A 60-Year Long Save

(Photo via The Post archives)
Team photo of Ohio’s 1961-62 team, which won the Bobcats’ third Ohio Intercollegiate Hockey Association championship. (Photo via ohiobobcatshockey.com)
Bill Gurnick stands with teammate Roger “Bing” Carlson. (Photo via ohiobobcatshockey.com)
(Photo via The Post archives)


The foundation of Ohio hockey: How Bill Gurnick put the Bobcats on the map

Anthony Poisal / For The Post

Bill Gurnick didn’t know much about where he was going.


He anxiously sat in the back seat of his father’s car on a September morning in 1959. The destination was Athens, and all the freshman had was a small suitcase and some hockey equipment. His father gave him $2 for a phone call to his family, who expected him to quit and return home just a few weeks after moving to Ohio University.


Coach John McComb needed a goalie to continue to push his new hockey organization off the ground. The Bobcats went 6-2-1 in their inaugural season in 1958-59 and finished second in the Ohio Intercollegiate Hockey Association, but they were about to become a lot more talented. There were plenty of uncertainties that filled the Cleveland native’s mind, but Gurnick found some solace in knowing that he was about to join a new family: Ohio hockey.


Besides going to play hockey for McComb in college, Gurnick didn’t know much else. Gurnick was going to school for free on a work scholarship, but like his family, he also didn’t know how long he’d be in Athens or where he’d stay. He hadn’t even heard of his new college until a few months earlier, just after his graduation from Benedictine High School.


Perhaps what Gurnick didn’t realize at the time was that the next four years of his life would contain three OIHA championships, an MVP award, a dominant hockey team and the construction of one of the most colorful players to play for Ohio.


Gurnick was about to pave the path of Ohio hockey for nearly 60 years.

Toughening up

Gurnick was Ohio’s starting goalie in his freshman year, and his impact was instant. The Bobcats went 10-1-0 in their second season and won their first OIHA championship.


Al Haines, a defenseman who played on the inaugural Ohio team a year before Gurnick’s arrival, still remembers how noticeable the difference in talent and success was after Gurnick arrived for the Bobcats’ second season.


“The first year we played, where Bill was not on the team, yeah, we'd get people going to the hockey game, there was no doubt about it,” Haines said. “It wasn't until the second year that I said, 'Holy crap, these guys are really good.’"


With Gurnick, the team was so good that McComb decided to toughen up the schedule for the next season. The Bobcats weren’t going to only play opponents within the OIHA — Ohio was going to play four games against Michigan State, the 1959 NCAA Division I runners-up after a 4-3 overtime loss to North Dakota in the NCAA championship. Two of the games would be at Bird Arena, and two would be in East Lansing, Michigan.


“Oh, Coach, why don’t you just schedule the Montreal Canadiens?” Gurnick told McComb after the coach gave him a call to tell him the “good news.”


And Ohio got throttled.


The Bobcats lost all four games with a combined score of 46-7, but it’d be hard to pin much blame on Gurnick. In the first pair of games in East Lansing, the sophomore stopped 136 total shots. Ohio totaled 39 shots, according to a previous Post article.


Ohio’s depth was simply no match for one of the best hockey teams in the country.


“They were running four lines against us, and to be honest, we probably had two lines that could play against anyone in the country,” Carlson said. “(Gurnick) held us in all those games. All the saves that he made against Michigan State, it was just phenomenal."


Unlike the Michigan State series, other games that relied heavily on Gurnick to keep Ohio in the game often resulted in wins.


One of Gurnick’s toughest games came on the road against Port Huron in 1963. Gurnick was pounded by 60 shots from Port Huron throughout the game — Ohio took 37 — but the Bobcats won in overtime. Ohio also overcame a two-goal deficit in the third period to tie the game.


Part of Gurnick’s success came from his ability to not only envision where a player was going to shoot the puck, but to ready himself for potential deflections off other players’ shin guards and sticks.


“I worked at it a lot, though,” Gurnick said. “Playing outside all the time, like with the tennis balls and everything, my reflexes perfected really good. I learned a lot from George Wilson shooting those tennis balls at me and everything.”


Gurnick’s goalie skills started to develop when he was 11 years old. On a walk back from school, he met Wilson, an ex-pro hockey player from New England. Wilson had a hockey stick and was shooting tennis balls at a 4-by-6 box outlined with tape on his garage door.


When he asked Wilson what he was doing, Wilson said he was preparing to play pond hockey.


Wilson could tell Gurnick was interested in the sport, so he offered him a baseball glove and a broom and told him to stand in between the box on the garage and block the shots. Wilson shot the tennis balls at him; when they finished their mini practice, Wilson was impressed.


“Eh, you might just be a goalie someday,” he said. “I'll tell you what, I'll get you some skates. What's your shoe size?"


When the Forest Hills Duck Pond finally froze over, Gurnick joined Wilson and the other guys, who were in their 20s and 30s. Gurnick fell in love with a game that carried him through the next decade of his life.


The amazing reflexes put Gurnick at the top of the list of goalies Dick Hendrie and several other former Ohio players had ever played with. Hendrie played professionally in the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs systems after college.


