Christmas in Iverhill: The Last Shot of the Iverhill Feltons

NOTE: To read Chuck Miller’s book “The Robins of Iverhill: A Minor League Fairy Tale,” as well as the short stories in the “Christmas in Iverhill” series, visit this link.

Monday, December 17, 1973.

Jean Paul Harpiet laced up his skates one more time – left skate first, as tradition and superstition commanded. Then the right skate. He knew that in three periods, the game – and the season – would be over far too soon.


The locker room trainer was handing tape to another player when he heard his name.


“You’ve got it in my locker bag like I asked, right?”

Gerry walked over to Harpiet. “Yeah, but you’re not supposed to tell anybody. I could get fired for letting you have this.”

Harpiet smiled and continued to lace his skates. A well-worn road jersey, still containing the sweat from the last five games, would be his souvenir, his memento from a sour season. The reporters asked him all week about the rumors, and he told them nothing – but someone in the front office with loose lips and a reason for feeling important told one the sports director at radio station WIVR-AM that the Iverhill Feltons, a hockey team few people wanted and whose games even fewer saw, would fold at the end of the week – three days after Christmas.

The franchise was on life-support for years, a combination of the dwindling population in Iverhill and Otswego County, a decade of poorly-funded owners, and a string of losing seasons. Gone were the days of the Iverhill Magedomas dominating the Northeastern Hockey Association, winning the Elwell Cup like it was their birthright. But that last victory was 20 years ago, and nearly every other franchise in the NHA took turns hoisting the Elwell Cup and raising banners in their own hockey barns.

And when Max Horn, a financier who bought a house in Iverhill so that his wife could be closer to her family, invested in the Magedomas, hockey fans thought a change in ownership would equate to a change in victories – finally, somebody who actually knew where Iverhill was on a map could claim ownership of the storied Magedomas. Even when Horn secured a sponsorship deal with Felton’s Used Cars and changed the name of the franchise from the Magedomas to the Iverhill Feltons, the fans were upset at first, but were willing to give Horn a chance if the hockey team would stay in Iverhill for generations to come.

What Horn didn’t tell the town was that the team was stockpiled with leftovers and has beens and never weres, the cheapest players he could get. He received some skaters from the farm systems of the National Hockey League, but those were usually the 15th best goaltender or winger and would have been warming the bench elsewhere. He also picked up some guys who wanted one more year to shine, clinging to a dream of skating on the ice in Madison Square Garden before the fragile knees ruined the fantasy.

For Jean Paul Harpiet, a 37 year old journeyman, his resume read like the contents page to a North American atlas. His Junior “A” hockey years were spent in Red Deer and Trois Riveres and Granby. He grinded his way through the minor leagues, climbing the ladder in Johnstown and Springfield, skating on a tiny college rink in Fredericton and on the slushy ice in Baltimore. During one season in Cornwall, he acquired a wife – a girl with piercing blue eyes and a smile that could light up the evening. And the day he got his call up to the NHL, he thought all the worries would be over. He still remembers that night in the NHL the smell of a freshly washed uniform, neatly stitched with HARPIET 29 on the back, a New York Rangers logo on the front. He took practice with the rest of his new team, whacked a few shots into the goal net to prove he was ready to play, then skated back to the locker room only to find that he had been scratched from the game. He received a couple of handshakes from the rest of the players, some telling him to be ready for the game tomorrow. Unfortunately, that next day Harpiet was optioned back to Cornwall, his NHL dream deferred.

He never received another call from the NHL, and bounced around the minor leagues – even won a Southern Hockey League championship in Georgia, where he skated for the Macon Whoopees – he always snickered when he thought about the name of the team – but he was proud of the championship he earned, when he deked out a goaltender in the final minutes to help his team take home a milkcan shaped trophy, before that league collapsed and folded.

