“It’s not a beer league,” said Kevin Kaiser, 31, who joined St. Nick’s in 2011, after playing as a forward at Princeton. “Oh, we definitely drink after. But it’s high-level hockey, for sure.”
Participation is by invitation, and only former college and pro players with strong hockey pedigrees are asked to join. (St. Nick’s recently invited a woman who had played college hockey to join, but she declined.) Annual dues are about $1,000, most of which covers the ice time at Chelsea Piers.
Although professional hockey began to eclipse amateur hockey nearly a century ago, teams like St. Nick’s, especially in New York, formed a foundation for the sport’s growth outside Canada.
According to “Metro Ice,” a 1999 book by Stan Fischler and Tom Sarro, the St. Nicholas Hockey Club joined the New York Athletic Club, the Crescent Athletic Club of Brooklyn and the Skating Club of Brooklyn to form the American Amateur Hockey League in 1896.
St. Nick’s had won three A.A.H.L. championships 10 years before the New York Americans entered the N.H.L. in 1925. (The Rangers joined the N.H.L. a year later.) Hobey Baker, whose name graces the annual award that goes to the N.C.A.A.’s top men’s hockey player, played for St. Nick’s from 1914 to 1916.
Then Baker joined the United States Army Air Service and became a captain and a commander of an aero squadron in World War I. Baker, 26, was killed in a plane crash in 1918 about a month after the armistice. In 1945, he was the first American inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The N.H.L. had only six teams from 1942 to 1967, so there were limited professional opportunities for hockey players, especially Americans. Curt Bennett and Herb Boxer were the first American-born players to be selected in the N.H.L. Entry Draft — in 1968.