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Ice Hockey Comes to Minneapolis - Cleve Bennewitz

Hockey originated in Canada in the late 1870‘s and through the migration of people to the west due to the industrial revolution the game spread rapidly from its birthplace in Montreal.  Hockey grew in western provinces of Canada and the people close to the border in the United States saw the game and quickly became enchanted with the speed skills, and violence of the sport.  Americans copied the game and brought it to the colder parts of the United States.

One of the people of Minnesota who came in contact with the game was Cleve Bennewitz who was born and raised in Argyle and Hallock in the Northwest corner of the state.  Cleve was born in 1883 and skated by the time he was four or five, as his mother had come from Holland and brought ice skates with her from the old country.  Cleve was a member of Argyle's first hockey team in 1897, and moved with his family to Minneapolis in 1901.  As a youngster in Argyle, Cleve was among the town boys who learned hockey from Earl Ohmer, who attended St. Boniface in Winnipeg.  The game had begun around 1875 in Canada, and Winnipeg had a team.  Other members of that first hockey team in Argyle were: Gilbert Brabant, George Brabant, John Brabant, Harry Berg, Arthur Berg, Walter Robertson, Logan Stone, Philip Lezie and Archie Alley.

1898 Roseau Hockey - Archie Alley Middle Row Far Left

This report will try to piece together Cleve’s introduction to ice hockey and will relate how he brought the game to Minneapolis and kept it going until the area finally started a professional hockey team around 1920.  The material for this report came from three tape recorded interviews with Mr. Bennewitz who was nearly 91 years old, and resided in Minnetonka, MN (in 1974).  Other material came from the old Minneapolis Journal newspaper and the files of the United States Hockey Hall of fame at Eveleth, Minnesota.  Cleve said that Howard Hughes didn't not have enough money to buy his scrapbook and in it, a picture taken in 1887 showing Cleve and his mother skating on the Middle River near Argyle, Minnesota.  Cleve says that in 1897 a couple of kids from home went to St. Boniface College in Winnipeg and brought back the game of ice hockey to Argyle and Hallock.  By 1898 the communities of Argyle, Hallock, Stephen, Crookston, Grand Forks, and Roseau all had hockey.  Roseau even had a building over their rink which cost $5000, most of which was donated.  Fellow former team-mate in Argyle - Archie Alley is credited with bringing hockey to Roseau.  St. Paul also had hockey by 1900, a semi-pro team called the Gotschen Victorias, sponsored by a man who owned a shoe factory.  In those days all teams played seven-man hockey.  Cleve says that he believes ice skates have been developed by 1850 and were usually cast iron and were clamped or strapped on to regular shoes.  They cost about 50¢ a pair.  In the northern towns when the snow got deep on the ice the boys would clear the main intersection of the snow by pushing the sleighs from side to side as they passed through.  Then the boys would get their sticks and a puck and play street hockey in their shoes under the one electric street light in the town.

Cleve came to Minneapolis at the age of 18 in 1901, and started kids playing hockey by taking sticks and skates down to Lake Calhoun where the Cedar Lake Ice Company had cut ice each day.  The cleared area provided a fresh ice surface each day as it froze over.  If there were no snow wild shots often would go clear across the ice to the Minnekada Club as there were no boards.  They soon organized a 7-man team but the only opposition was in St. Paul.  Equipment consisted of skates, sticks, a broom, shovel, a stocking cap and maybe a magazine shoved in the sock for shin pads.  They also wore heavy fur mittens so their hands would not freeze.  The goals were overshoes, then later holes were drilled and cedar posts set in the ice.  Cleve was the only one who had skates fastened onto shoes and he made most of the skates from old clamp-on models.  Cleve lived at 2809 Hennepin where he had a grinding shop (his sporting goods and skate sharpening shop for 50 years until 1952).  The A.G. Spalding Co. started selling skates here and sticks that looked like a cane.  A good Canadian stick cost 75¢, so most of the kids made their own.

Most of the players in the early 1900’s were 18 or 19 years old.  They tried speed skaters like Johnny Nelson a world champion but they couldn’t take the hitting nor could they handle a stick.  The first team was called the Lake Shores and Cleve used to go downtown and listen for Canadians who sat out and would ask them to come out and try, some of them they could play but many could not.  Two of the best were the Bradford brothers from Edmonton but like many others they only stayed a short while.  The games were mostly with St. Paul teams and occasionally a Duluth team.  Maybe one time a year they would go to Winnipeg but a bed was 50¢ and a meal a quarter and not too many could afford the cost.  The sport grew and developed slowly and in the winter of 1902-03 the Lake Shores started playing regularly as a team.  The early battles were with St. Paul teams and although the contests were rough, the opposing teams started by clearing and flooding the rink together.  They had a movable warming house and the 1ft. high boards moved also so it took a long time to play the game. 

