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From the Archives: When the Coast Guard Cutters Were Cut-Ups On Ice

Stan Fischler takes a look back at the Coast Guard Cutters and their exploits on the ice during World War Two.
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There never was another hockey team quite like them and, guaranteed, there never will be.

They represented the United States Coast Guard on ice during World War II and bristled with a dressing room full of colorful characters and Hockey Hall of Famers as well.

"We had a blend of stick handlers that no other team ever had," said Brooklyn-born forward Mike Nardello, a Rangers prospect before enlisting in the Coast Guard. "What other team would have a Frankie Brimsek in goal and two tough guys with NHL experience like Art Coulter and Johnny Mariucci on defense?"

The Cutters had them, and then some. Brimsek -- alias Mister Zero -- was a Boston Bruins hero goalie with two Stanley Cup rings. Coulter captained the New York Rangers to the 1940 title. Both Art and Brimmer are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Based at Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, the Cutters came into being shortly after Uncle Sam entered World War II. A former minor pro-turned Coast Guard commander urged American stick handlers to enlist as Guardsmen and quite a few did.

Many -- such as Joe Kucler, Bob Gilray, Eddie Olson, and Milt Dunsmore -- came from the Minnesota north country and previously starred on high-grade minor league teams. Mariucci was the bedrock of Chicago's NHL blue line corps while Manny Cotlow -- an intimidating Jewish defenseman -- was another Minnesotan with a vast pro background.

"The idea," said Nardello, who had been playing for the Rangers farm team, the New York Rovers, "was to serve our country and in our spare time, play some serious hockey."

It was very serious. Entered in the fast Eastern Amateur Hockey League for the 1942-43 season, the Cutters won the league title and three dozen or so fights along the way.

Nardello: "Between Mariucci, Coulter, and Cotlow, we had a defense tougher than any in the NHL. Plus we iced a few others who loved a brawl as much as a beer. The odd thing was that I played for the Rovers against the Cutters at The Garden one Sunday afternoon.

"Then on Monday I enlisted in the Guard and the next Sunday I was shooting against the Rovers as a Cutter."

I was at the game depicted in the accompanying New York Daily News story by Dick Young. Muzz Murray (shown in the News story making a save) was my favorite goalie and I managed to hang his 8 by 10 glossy photo on my bedroom wall. (Note the giant Band-Aid on his injured goalie pad.)

CUTTERS DRUB ROVERS, 5-2, CALL 22 PENALTIES.

As the aforementioned Daily News headline indicates, the Cutters played a snarling game and earned the nickname "Hooligan's Navy." Sam B. Gunst, a Baltimore hockey writer, said, "They were as colorful as they were tough and very competent to boot."

Dick Young referred to the hard-skating sailors as "rip-snorting body bruisers."

What I liked so much about them was that whenever the Cutters invaded (old) Madison Square Garden, they brought their 30-piece marching band with them.

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Occupying end arena seats, when the Cutters scored, the band would swing into "Semper Peratus" (Always Ready), the Guardsmen's marching song.

Other NHLers on the team included Bob Dill of the Rangers, Alex Motter of the Red Wings, and Eddie Barry of the Bruins; not to the Grad A minor league pros. In addition to Brimsek and Muzz Murray, a third netminder was Hub Nelson who many critics regarded as the best goalie from that era not in the NHL.

Not surprisingly, the media loved them too. Daily News sportswriter Dick Young-- later to become one of the most famous in America -- loved covering the Cutters and his accompanying story proves the point. Young's lead paragraph went as follows:

"If (Garden boxing promoter) Mike Jacobs is still toying with the notion of staging fights twice a week at The Garden, all he has to do is keep the Curtis Bay Coast Guard hockey team coming back to New York City every Sunday."

The Cutters were repeat Senior champions in the 1943-44 season. But -- sadly for a passionate fan like me -- one by one, their roster was decimated by the war effort.

Nardello: "Late in our second season it wasn't unusual after a game for an officer to come into the room and say to so-and-so, 'Pack your bags, buddy, you're heading for the South Pacific.'"

By the end of the second campaign, all of the Cutters had embarked on overseas duty and the team was officially disbanded. Eventually, a totally different Baltimore Blades sextet replaced them on the EAHL roster. But the Guardsmen were admiringly remembered by New York hockey fans, not to mention the players themselves.

"We loved every minute we were together," said defenseman Dill. "but we knew that ahead of us there was more serious fighting to be done -- and not on the ice!"

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