1979 and 1986, and who now coaches a Marblehead Peewee AA team recalls: “The St. Lambert Exchange brings back some of my favorite memories of playing youth hockey. What is most enjoyable for me today is to watch these kids form friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.”
This year’s 55th edition of the Marblehead-St. Lambert Exchange will take place from Nov. 15-17 at the Connery Skating Rink in Lynn. Players between the ages of 7 and 14 will play two games against their St. Lambert counterparts, and will then trade jerseys for one more game at the end of the exchange so that friends can play alongside each other.
Younger siblings entering the youth hockey programs, and the Marblehead Hollyhocks, three all girl-hockey teams, will have a chance to take over the ice, as well.
The weekend’s schedule also includes a brief formal opening ceremony, playing of the National Anthems and a friendly skills competition, followed by a coaches and alumni friendly game. For many young players, this will be their first time traveling this far away from home, while interacting with someone speaking a different language.
Between Feb. 14-16, Marbleheaders will be making the trip to St. Lambert to repeat the experience. While there, they will get to play at the Eric Sharp Arena in St. Lambert, a modern rink that bears the name of one of the founders of the hockey exchange. The home team on the scoreboard will read St. Lambert and the away team – Marblehead.
This year, players won’t be traveling by themselves to another country on a bus with their coach like they did in the mid-sixties. However, families separated by nearly 300 miles will once again make the journey to and from Marblehead. They will leave their electronics and cultural and linguistic differences behind for a weekend in order to reunite with old friends that share their passion for the game of hockey.