The 1903 team consisted of:

Bill Stultz - Goal
Art Connell - Point
Terry Moore - Cover Point
Pits Cross - Rover
Lin Johnson - Center
Red Hodge - Left Wing
Cleve Bennewitz - Right Wing

By 1904 the Lake Shores were playing more games and Bill Ligil and Red Hodge played at times in place of others.  There were no substitutes and if a player was injured you either played with one short or the other Captain could choose to drop a man.  A February 1904 heading in the Minneapolis Journal newspaper says: "Lake Shores make a strong fight for hockey pennant”.  The story that follows tells of good success against St. Paul teams.  A picture on the same page shows a rink on Lake Calhoun with no houses around.  There are one-foot high boards and two cedar posts frozen in the ice for goals.  There are eight gas street lights around the rink and they are held up by a tripod of 2x4’s.  Cleve adds that there was no warming house.  He also mentioned that in those days the goalie had to stay on his feet and clear the puck with his stick.

For the 1904-05 season the Park Board put up several rinks and the game grew.  On these rinks they made wooden goals with chicken wire nets and the kids all carried an emery stone in their pocket to put an edge on the skates when they got dull.  The best team in Minneapolis was the Lake Shores and in St. Paul the best team was named after a hockey stick called the Mic Mac.  Even with the addition of rinks most of the hockey in Minneapolis was played at the end of Lake Street on Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.

The 1905-06 season saw the expansion of the game to several clubs and the Central High Alumni defeated the Lake Shores at Lake Harriet on December 25, 1905 by a score of 8-1.  Most games were still played on Sundays and holidays.  The stars of that game for Central were Bobby Marshall later a Minnesota football star, Greer and Jensen.  The Minneapolis Journal reported that "Bennewitz did the greater part of the work for the Lake Shores”.  The paper adds that "New Year's Day the Central will play the Victorias of St. Paul”.  

A letter from the Northern Pacific Railway team of St. Paul challenges the Lake Shores to a game played at 8:30 sharp at Grand and Chatzworth in St. Paul, January 10th, 1905.  Lake Shore players for that game were listed as:

Lake Calhoun Lighted Rink

P. Cross - Goal
Lin Johnson - Point
Art Cohnell - Cover Point
Kimball Hodge - Rover
Ray Hodge - Center
Cleve Bennewitz - Right Wing
Charlie Hocum - Left Wing

In that winter a Minneapolis League was formed with all games to be played at the Lake Shore Rink.  Teams included:

Cleve Bennewitz Armed For Hockey Play January 1906

  • Lake Shores       
  • Glens   
  • Eagles
  • Harriet’s              
  • Kings    
  • Iriquois

1906-07 was a banner year for hockey in Minneapolis.  A Twin City League was formed with 4 teams from Minneapolis and 6 teams from St. Paul.  The Minneapolis games were all played at the new Lake Shore Rink on the corner of Hennepin and Lake Streets.  This rink had the first enclosed warming house and boards all the way around 4 feet high.  This was also the first rink with electric lights although often there wasn't enough money to pay for electricity.  A bill for this rink from the Bruce Edgerton Lumber Co. in Cleve's scrapbook shows the total cost for boards, nails, posts, etc. was $24.19.  That same year the Lake Shores were the 1st team to have uniforms.  That bill from North Side Knitting Works, H. Boerner, Prop. shows 12 sweaters, 12 pair stockings, 12 caps, 12 strap-around Monograms for a total cost of $49.00.

The 1907-08 season had teams playing down at Powderhorn and up near the Northwest Knitting Mill on the north side.  A team even sprung up out near Ft. Snelling called the Wanderers.  Sometimes players played 2 games in a day by simply changing uniforms for the second game.  This league was very rough.  The Minneapolis Journal of Dec, 10, 1907 headline read: “Lake Shore 7 to start practice at the new rink at Hennepin and Lake”.

