Everything about the Charlestown-majority Smoke Ponies adult hockey team is casual – that is everything but the competition, which is cut-throat and bent on winning.
What started as a summer trip for Charlestown’s Brendan Collier to watch Jimmy Vesey and the Harvard University Hockey team play in a summer tournament on Martha’s Vineyard has become a beloved tradition for Collier, numerous Charlestown hockey players and many of Collier’s friends he made while playing Division 1 hockey at Northeastern University. Now, the Ponies have competed for five years in the tournament, and have won the past two years in a row – that coming with a roster that is heavy on Charlestown players and competing against professional caliber players.
“The first two year we lost to Harvard,” said Collier. “It was losing in the finals though, and we beat the Babson varsity team along the way. We bate a team with Noah Hanifin (currently of the Calgary Flames) and another team with Adam Gaudette (currently of the Vancouver Canucks) and some other teams with college Division 1 players on them. I think we obviously have good hockey players, but we also have good guys who want to win and know and support each other. We have players that competed in Division 1 hockey, some that are active pros and others that are good men’s league players.
“It’s a weird group and it always comes together,” he continued. “It’s not like those other teams that just stack the roster with great players. We have fun and care about each other and want to keep this tradition going.”
The tournament is the annual East Coast Classic Vineyard Cup hockey tournament, which is coming up on its 10th year, and is held in July each summer. Eight top teams from all over the East Coast come to play, and many are very talented with professional players on the scorecard.
Collier said his friend, current Buffalo Sabres player Jimmy Vesey, had begun going down to the tournament with the Harvard team several years ago. Collier – a great hockey player himself – decided to go down with them to watch the action and hang out on a friend’s houseboat. After watching several games, Collier said he decided to get a team together to have fun and play the next year.
“At some point I was thinking, ‘Forget this, I’m getting a team in here next year,’” he said. “It’s a majority Charlestown guys mixed with New England kids I played Division 1 hockey with and some folks we know from UMass Boston. It was the weirdest mix of people and it came together and everyone gets along.”
The name, of course, is very unique, and probably more part of the “fun” that happens during the course of the tournament when they are not on the ice. Collier said it was on a whim that Charlestown’s John Humphrey began yelling at people from a boat one day when they were relaxing after a game. Being a character, Collier said Humphrey soon settled on yelling “Smoke Ponies” at all passers-by.
Like things of that sort, it stuck and now it’s turned into an official team name with a Facebook page and a pretty cool logo of a Knight chess piece (the horse) smoking a pipe.
Those from the Town that are involved include: Brendan Collier (All Years – General Manager); Jimmy Mahoney (one year); Bobby Nagle (one year); John Humphrey – (Coach and player); Will Bryson (one year); Paul Myers (all years); Nolan Carrier (two years/two-time champ); Mike Newhall (original goalie/two years); Pat Fidler (one year); Jimmy Lister (all years); Pat Wrenn (two years/two time champ); Paul Wrenn (three years); Mike Woods (one year); Conal Lynch (two years); Adam McLaughlin (attendee for two years); Tom Johnson (attendee two years); and Matt Johnson (attendee one year).
It is, of course, as much about having fun as it is about winning.
Yet, at the same time, the winning has come for the team – as they continuously challenge the top teams amidst having a good summer retreat.
“The first year we won we were playing really good teams and they had a couple active NHLers that year – and we won it,” he said. “We were really up against it, but made a lot of good plays to be able to win. It’s a bit of lying around and having fun and a bit of going out on the ice all day playing hockey. A lot of it is getting the will power to get up and play well.”
Outside of the tournament, the Ponies can often be seen at the Emmons Horrigan O’Neil Rink in Charlestown during the season skating with the team or other teams, or at the Kitchen Kup roller hockey tournament in August.
“It’s become something everybody knows about in Town,” said Collier. “We’ve turned it into a fun thing and everybody says it’s the most fun weekend of the year…Everyone is there for one reason: to have fun and win some hockey games.”