Now he was in his final year. His shoulders hurt every night from the 15 years of checks into the boards, he still heard ringing in his ears from two weeks ago when an opponent whacked him with a stick, and his right leg was still aching after a knee-to-knee collision with Thunder Bay’s Andre Carpentier last month.  Harpiet knew it was time to retire, time to hang up the blades, call it a career, and finish out his years as a coach or scout or rink owner. Maybe even take a job with Magedoma Lumber – if the lumber company didn’t sponsor the team any more, maybe it could sponsor him with a legitimate job, Harpiet smiled to himself.

He thought about where his career had taken him. All the way to the Iverhill Feltons of the Northeastern Hockey Association. Even though the hockey league was considered four levels below the NHL – and barely one level above a no-checking beer league – Harpiet signed with the team as a coach, and thought he could recapture his prior glories.

But as a player-coach in the NHA, Harpiet had more to deal with than just shift changes and power play drills. Before Horn bought the team, what was the Iverhill Magedomas changed ownership twice in five seasons, and each successive owner took away every Magedomas hockey tradition.

One owner had the Iverhill Arena organ removed and the organist fired, arguing that 20 more seats could be added and the music could be provided from phonograph records. Another owner thought the ticket prices were too low, so he raised them to the level of unaffordability. Then, when fans stopped coming to games, he jacked the prices up higher, balancing the budget on the few diehard fans willing to pay extra. Then Horn bought the team, lowered the prices, renamed the franchise and hoped for the best.

The 1973-74 season was rough for Iverhill hockey fans.  The Feltons’ Saturday night home games were a favorite weekend diversion for lumber workers and the surrounding communities. But the rest of the NHA expanded, as teams moved to bigger cities and bigger buildings. Horn spent the entire season trying to raise money for the Feltons any way he could – an abortive attempt to build luxury boxes, single-use jerseys that could be signed and auctioned off after games, even begging the City Council to reduce the rent on the Iverhill Arena.

Still, the Feltons were on the ice every night, fighting for a playoff berth in the 7-team league. Hovering at fifth place in the standings, and knowing that the top four teams play into the spring, Harpiet held out hope that the Feltons could find an investor – or that Horn could loosen his bankbook and keep the team afloat for the rest of the season.

And this would be the last game before Christmas – with the possibility of a nice win as a Christmas present for the fans, Harpiet stepped on the Iverhill Arena ice, skating onto the frozen playing surface and thinking about the Feltons’ opponent that night, the Utica Comets. With Horn promising a huge post-Christmas promotion that night, Harpiet hoped that the last crowd to see a Feltons game would at least be a big crowd.

A pile of loose practice pucks dotted the ice. Harpiet skated toward the pucks, warming up his slapshot.

“Scuse me,” another player called from the locker room entrance.

Harpiet fired the puck into the net, then looked up.

“I need to find Coach Harpiet,” the player said. “Do you know where he is?”

“That would be me,” Harpiet replied, tapping another puck with his stick blade.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“Late? Who are you?”

“Colin Venditto. I’m here to play left wing.”

Harpiet fired another puck towards the goal. The puck ricocheted off the right goal pipe, bouncing into the back twine. “You were supposed to be here last night.”

“Sorry, it took a while to find this town. Drove past it on the Northway. ”

“Why didn’t you take Route 9N into Iverhill,” grumbled Harpiet. “Get on the ice and warm up.”

Venditto, a 6’2” left winger with large arms and strong skating legs, grabbed a stick from the bench, took the ice, skating over to the pile of practice pucks.

As Venditto warmed up, Harpiet looked over the new player’s skills.  He heard that Trucheri had a good slapshot and good puck control, but during the warm-ups it looked as if the new winger had never touched a stick before.

“What’s wrong with your stick?”

“I’m okay,” Venditto replied.  “I just have a strong touch on the ice and I don’t think my stick is used to this ice pattern.”

“Okay,” Harpiet nodded, knowing full well that Venditto’s response was a cover-up for something wrong with his sticks.  “Keep warming up,” Harpiet shouted.  “I need to fix something on my skate.”