Players are:

Tom James - Goal
Lin Johnson - Point
Ray Hodge - Cover
Charles Hodge - Rover
Charles Reiter - Center
Cleve Bennewitz - Right Wing
Art Connell - Left Wing

“The ice is being worked into shape and will be ready after a day or so of real cold”.  A Twin City Hockey League has been formed and Larkin is President, Palmer, Vice President and Hodge is Secretary.  Other teams are Lake Harriet, Eagles and Wanderers of Minneapolis.  Laurel, Lafayette, Chinnook and Mic Macs represent St. Paul”.

On Christmas Day 1907 the Lake Shores defeated the Mic Macs 8-7


Lake Shores Position Mic Macs
James Goal Ed Ball
Johnson Point Jack Foley
C, Hodge Cover Point Walt Seagar
K. Hodge Rover Ed Foley
Reiter Center George Seagar
Tozier Left Wing Jack Ordway
Bennewitz Right Wing Art Larkin

Goals - G. Seegar 4, E. Foley 2, Ordway 1, Bennewitz 4, K. Hodge 2, Reiter 1, Tozier 1

Time - 65 minutes.

The schedule runs through the middle of February.

January of 1908, the Minneapolis Journal shows a picture of the Lake Shore rink with a face-off and practice played game result of 8-1 over the Lafayettes is included.  The Lake Shore line up was the same as above except that Butler is listed in Goal.  Cleve said that he was the 1st black man to play hockey in Minnesota.  Cleve Bennewitz and Red Hodge were the leading scorers.  A February copy of the same paper reads; “Hockey Fever - the sport is yet young in this city but enthusiasts are working up to pennant winning calibre and all games with out-of-town teams have resulted in victories for the locals”.  St. Paul has had league hockey for 10 or 12 years and Minneapolis is in but the 2nd league season.  Several teams which might easily be picked for winners.  One of the encouraging features marking the present season is a trophy to be presented to the winning team. W. C. Burton, Jr. will present a fine hand engraved loving cup to the winning team in the Twin City League.


1. Lake Shores
2. Mic Macs
3. Boat Club
4. Chinooks
5. Wanderers
6. Laurels
7. Lafayettes

January of 1908 a St. Paul paper carried this story; "Duluth team proves too strong for the Lake Shores of Minneapolis”.  In a game played at the Lake Shore Rink the largest crowd in the history of the club turned out to see the game.  The standing and sitting space being filled to the utmost capacity.  Everything went as scheduled and during the entire contest neither side resorted to rough play of any description.  Score 8-5.

Lake Shores Position Duluth
Johnson Goal Fenton
Russell Point Furney
Fontaine Cover Point A. Cummins
K. Hodge Rover Duth
R. Hodge Center Cargill
Bennewitz Right Wing Winter
Reiter Left Wing B. Cummings

Minneapolis Wanderers

Cleve recalls this as the finest game ever played in the early years and the club took in the most money ever: $60.00.

The 1908-09 season was the peak of the pre-World War I era of hockey in Minneapolis.  A December article in the paper read: “The Burton hockey cup was presented to the Minneapolis Hockey League by Ward Co Burton, Jr”.

The well-known tennis player and hockey enthusiast from the Minnekahda Club.  He is also an authority on hockey, having played on an Eastern University team.  The league was organized by Carl Struck who is its President and is composed of 6 local aggregations.  The regular schedule of games will begin on Tuesday night and will continue 3 nights a week until the middle of February.  There is a picture of the Burton Cup which looks like a medium size beer glass.

The December 13, 1908 Minneapolis Journal carried this article; “E. Dichenson and Gail Brooks leased the big amphitheater at the fair grounds for the 1908-09 season.  Racing, hockey, fancy and pleasure skating will be held in the big pavilion.  This afternoon the deal was closed which promises to give Minneapolis and St. Paul the largest enclosed ice rink in this country.  They leased the livestock auditorium for the skating season of 1908-09 and it is their intention to give the lovers of ice skating and ice hockey a treat that has heretofore seemed impossible, owing to the uncertainty of the winter.  The entire floor space will be flooded and used for skating purposes.  The gallery has a seating capacity of 8000 with warming rooms at each end and other such conveniences as go to make a covered rink comfortable and complete.  The lighting of this enormous rink will be the same as during the fair, consisting of 14 arc lights together with smaller lights”.  There are pictures showing an ice surface 270 feet long by 119 feet wide.  Lots of girders show and sides are open above the seating area.  Included on the same page in the scrapbook are 2 pictures, 1 showing players with the cane type sticks and another equipment except stocking caps and heavy mittens, the other picture shows: “Twin City Aspirants, the Lake Shores, Coach Carl Struck, Cleve Bennewitz, Les Fontaine, Lin Johnson, front row James Russell, Red Hodge, Kim Hodge and Charles Reiter”.

