The year 1936 was a grandstand one for British ice hockey. The small German market town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen saw a little piece of history as the Great Britain ice hockey team clinched gold to become Olympic champions for the first andonly time. Great Britain have enjoyed some success since, most notably winning promotion into Pool A in 1993, but it is unlikely that they will ever reach such dizzy heights again. The win was the catalyst of the so called Golden Era of British ice hockey which continued, with an interruption for World War II, until the collapse of professional hockey in 1960.The victory was not without considerable controversy. A debate which still continues today, the question of what exactly constitutes a British player, threatened to overshadow the tournament. While most of the British team had been born in the United Kingdom, most had been raised and learned to play the game in Canada. There was talk of a boycott by the Canadians of the game against a team they perceived to be fellow countrymen. Questions were apparently even asked in the Canadian House of Commons over the whole affair. The match eventually went ahead and on February 11th, 1936, Great Britain emerged as 2-1 winners, Canada’s first ever defeat at Olympic level.

Many of the team made their careers in hockey in the country they’d represented and the Nottingham Panthers are able to count two Olympic gold medalists as their own. Sandy Archer and Archie Stinchcombe were the first two coaches of the club and both played a significant part in Panthers history, though for very different reasons.

Alex ‘Sandy’ Archer was born in London in 1911. The son of Scots, the family moved to Winnipeg in Manitoba in 1914 where he eventually began to play ice hockey. In 1935 he returned to England to play for the Wembley Lions in the newly-formed English National League. It was here that he made his name, scoring 82 times and earning 77 assists during the five seasons before the war. He earned three consecutive All Star selections between 1938 and 1940 and was hugely popular with the Lions faithful. His Olympic selection sparked the outrage of the Canadian Hockey Association who bitterly protested that they were the holders of his registration and that he was ineligible to play for Great Britain. These protests were dismissed and during the tournament he would score twice in seven matches.

Archer’s playing career came to an abrupt end in 1945 when, during a game at Wembley against Sweden, he suffered a fractured skull. It is here where the Nottingham Panthers step in. Thwarted by Hitler in their first attempt at forming a professional hockey team, the end of the war had seen the resurrection of plans for a club and Sandy Archer was appointed Nottingham’s first coach. He returned to his home town of Winnipeg and started putting together the first Nottingham Panthers.

The team he brought over included two names that have come to be synonymous with the original era. Les Strongman, who needs no introduction, and Ken Westman, the man who patrolled the blue line for all but one season during the original Panthers’ lifetime. His side arrived by ferry and made their debut on November 22nd, 1946. Fittingly, a side from the Empire Pool where he had made his name provided the opposition, as the Panthers defeated the Wembley Monarchs 3-2. The first season was to sadly prove a disappointment. After their opening night victory, the Panthers would have to wait until January for another one and they would end the season comfortably bottom of the league with just six. Although not up to the standards of their more glamorous London opponents, Archer and his team succeeded in winning over the Nottingham public and beginning a love affair with the sport that prevails to this day.

It was during the summer of 1947 that Archer made perhaps his most profound contribution to ice hockey in Nottingham. Again his team was to be put together in his native city of Winnipeg and this time he was badgered by a short 21-year old centre for a place in the team. Although Archer initially found his centreman elsewhere, a mere two days before the Panthers set sail, he advised that player that he was going to England afterall. Sandy Archer had just signed the man who is widely regarded as the club’s greatest ever player; Chick Zamick.

Unfortunately the end of Archer’s reign as Panthers coach came in 1948. His eventual replacement was one of his fellow Olympic team mates – Archibald Stinchcombe. Born in Barnsley in 1912, Stinchcombe’s debut in England was also in 1935 for Wembley’s London rival Streatham. He, along withArcher, also won consecutive European Championships with Great Britain in the build up to the war and after the end of the conflict became national captain, leading the team in their belated defense of the Olympic gold in 1948. His domestic hockey in the post-war period was played at Wembley for both the Lions andthe Monarchs. Remarkably all his feats in the game were achieved with the use of only one eye.

He arrived in Nottingham primarily as a coach, but also as a player when the situation required it. He was able to retain the services of Zamick, but Strongman left for Wembley Lions. His new signings included Bill Allen, a player who remained in Nottingham throughout Stinchcombe’s stay with the club, apart from a brief spell in 1953. The Panthers finished fourthin 1948-49 with Stinchcombe himself playing 17 times, scoring one goal and five assists. He also took the Panthers on a tour of Sweden, where they faced the Swedish in front of a then record crowd. The Panthers made a small leap forward in 1949-50 when they won the Sussex Daily Cup but it was 1950-51 when Stinchcombe’s first significant triumph as Panthers coach came.