Venditto continued his warm-ups, skating around the ice and slapping pucks into the empty net.

“Gerry!” Harpiet shouted as he entered the locker room.

The equipment manager walked in.  “Yes Coach?”

“That new guy we just got – Venditto – something’s wrong with his sticks.  Where are they?”


“Yeah, the new guy we just got.  Where’s his sticks?”

“He’s got one or two over there by the locker.”

Harpiet looked at the locker.  There were a pair of hockey sticks in the previously unused locker, but the sticks didn’t match.  One of them had a soft, left-handed curve on the blade, while the other stick – of a different manufacturer – had a sharp curve, almost like a shepherd’s crook.


“Yes, Coach?”

“I’m going to take the new guy over to get some food at DiGi’s.  Fix those sticks of his for me, would you?  I don’t know where he got them, but he can’t be on the ice with what looks like leftover equipment.”

“I understand, Coach.”

“And if you can’t do it, then we’re going to have to do what we did with Tony Hayden.”

Gerry nodded.  “You really want to do that?”

“No choice.  We’ve got Utica coming in here tonight and we can’t waste the chance for the win.  Either get those sticks fixed or it’s Tony Hayden all over again.”


“Don’t know who gave you those directions,” Harpiet said, “you should have taken exit 25.”

“I didn’t see an Exit 25,” Venditto said, as he watched Harpiet swallow the last strands of spaghetti.

“April, could you please give me another order of spaghetti?”

“Sure, coach,” said the waitress at DiGi’s Diner, as she scribbled down the order on a small green pad.

“How much spaghetti are you going to eat?” asked Venditto.

“I usually eat two helpings on game night. Besides the extra carbohydrates boost, I scored my first hat trick after I ate two bowls of spaghetti.  Gotta keep the good luck going.”

“You really believe in good luck?”

“Yep,” said Harpiet.  “If you don’t believe in good luck, then what is there left to believe in?”


Game night.  The Feltons would face the Utica Comets, the top team in the NHA.  If the Feltons could keep winning – just a few wins here and there – perhaps Max Horn would keep the team alive for another season.  Maybe he would even keep the team alive for the remainder of this season.

But even Harpiet knew that request was a long-shot at best.  As far as Harpiet was concerned, he wanted the Feltons to play every game like it was the deciding game of the finals.  Because Harpiet knew that each game could indeed be the last game the Feltons would ever play.

Harpiet looked up into the stands. He remembered some of the faces from booster club meetings, where he would be the guest of honor and talk about how the Feltons were doing against their next opponents. But he knew that even the diehard Iverhill hockey loyalists weren’t going to keep this team afloat.

The puck dropped.  The game began.  An ebb and flow between Utica and Iverhill, as both teams pounded each other with the force of two grizzly bears fighting over the last salmon in the stream.

Utica would score the first goal at about 9:00 of the period.  Iverhill would score three minutes later on the power play.  The period ended.  1-1 tie.

The second period began.  And Harpiet knew that if his powerful right winger, Bryan Lomo, mixed it up with Utica’s Claude Bartell, things would get rough.  And sure enough… as the puck ended up in the corner, Lomow and Bartell poked at it – and then seconds later, poked at each other.  Other players from both teams swarmed toward the puck in the hopes of jostling it free. But while the skaters looked for
the puck … no one could find it.

An exhausted Harpiet looked up to the stands, thinking the puck may have flipped over the glass. Then he saw his young left winger, Fran Baxter, dancing up and down near the goal net, screaming “Goal! Goal! Goal!”

The ref skated over looked in the net – but found no puck inside. And at that point, Harpiet knew what had happened. “Time!! Time out, ref!” he shouted.

“Baxter what the hell were you doing dancing around instead of playing the puck?”

“Coach, I told you I was going to try my flapjack shot.”

“Your what?”

