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Nashua Royals have left a lasting legacy

Editor’s Note: This week’s guest column was authored by Greg Andruskevich, a longtime sportswriter and editor who began his newspaper career at The Telegraph in the mid to late 1960s before moving on to cover sports and other subjects for the former Manchester Union Leader, now the New Hampshire Union Leader. Andruskevich, now retired, originally researched and wrote this piece in October 2015, in conjunction with the New Hampshire Legends of Hockey (www.nhlegendsofhockey.com), a nonprofit founded in 2001 to promote the “rich history and tradition of the game of hockey in New Hampshire.”

From its inception in 1948, to the three straight Granite State Hockey League championship series it played against the Manchester Tam O’Shanters, to young Bobby Sheehan, who would go on to play eight seasons in the National Hockey League, the Nashua Royals amateur team left a large mark on the state’s hockey landscape in its two decades of existence.

Shortly after the end of World War II, Nashua High School and its athletic director, iconic football coach Buzz Harvey, explored the possibility of fielding a school hockey team. By 1948, other city leaders had planted the seeds to create a senior amateur team for players age 16-21 that would compete against other senior amateur teams in the region.

Nicknamed the “Royales,” the new team turned to city alderman and well-known hockey referee Tony Joyal as its coach, and plans were underway to build a rink in the rear of the St. Francis Xavier church on Chandler Street.

Paul and Bob Dionne were chosen as captains of that inaugural team, and were joined by players like Renee Joyal, Gil Dumais, Roger Kerouac, John Lanoie, Jim Connor and Roland McLoud. But the weather didn’t cooperate that first season, with rains and some unseasonably warm weather conspiring to keep their outdoor sheet between Chandler and Lock streets unplayable.

The next season saw Elmer F. Blakey, the city’s park and recreation commissioner, step in as head coach, and the team’s nickname was altered to “Royals.”

By 1952, Joyal was back as coach and the Royals had established themselves on the state scene, meeting the Rye Sea Hawks for the New Hampshire Amateur Class B League championship. Behind 59 saves from goalie Ernie Berube, Nashua won the game, 8-4.

Beginning in 1963, the Royals were coached by Ron Peters of Hudson, a former practice goaltender for the Boston Olympics of the EHL who was named to the Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008.Peters guided the team to the Granite State Hockey League championship in 1964, the first of three straight memorable championship series the Royals would play against the Tam O’Shanters.

In one victory, Bobby Shaheen scored off a face-off in the Tams zone to give Nashua the victory. I remember it well, as I was on the Royals’ bench covering the game for the Telegraph. I also remember Rene Joyal getting hit by a puck right on the forehead, causing a gash that required stitches. Doc Hickey, one of the team owners who was at the game, stitched up Joyal in the locker room. Rene wasn’t fazed, and the team stopped at the Merrimack VFW on the way home to celebrate the win.

The Tams got the better of it in 1965, sweeping the championship series in three games despite a four-goal game from George Marineau in Game 3, a game that finished 7-6.

Nashua came back to win the title in 1966, closing out the Tams with a 14-8 win. Marineau, known as “Gig,” was a longtime coach of the Nashua High hockey team — which I nicknamed the “Purple Blades.”

Some of the standout players included Marineau, Buzz Littell and Leo Gould, both Legends of Hockey Hall of Fame Class of ’06; Pete Merrill, Mike Frigard and Joe Bellavance.

Also featuring prominently was Sheehan, who would reach the NHL in 1969-70 with the Montreal Canadiens and play several seasons at that level, including the 1978-79 campaign with the New York Rangers.

That year, he skated in 15 playoff games as the Rangers reached the Stanley Cup finals, but lost to the Canadiens. Small in stature, Sheehan was listed at 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds in the NHL but was one of the fastest players in the league.

Members of the 1965-66 Royals championship team included Peters, the coach; Sheehan (aka Bob Terry), Merrill, Littell, Gould, Monahan, Frigard, Marineau, Kevin Palanski, Norm Charland, Paul Joyal, Pete Maggio, Guy Marcoux, Bob Christy, Ed Ziflak, Jean Brosseau, Ed Donahue, Jean Cote, Dave Bellavance, John Gilday, Ron Therrien, Dick Daigle, Ken Thompson, Dick Bordeleau, Paul Fisher, Den Cote and goaltenders Connors and Joe Bellavance.

They faced teams like the Concord Shamrocks, along with the rough and ready Manchester Blackhawks and their star, Willie (the Barber) Bibeau, whom the Royals played in Manchester’s then-new JFK Coliseum.

The Nashua Royals concluded play after the 1966-67 season.