Twenty-six-year-old C.F. McElhinney moved to Houston in 1934 to serve as Assistant Director of Curriculum for HISD. In his first semester working for HISD, which, at the time, operated the Houston Junior College, the Nova Scotia native organized the junior college’s hockey team. Within four months, HJC had fielded a team, met Rice in a sporting event for the first time, and approved the University of Houston’s formal charter.
Efforts to assemble a team began in the fall of 1932 when a notice went out in The Cougar.
A team formed, and by the spring semester, Jack Potter’s team began practicing together but struggled to find equipment and ice time.
In 1934, McElhinney put the team together quickly and got them rink access thanks to a local man named Bill Jolly. In the mid-1920s, Jolly owned an ice company and manufacturing plant but needed more customers. He came up with the idea of opening an indoor ice rink, dubbing it the Polar Wave Ice Palace. The rink, next to his plant at 2323 Hutchins (at McIlhenny), was distinctive for its vaulted lamella lattice roof structure.
Soon, Jolly helped start a citywide hockey league with high schools, colleges, and businesses forming teams. The City Amateur Hockey League featured teams such as the Lone Star Creamery, the Falstaff Brewery, Rettig’s Ice Cream Parlor, the Spalding Blue Streaks, Houston Polar Bears (and later called the Polar Wave), Eddelmann Mappers, Rice Institute, and Sam Houston HS Tigers. Teams paid to practice and played all league games – with 15-minute periods – at the Ice Palace for years.
There is little known about the UH teams in the 1930s. Rice was believed to be the first game HJC played in 1934, but details are sketchy. The Houstonian Yearbook says that the JC won their first game, but it’s unclear if that means the first game ever played or winning a game for the first time. UH won several games and believed they were up for a City title, but the league determined they had not played enough games.
The 1935 team, the first that played under the University of Houston banner, was the first to wear the interlocking UH. Each team came up with their own logo and Cougar hockey invented the mark that would represent Houston for generations.
The Rice Thresher was the only publication that routinely reported on the games, mainly ones involving the Owls. Archie French had taken over as head coach in 1935, and Rice beat UH 10-4 and 6-0 in 1935. The 1935 game was so violent that the Thresher reported five players had left due to injury, including two that were cut by sticks, two that banged heads, and one that was “knocked out by a puck.”
In January 1936, however, UH beat Rice 1-0.
UH hockey did not play for several years at the end of the 1930s, but the sport reappeared in the fall of 1939. By the following December, it was reported locally that “three stars from Montreal doing grad work at St. Thomas” would suit up for the Coogs in 1941.
In that 1941 season, the Canadians anchored a solid UH team that entered the City League with a chance at a title. The Thresher said, “The very tough Houston icers who have gotten together a collection of talented performers (are) capable of taking the league championship.”
UH led the league heading into the final game of the 1941 season with a 6-1 record but fell to the Eddelman Mappers. Now tied with Rice, UH was forced into a two-game aggregate playoff. The Cougars beat Rice, 9-5, in the opener of a two-game aggregate playoff. They needed to stay within five goals in game two to win the City Championship but gave up five goals in the first period and lost to Rice, 7-1.
Before the next season started, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the nation was drawn into WWII. UH teams competed in 1942 and 1943, but it appears the sport died out at UH then.
Friday, September 8, 2023, hockey will be played as a UH club sport for the first time in 80 years.