“Flapjack shot. When the puck got free, I skated up to it, pressed my stick on the puck so that it would freeze to the tape on my stick, then carried it lacrosse style around the back to the net and dumped it in.”

“Wait a minute,” Harpiet responded. “I didn’t see the puck go in.”

“It went in.”

“Lomow did you see the puck go in?”

“No, coach. I was too busy beating up Bartell.”

“Reynolds did you see it go in?”

“No, coach,” said the left winger. “I though the puck was still on the ice.”

And then, the official skated over to Harpiet.

“Coach, I’m sorry, but I never saw the puck go in. And neither did the goal judge.”

“But where did the puck go?”

The ref looked at Harpiet.  And Harpiet knew what was going to happen, and that the point on the scoreboard wasn’t going to stay there for long.

“Coach, I just thought I would tell you the goaltender told me he saw the puck on Baxter’s stick, and Baxter did try to dump the puck in. But the puck never left his stick – it must have been frozen on there – and when he pulled his stick out of the goal mouth, the goaltender saw the puck and whacked it away with his glove. So there’s no goal there.”

Crap.  Another wasted opportunity.

As the second period ended, Iverhill remained behind 3-2 on the scoreboard, and Harpiet gathered his players back into the locker room.

Meanwhile, team owner Max Horn, a microphone in hand, began his Christmas promotion.

“Ladies in gentleman, it is my pleasure as the owner of your Iverhill Feltons” – a cacophony of boos cascaded from the stands – “it is my pleasure to present this year’s Christmas cash promotion. We’ve selected five people from the audience, who are now a taking the ice.”

The players watched as arena attendants assisted the five local people from the audience to the ice. Meanwhile, a Feltons intern began sprinkling a bag of of quarters onto the ice blue line.

“I’ve always lived my life around hockey,” said Horn. “It’s always been a part of my life and it’s been a part of every players life on this team.”

Horn continued to extol his commitment to the Feltons for another five minutes, while the contestants stood carefully on the ice surface, lest their street shoes slide out from underneath them.

“Okay contestants,” shouted Horn, “go get your Christmas cash! Everything you pick up on the blue line is yours to keep!”

Within an instant, the fans carefully but quickly walked to the blueline, ready to snap up that Christmas cash. Within seconds, the fans had reached the blueline, and started to scoop up the coins.

Harpiet and his men came out for the start of the third period, expecting the promotion to be over and the third period to commence. But the fans were still on the blueline trying to get at the cash – and, surprisingly, having a difficult time in doing so.

“What’s going on here, Mr. Horn? We’ve got a game to finish!”

“I can’t understand it,” said Horn. “We put $50 on the ice, they should be filling their pockets with all the money.”

Harpiet suddenly realized why there was a problem. “You used paper money, right?” he asked cautiously. “That’s $50 in bills out there, isn’t it?”

“Well,” Horn replied, “Not exactly bills. I did get 50 of those new Eisenhower dollar coins, I figured those wouldn’t get wet on the ice.”

Harpiet’s neck muscles almost burst out of his skin. “You used dollar coins?!?”

“Yes,” Horn replied, suddenly realizing the promotion may have an unforeseen side effect.

Once the hot quarters hit the blueline, they slowly sank into the ice, which eventually froze over the quarters, suspending them in the frozen rink.

“We can’t play on this ice if there are coins in it!” screamed Harpiet.  “The first time a player skates near that and his blades get caught in the ice, he’s going to trip over them and break his face!”

“It’s no problem,” replied Horn.  “All I have to do is get the Zamboni driver to drive over the blue line and scoop up the coins!”

“You can’t do that,” said Harpiet.  “Those coins will get caught in the Zamboni’s ice scrapers and wreck the machine.”

Eventually, the game was held up for 30 minutes while the maintenance crew – with shovels and ice picks – chiseled the frozen coins out of the ice.