The 1909 -10 season was the last big season until 1918 for hockey in the city of Minneapolis.  In that season the Minneapolis Amateur Hockey Association was formed.  From Cleves scrapbook a league program and schedule give some idea of the year's activities.

The Teams
Minneapolis Amateur Hockey Association
Lake Shores

An exhibition game against the St. Paul Boat Club was held on Christmas Day December 25, 1909 and the program shows the lineups:

Lake Shores Position St. Paul Boat Club
Bill Tozier Goal Beals
Tom Russell Point Williams
Terry Moore Cover Point Foley
Kim Hodge Rover Driscoll
Ray Hodge Center McNair
Charles Reiter Left Wing Bolt
Cleve Bennewitz Right Wing Ordway
Carl Struck Coach Carl Driscoll

Music - Lake Shore Band
Fancy Skating - Miss Minnie Cummings - World Champion

A ticket for the 1909-10 season at the Lake Shore Rink at Lake and Hennepin signed by Carl Struck, Manager shows prices as 25¢ per game or 4 games for $1.00.

A membership card for the 1909-10 season shows that the Lake Shores had these conditions:

1. The Club will be fitted with an ample locker room and shower stalls.
2. A $5.00 initiation fee must be paid.
3. Dues are to be not more than $5.00 per year.
4. Members are limited to 100.
5. New members have to be proposed by an existing member.

The big games of the season were scheduled for the Hippodrome at the Fair Grounds.  In that season, the sport grew so that there were 20 to 25 teams including a new Roosevelt Club team.  A picture from Feb. 7, 1910 mentions a hockey carnival to be held for the Burton Cup and Carl Struck, the coach is pictured in his ankle length coat, a bowler hat and a large megaphone to yell instructions to the players.  Cleve says that after the 1910 season there was a decline of interest in hockey in Minneapolis.  The Journal of March 1941 carried an article that charged that professionalism in the ranks had ruined the game but Cleve says that first bad weather, then the Park Board cutting back on rinks, the school board buying the property where the Lake Shore rink was and finally the coming of World War I, all added up to difficult times for the sport.  A few high schools continued to play the game and Cleve does have an invoice from Warner Hardware at 13 South 6th St. showing brooms, shovels, a coal hood and hose for $38.00.  These items were for a revived Athletic and Boat Club team that built a rink on James Ave. South.  The 1911-12 season had games to be played at the Hippodrome but the Boat Club provided all 14 players a uniform so they would have 2 teams.  There was so little hockey that Cleve wrote letters to St. Paul and White Bear to try to catch on with one of those teams.  A 1912 picture shows the James Ave rink built for tennis and hockey.  The side had 1ft. high boards with chicken wire above it and 4ft. high boards on the end.

The team consisted of:

Goal - Schoberg
Point - Sjoberg
Cover Point - Willett
Rover - Bradford
Center - Hodge
Right Wing - Green
Left Wing - Bennewitz

The team wore a dark stocking cap with 1 white stripe, a dark uniform, knee high pants, stockings with 1 wide white stripe and a monogram on the front, like this:

On February 29, 1912, the Manitoba Varsity team from Winnipeg trimmed the reorganized Boat Club team 7-0.  In 1913 and 1915 the sport nearly died out although pictures show pleasure skating and racing and even sleigh racing taking place on the frozen lakes.  The Minneapolis Journal of December 1915 carried an article titled: “Resurgence of Hockey”.  It mentioned that various teams were starting practice and that hockey stock was booming at the Hippodrome with tickets available for 25¢ or exchange for 50¢ reserved at the rink.  They advertised that there would be skating with the band after the game.  A game between the Athletic and Boat Club and St. Paul teams shows this line up:

Athletic & B.C. Position St. Paul
Bartell Goal DeLapp
Pike Point Loth
Willetto Cover Point Wright
P. Hodge ROver Vaugan
K. Hodge Center Bury
Peitra Left Wing Johnson
Bennewitz Right Wing Bruha

Things really dropped off as the Boat Club went bankrupt and World War I was in progress.  By December of 1918 though, the Minneapolis Journal reported: “Resurgence of hockey in Minneapolis with the formation of the Park Board Hockey League”.  February of 1919 shows 3 divisions by standings:

