By Tom Nader | Sports Editor
Many of the great names that are forever linked to Kent State University ice hockey will return to Kent on Saturday for the first-ever Kent State Hockey Club Fundraiser.
The event, which is dedicated to former coach Don Lumley and his wife Elaine, has been established to help try to help current club players offset the high costs of participating.
The day will begin at the ice arena with an alumni game at 1 p.m., which will be followed by the club team’s matchup with Akron at 2:30 p.m.
For those interested in making it an all-day event, tickets can be purchased for a served dinner at 5:30 p.m. at the Student Center. All tickets can be round at ksuhockey.eventbrite.com.
A notable returning alum is Mike Fornes, who is a Class of 1975 graduate and former radio broadcaster for the ice hockey team that went on to do radio work for three NHL teams: Hartford Whalers, Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars.
Fornes took over as the radio man for Kent State hockey from Steve Albert, who is credited as the founder of the school’s hockey program.
Albert, the brother of famed broadcasters Marv and Al, is now the radio play-by-play broadcaster for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. After Fornes followed Alberts at Kent State, the university’s radio calls were made by Paul Steigerwald (current NHL broadcaster for Pittsburgh Penguins) and Rick Peckham (current play-by-play announcer for Tampa Bay Lightning).
KSU hockey was Albert’s vision, though.
In 1969, he was a relatively unknown sophomore inside the School of Communication. He had a dream of starting up a college hockey team and became the only member of the Kent State Hockey Club — not really knowing what that meant yet because the university had no ice arena.
All of that changed when Albert returned to Kent State in the fall of 1970. His dream was put on the fast track when he found out the university had completed its construction of an ice arena.
As a student, though, he could only push his idea so far. He had all of the details and organized a presentation, but he needed a KSU employee to help him take it to the next level.
Don Lumley became that person.
Nicknamed by Albert as “Mr. Hockey,” Lumley was originally from Ontario, but played college hockey at Boston University under legendary head coach Jack Kelly.
Lumley joined the university as a physical education instructor and quickly joined forces with Albert to make a push for an ice hockey club team to become a reality. Once they worked through the formalities, they were given the green light and Lumley announced tryouts for the team.
“We had about 75 guys come out for the first tryout, and I think many of them thought it was just going to be a recreational or intramural type of thing,” Lumley remembered. “We had 45 come wearing figure skates and probably 40 of the people trying out did not have any equipment. We were able to weed out players and get down to a workable size pretty quickly.”
Lumley helped organize a 20- to 30-game schedule, with most of the team’s roster comprised of local talent. Eventually, as the team’s success came rather quickly, the program was able to attract many players from out of state and even into Ontario and Toronto.
The community was also quick to support the young program and recognized that the team provided an exciting brand of entertainment. The ice arena’s capacity is about 2,000 and the team would regularly bring upward of 1,800 to each home game.
“That was very much a surprise,” Lumley said. “The student body and the community really embraced us and it was a great environment on game night.”
The team would be recognized as a club sport through 1978 and gained varsity status for the 1979-80 season.
Lumley, who moved to Illinois after the 1974 season to be an instructor at the Can-Am Hockey School and manage an ice arena, returned in 1978. He worked alongside Chet Williams to help finalize a plan that the university eventually accepted to recognize the ice hockey team as a varsity sport.
“Obviously, I was excited,” Lumley said. “I knew then it would have a chance to grow in popularity even more and we could do something with it. It could bring better hockey players to Kent who could get a great education and get the chance to play a good brand of hockey.”
While a varsity team, the athletic department would not channel any money into the program. Lumley helped organize a self-funding program, with the ice arena basically footing all of the team’s costs.
The team would remain a varsity sport through the 1993-94 season under head coach Bill Switaj, but was pulled back to a club-level sport because of budget concerns and Title IX compliance.
“I was devastated when I found out,” Lumley said. “I was really, really disappointed, but ultimately, I could understand why. Title IX had a big influence on the decision, and having being involved with the team so closely, I knew the cost that was involved.”
Lumley went on to work in the physical plant operation at the university, before retiring in 2002. He now lives in Brimfield with his wife Elaine, who had an equally important role in the early years of the university’s hockey program.