The history of ice hockey at St. Olaf College has all the elements of a great story: excitement, drama, humor, and a hero with pluck who persevered against adversity. When 18-year-old Harold C. “Chick” Hagen enrolled as a first-year student in September 1920, he arrived in Northfield the fatherless son of a Norwegian immigrant and newspaperman who had succumbed to the influenza pandemic the year before. Young Hagen struggled to support himself financially and attended St. Olaf sporadically over the next several years. In the fall of 1925, Hagen returned to campus, where he remained to complete his degree in 1927. One constant throughout his time at St. Olaf was his passion for hockey.
Pick-up and interclass hockey games were played at the 60,000-square-foot Mammoth Ice Rink on the Cannon River, which flows through Northfield. Hagen and fellow Oles were a common sight at the rink, which was equipped with a warming house, lighting, and a bandstand to entertain on “pleasant evenings.” The student newspaper, the Manitou Messenger, noted, “skating and hockey have become the most popular pastimes for the students … rosy cheeks under flashy tassel-caps are all in vogue.”
Editorials in the Messenger extolled the benefits of the sport, from healthy, outdoor exercise to coordination of skates and “exhilarated muscles.” One student opined, “Hockey should be encouraged because it is probably the most stimulating, the most exciting, and the fastest game, with the possible exception of airplane racing.” By December 1926, primarily due to Hagen’s convincing efforts, the St. Olaf Athletic Board recognized hockey as a collegiate sport.
The inaugural season opened on the Cannon River rink, Saturday afternoon, January 15, 1927. Led by the hard-driving center and student coach, Hagen, the team was equipped with natty uniforms and new sticks. The St. Olaf Pucksters put up a good fight against their opponent, Shattuck, a prep school from Faribault, Minnesota, but lost 3−2. For the next four games, the Oles crossed sticks with Macalester College and Shattuck, and twice skated against the vaunted Augsburg College, considered one of the nation’s best college teams. The results were not stellar, with the team posting in its first-ever regular season a record of three losses and two ties.
Yet within those scores are stories of encouragement. In the team’s second game against Augsburg, St. Olaf scored a goal against the hockey powerhouse, the only team to accomplish such a feat during the season. The second meeting with Macalester ended in a tie after two overtimes. On Shattuck’s home ice, the two teams skated to a tie, but in all fairness, no overtime periods were played, as the Oles needed to catch a return bus to Northfield.
On February 16, 1927, the Pucksters entered the state tournament, where they faced Macalester on the Scots’ rink in St. Paul. With the score tied 1−1, and with less than 30 seconds to play in the second overtime period, 26-year-old senior Hagen ended his intercollegiate hockey career most fittingly, as witnessed by the Messenger:
Taking the puck near his own blue line on a poke check, he skated down center ice, swerved to the left and got around the Mac defense man to skate up to the mouth of the goal where he drove a wicked shot into the netting through the small area not covered by the Mac goalie.
By winning the game against Macalester, the Oles finished second in the state tourney. After that miracle on ice 91 years ago, Hagen worked in a variety of fields, from automobile racing to newspaper publishing. In 1943, he was elected to the U.S. Congress, representing Minnesota’s Ninth District, where he served until 1955. Honored with a Distinguished Alumni Award by St. Olaf in 1954, he was described as, “a public servant whose life has been characterized by unselfish devotion to state and nation.”
Hagen passed away in March 1957. He was survived by his wife, Audrey, and two children, Andora ’56 and Harold ’56. No doubt his “puckish” spirit, which helped shaped hockey at St. Olaf so many decades ago, will take a chair and cheer the loudest when St. Olaf unveils in the spring of 2019 its new 800-seat indoor ice arena.