Senior Junior Division-1 Junior Division-2
Vertex 7-0 Lagoons 4-1 Harriets 4-0
Jackson Squares 5-2 Midways 3-2 Lagoons 3-1
Camden 2-4 North Commons 3-2 Maple Hills 2-1
Powderhorn 2-5 Stewarts 2-3 Iriquois 2-2
East Sides 1-5 Glens 2-3 Lindhurst 0-4
Excelsiors 1-4 Alpha Nuo 0-1

There were 10 other teams in the Junior Park League.  You can see that hockey was still centered near Lake and Hennepin as the Vertex and Lagoons were both centered there.  The Excelsiors came in from Lake Minnetonka by street car for their games which were all played at either Lake of the Isles or the James Street rink.

At the end of the season there was a 3-game playoff with the Northern Pacific Railway team the champions of St. Paul.

Vertex represented Minneapolis and in a February 5 game the teams battled to a 1-1 tie.  This was called the fastest game of the year by the Journal.  The final two games ended in victories for the St. Paul team with all games played at the Hippodrome with good crowds.  The line-ups:

Vertex Position Northern Pacific
Mason Goal Bork
Phillips Point Bagley
Bennewitz Cover Point Gerner
Cliff Thompson - Captain Rover Boch
Herman Center Faust - Captain
Fontaine Left Wing Keyer
Sawyer Right Wing Zimmerman

In the 1919-20 season the Great Lakes team from Superior, Wisconsin sent a telegram to Cleve asking for a game but the winter was warm and Cleve replied that there was no guarantee of ice here.  Some pictures and articles from the paper confirm that with open water in the lakes in January.  Cleve did say that in December of 1919 he played with Cliff Thompson in one of the first games where only 6 men were used per side with the seventh man as a substitute.  Cliff later went to Eveleth, Minnesota and taught school and coached the Eveleth High School and Junior College teams there.  He is acknowledged to really be the father of high school hockey in the state.

1920-21 was a better winter and a large number of teams again were playing hockey in the city.  There was more time and the Park Board organized leagues and provided rinks.  The best league was called the Senior Division and consisted of the following teams below, with the games played at 4 sites: Lake of the Isles, Logan Park, North Commons & Powderhorn.

Vertex Hockey Club 1917 - Cleve Bennewitz

East Side
Lake Minnetonka
North Common
Athletic and Boat Club
Lake and Hennepin Merchants

A bill from Marshall Wells to Cleve in 1921 shows:
1 dozen Canadian sticks
1 dozen American sticks
1 sport catalog

Total price $17.29

It is little wonder that when an artificial ice rink was built, it was in the Lake and Hennepin area.  In 1923 the Drake Construction Company built the first, and until 1964, the only, covered ice rink in Minneapolis.  It was built at 2900 Dupont Ave. South and was managed by Lyle Wright one of the early pioneers of hockey in Minneapolis.  The Rink was open from November through March on an artificial ice surface placed on a floor 235 x 100 ft.  The ice was prepared 185 x 80 ft. area which had 12 miles of pipe through which a freezing brine was pumped.  The program from the opening of the Minneapolis Arena says it will be known the world over for the finest ice surface anywhere.  After the arena was built the Minneapolis Hockey Club was formed to play in the American Hockey Association.  All the players for this team were professionals hired in Canada and played in a league with St. Paul, Duluth, St. Louis, Tulsa, and Kansas City.

Amateur and Park Board hockey continued to grow and in the 1930's and 1940’s even the high schools had teams.  Occasionally games were played in the Minneapolis arena but most of the games were still outside on the lakes or park board rinks.  

Thus ends the story of the developmental stages of ice hockey in Minneapolis.  From the meager beginnings of Cleve Bennewitz we can see a large structure of many teams all over the city today. 

[Cleves metal clamp on-skate collection was purchased by the Minnesota North Stars for $1000, and donated for the 1973 opening of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, where his collection is still on display today.  A check from the North Stars signed by Walter Bush Jr. is within Cleve’s personal scrapbook.  Cleve was honored by the WHA Minnesota Fighting Saints for his contributions to the game of hockey in Minnesota, and awarded a plaque on-ice at the opening Saints game held at the St. Paul Auditorium.  Additionally, Cleve was inducted into the once prestigious 1858-1958 Minnesota Sports Centennial 100 years Hall of Fame].

Source in part: Primary Source Report for History of Sport & Physical Education, Spring 1974 Allan Godrey - Hopkins Eisenhower Hockey Coach