Then the third period began.  The Feltons started out with a quick goal to tie the contest – and then both teams traded power play goals.  3-3 tie at the end of regulation.  And with the NHA becoming one of the first leagues to use a penalty-shot “shootout” format to end ties, Harpiet knew it was time to gather his best skaters and best shooters.  Five men.  Not Harpiet.   It’s one thing to skate around on bad knees during a regular game, but not when it comes to a shootout.

And he looked down the Feltons bench. He knew that the new player, Colin Venditto, had to take the ice at some point in the shootout.

The shootout began.  Two of Utica’s five penalty shooters scored; so did two of the Feltons.  The next player to score would win the game for his team.

Harpiet looked down the bench. “Dale,” he said to Dale Henri, the third-shift right winger, “you’re up.”

“I can’t go, coach.”

“Dale, don’t worry about it. We’ve had five guys miss before. So do your best.”

“I can’t do it, coach.”

“Why not?”

“I broke my last stick in the third period. I have no more sticks.”

Quickly Harpiet looked for another skater. “Lomow, you’re up.”

“Sorry Coach, I don’t have any sticks either.  My last one broke at the end of the third period.”

After looking at two more players, and realizing that they either had broken sticks or couldn’t hit a penalty shot unless the goaltender was in the bathroom during the shootout, Harpiet shouted, “Do any of you have a good stick?”

At the end of the bench, without a stitch of playing time during the game, was Colin Venditto. He stood up. “I have a good stick.”

“Get out there.”

Venditto took the ice. The puck was placed on the face off circle. Skating towards Utica goaltender Fred Mancuso, Venditto faked a shot towards the goalie’s right side. The goaltender reacted to the expected puck only to watch Iverhill right winger backhand the puck toward the left side, into the net. Game over, Feltons win.

“If it wasn’t for the end boards, he’d still be going down North Main Avenue,” the coach would later tell the reporters. “Colin Venditto won that game and the only reason he won it was because he had a good stick. It was basically the only good stick we had.”

What nobody knew was that Venditto didn’t have a stick left in his arsenal, either. If somebody had taken a closer look at Venditto’s hockey stick, they might have noticed a white piece of athletic tape covering the stamped name HARPIET on the shaft.

That win was the last time the Feltons would play hockey in Iverhill.  The new owner promised to relocate the team to another city, finish out the regular schedule and negotiate with the league to keep the team in business for the future.

Nobody heard from Max Horn after that game, except for a note that he was getting out of the hockey business and leaving Iverhill for good.

And as far as Harpiet was concerned, his hockey days were over.

“Hey, good luck up north,” Harpiet told Venditto after the game.

“Thanks,” said Venditto. “Here’s your stick back.”

Harpiet took the goal winning stick, then went over to his locker. Pulling out a black magic marker from his locker, he wrote something on the stick, then handed the stick back to Venditto. “You keep it. 20 years from now, you’ll remember your first professional goal, and nobody will believe how you got it.  I did this for a kid when I started out – Tony Hayden, I think he was from Kitchner or Brampton or some place in Ontario.  But he broke his last stick, and his stick pattern was similar to mine.  I gave him my stick, he scored two goals, and next thing you know he’s in the NHL.  Still there, I think.”

The rookie took the stick into his hands, reading the note Harpiet wrote upon the shaft. “Congrats on your first pro goal. Glad my stick could help. Jean-Paul Harpiet 29.

Venditto looked up to thank Harpiet for his generosity, but the veteran was gone.  Harpiet and his equipment back would not make the trip north with the Feltons.  Already in his car, Harpiet drove away from the Iverhill Arena for the last time, heading back home to spend Christmas weekend with his wife.

As he stopped at DiGi’s Diner for a quick cup of coffee for the journey home, Harpiet looked inside the equipment bag. He smiled, knowing Gerry the equipment manager followed through with Jean Paul Harpiet’s request. Harpiet’s game worn home jersey, his last ever professional sweater, was in the bag, also on its way to join Harpiet’s other sweaters in a closet.