“I think he's the best goalie to ever step foot on Ohio University ice, and he's the best goalie that I ever had,” Hendrie said. “In my opinion, hockey at Ohio University would never have gotten off the ground and where it is today 60 years later without Gurnick. We won hockey because he stopped some shots that absolutely should have gone into the net. It was that simple.”

Gurnick’s Greatness

43-16-0 -- Ohio record with Gurnick on team 1959-63
3 Ohio Intercollegiate Hockey Association (OIHA) Championships
1962-63 -- Ohio hockey MVP
2018 -- Ohio Hockey Hall of Fame Inductee

Coming out of his "cocoon"

Former Ohio teammate Tom Gosiorowski met Gurnick when Gosiorowski was 15 years old.


Gosiorowski witnessed Gurnick’s “intense passion” grow for hockey throughout high school, but he also saw a different character in Gurnick in college — Gosiorowski joined Ohio hockey in 1961.


When Gosiorowski, a freshman, reunited with Gurnick at OU during Gurnick’s junior year, a lot had changed. The quiet kid that Gosiorowski remembered back home bought him his first beer, gave him a fake ID and evolved into a more courageous, bold college student.



Provided via Dick Hendrie

Gurnick sits up on his chair to be funny in a class at Ohio University.

Gurnick was the center of the show in front of 1,200 fans during games at Bird Arena, and then the life of the parties that followed.


“There's a metamorphosis of this guy coming out of his cocoon and becoming a butterfly,” Gosiorowski said with a chuckle. “He relished that and became the kind of guy who loved to be an exhibitionist. … It wasn't rowdy, it was more prankster-ish. He wasn't beating up on anybody, he would never do that, but he was a prankster.”


His amusing character off the ice transformed into a talented, determined goalie between the pipes that helped Ohio accumulate a 43-14-2 record in his four years with the program.

"The Old College Spirit"


Provided via Tom Gosiorowski

Gurnick and friends travel to their spring break trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Gurnick, now 76, denied taking part in most of the humorous memories that some of his ex-teammates, but current friends, remembered about him. For each moment that they had on the ice, it seemed as though there was another moment outside the rink that they still reminisce about some 60 years later.


One moment, however, sticks out above the rest.


Gurnick remembers hearing Richard Kowalchik, an Ohio team manager, scream, “Jesus! Look at this!” upon seeing the front page on a newspaper stand that morning. The guys paid five cents for a few copies each, and it’s a paper that many of them still have today.


Provided via Dick Hendrie

The front page of the Fort Lauderdale News on April 5, 1963.


The Fort Lauderdale News’ front page printed a water tower that bared “OHIO U” prominently painted in green letters in its April 5, 1963, issue. The city’s people, out-of-town spring breakers and locals alike, were perplexed.


The water tower incident occurred on the last night of a 1963 spring break trip with some of the players. Forwards Hendrie and Roger “Bing” Carlson, and others claimed that it was Gurnick who painted the water tower in their college’s name.


“We were all crazy in those days, and the whole group was down there, and Bill was as wild as he was, and he was on top of the water tower and painted ‘Ohio University’ on the water tower,” Carlson said.


Gurnick denies it, however.


“No, we did not do that,” Gurnick said with a laugh.



Provided via Tom Gosiorowski

TBill Gurnick stands shirtless and with a cane on top of a house.

When Gurnick and the rest of the group arrived back in Athens, they were met by William Butler, the dean of students, and the Athens Chief of Police. They questioned Gurnick and tested his fingers for paint residue or any evidence that he was the artist behind the water tower’s masterpiece.


“Nothing was on my fingers or anything,” Gurnick said.


While Hendrie, who worked for 17 years in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations after Ohio, believes that it was Gurnick who painted the water tower, he still doesn’t know how he, or whoever it was, managed to climb up the tower with a bucket and a brush and paint it all in the dark.


“It's all a mystery how that all happened,” he said. “Maybe it's best to just leave it that way. Some of the best mysteries are best left alone.”


Gurnick also has no clue.


“Dick and I and Richie Kowalchik and (Gosiorowski), we talked about that so many times,” Gurnick said. “We just can't figure out how, first of all, that water tower was close to the police department. You got police cars coming in and out of it. How does somebody get up that ladder (and) paint that water tower without getting noticed?”


The stories that illustrated some of Gurnick’s antics have become fuzzy as the decades have passed, but the premise of the tomfoolery in each story remained true.

The pioneers

After graduating from Ohio, Gurnick was a physical education teacher for 29 years in Strongsville and created several youth sports teams across a variety of sports. He’s a volunteer at the Elks Lodge in Port Charlotte, Florida, and brings the same level of passion and dedication toward helping the volunteers and children at the lodge that he had when he was in net for Ohio and in the classroom at Strongsville.

Gurnick and his teammates from the early ’60s still communicate today, and many of the members are expected to return to Athens for Ohio’s alumni weekend festivities Friday and Saturday for its 60th anniversary season. Gurnick will receive recognition as a member of the Ohio Hall of Fame 2018 class.

When Gurnick and the rest of his former teammates arrive at Bird Arena, they’ll remember where it all started. Not just their friendship, which was felt across the campus, but the success of Ohio hockey that followed the program decades after their graduation.

“We thought we were the pioneers, really, of Ohio hockey in those days,” Gurnick said. “We were the ones who put it on the map and brought it up."

Development by: Taylor Johnston / Digital Production Editor

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