After an Autumn Cup that had gone like so many before it, with the Panthers flattering to deceive andhovering around in mid table, they quickly emerged as a title contender when the league campaign began in January. Stinchcombe had managed to tempt Strongman back to Lower Parliament Street and had also signed Pat Casey from Ayr Raiders. The trio of Strongman, Casey and Zamickscored an impressive 86 goals between them in 30 games, significantly contributing to Nottingham’s rise to the top of the scoring charts. Bill Ringer, another new forward, also gave a healthy contribution of goals while Bill Allen helped the Panthers to the best defensive record in the league while scoring 15 goals of his own. Involved in a close battle with the defending champions Streatham, Stinchcombe and his team kept their cool to win their final game of the season 9-4 at the Earls Court Rangers and win the league championship the first time. I always remember the beginning of each season when my great-grandma would compare our latest team to that of 1950-51. Not one met her rigorous high standards.

The following season could not provide a more stark contrast. Stinchcombe made few changes to his title winning team anda second place finish in the Autumn Cup suggested that a successful title defense was possible. Instead Panthers suffered the crippling blow of losing Chick Zamick to a broken arm, a hole that could not be refilled. Stinchcombe himself returned to the ice as cover after a two year break but could not stop the defending champions slumping to the bottom of the standings. A huge disappointment after the previous season’s exploits. Stinchcomberesponded by replacing seven players in summer the of 1952. One of the new players was another of the original era legends, this time Lorne Smith, later to be club’s final coach before their disbandment. A return to respectability came in 1952-53, though things were still a long way off the heights of 1951.

Stinchcombe’sfinal season withthe club came in 1953-54. A better scripted finale to the reign of a coach you could not find anywhere. It was a season of two halves which would eventually show Stinchcombeas the great coach he was. He made significant changes to the team that had finished mid table the previous year but the first half of the season could not have gone more wrong. The Panthers finished bottom of the Autumn Cup table with just nine wins from their 24 games. They didn’t do much better in the London Cup tournament played in December andJanuary, finishing bottom with three wins from 12 games. Stinchcombe was undeterred by these setbacks, his aim was the league crown and he now had a good idea of where his problems lay. In came Bill Maslenkoto shore up the forward line. At the back in came two familiar faces with Bill Allen andLorne Smith each returning from brief spells in North America. These changes were a resounding success. The league quickly developed into a two horse race between the Autumn Cup’s winner and the Autumn Cup’s cellar dweller. The Panthers took narrow wins over their rivals in the first two encounters but lost in SouthLondon with eight games remaining.

The two sides met again in Lower Parliament Street withlittle over a week of the season left with the Panthers emerging as 5-3 winners. However they lost the following game at Wembley meaning that three points from their final two games were neccessary to clinch the championship. After a 7-2 win over Harringay, Nottingham travelled to the south coast to take on the Brighton Tigers in their final game. The Tigers led the match 4-3 at the endof the second period and it seemed the Panthers had blown it. However they battled back to secure a 5-5 draw and claim the championship by a solitary point. A fitting end to Stinchcombe’s tenture in the Panthers hot-seat.

Archie Stinchcombe is probably the Panthers’ greatest coach of all time. He is one of only two men to lead the Panthers to the Championship and the only man to do it twice. He put together teams that included many of the club’s all time greats and other well known names. The likes of Zamick andStrongman have become synonymous with the original era as the men that entertained us, but it was Stinchcombe that put them together and made them tick for much of that time. It is easy to speculate though what the Stinchcombe era would have been like if it were not for the work of his predecessor and Great Britain team mate. Sandy Archer had the tough task of leading a provincial hockey team against the big lights of London in their formative years and though results were never anything more than average the backbone of the team that would go on to become successful under Stinchcombe were laid. It was Archer that introduced Nottingham to Les Strongman, Chick Zamick and Ken Westman and in that respect his contribution was immense.

Stinchcombe still lived in Nottingham when he died aged 82 in 1994. He had been inducted into the British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in 1951. A year before Stinchcombe’s passing Archer, who died in 1982 aged 71, was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame for his part in the victory of 1936.

Written by Panthers Kim

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