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Born in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1881, Alfred “Ralph” Winsor joined the Harvard University hockey team in 1899 where he played on the freshman team. A forward, Winsor started playing Varsity hockey for Harvard in the 1900/01 season eventually becoming captain in 1902, his senior year.
After Graduating in 1902, Winsor took over as coach of the Harvard University hockey team. He was the first official coach in Harvard hockey history. Winsor, a hardworking player, demanded, as a coach, that his players also work hard. He had immediate success as a first-year coach winning the Intercollegiate Championship with a 7-0 record. His team would total 33 goals for while only allowing 9 goals against. In Winsor’s first four years at the helm of the Harvard University hockey team he would compile a record of 20 wins and 0 losses. Winsor’s first loss as Head Coach came on Jan 19th 1907 a 4-3 loss to Princeton. in 1909, Harvard University played a very powerful opponent in St. Francis Xavier, a team out of Nova Scotia, who had been a very dominant team playing in the Canadian Maritimes League. Harvard came out on top 1-0. As a side note, the ice conditions were very poor on the outdoor rink causing the game to be slowed down and taking away the speed advantage St. Francis was said to have had.
In 1910, a young man by the name of Hobey Baker enrolled at Princeton University, a rival of Harvard’s in Intercollegiate play. A fast skating, great stickhandler, Baker constantly skate through and around opposing teams forwards and defensemen. To stop Baker and Princeton, Winsor devised a system where he would take the two defensemen, known then as the point and cover point who played one in front of the other, and place them playing side by side, the standard positioning for defensemen now. He figured this would easily allow his defenders to force Baker to the boards and eliminate his ability to skate around the defenders. This also allowed his forwards to back check more efficiently against Baker. Backchecking was a huge part of his defensive system prior to this new defense positioning alignment. With this system, Baker could get started down the ice but would be forced over to the side boards, the forwards would then cover lanes and take away any passing opportunities. The Harvard system was designed to smother Baker. This system was not an end all for Hobey Baker as Harvard would go 4-4 In games against Princeton with Baker playing.
Winsor would coach until the end of the 1917 season when he would resign due to his business ventures. He would stay around Harvard hockey in one capacity or another for many years, even coming back to coach the entire 1923/24 season. It is said that Winsor never accepted payment for coaching. In 142 games coached(1), Winsor compiled a 107-34-1 won/loss/tie record. In his 16 years as coach, Winsor’s Harvard teams won, outright, the Intercollegiate Championship seven times and tied (three ways) twice.
He would revolutionize the way defensive hockey would be played with backchecking and his defense positioning changes. This style of play known as the “Winsor System” would be used at Harvard and copied by other college programs for many years. In his time coaching Winsor would also use substitutes on a regular basis, where other teams would usually use just the 7 players (the standard number of starting players per team on the ice in these years), it was not uncommon for Winsor to use 11 or more players during a game. In one game, he used 21 players. This should not be confused with line changes, years later Harvard would also come to revolutionize the game of hockey by using a line changing system as would Lester Patrick of the New York Rangers. Winsor would be involved in the modernizing of the hockey stick and hockey skates (2. “computing and adopting the official radii for the blades, known for years as the "Harvard Radius"). Winsor also coached the Boston Athletic Association team and the Charlestown Navy Yard team.
His last coaching hurrah came in 1932 when he coached the United States Olympic hockey team to a silver medal at the Winter Olympic games held that year in Lake Placid, N.Y. His team finished with a 4-1-1 record losing only to Canada 2-1 in an overtime game and then tying Canada 2-2 in the final game of the Olympic tournament in which the two teams played three thrilling scoreless overtime periods. Winsor’s defensive acumen was very much on display during these games as his team scored 27 goals while allowing only 5. He was inducted into the Harvard Varsity Club in 1967 and in 1973 was part of the first class of inductees into the newly established U.S Hockey Hall of Fame along with Hobey Baker, “Mr. Zero” Frank Brimsek and Winthrop “Ding” Palmer, a prolific scorer for the Yale University hockey team as well as a member of the Winsor coached 1932 U.S. Olympic team, along with a host of others.
The “Father of Modern Hockey,” Alfred Winsor passed away on Tuesday September 12, 1961 in Cataumet, Massachusetts at the age of 81.
Note: While researching for this article I noticed discrepancies in Winsor’s won/loss records between several sites gocrimson.com history (official), the US Hockey Hall of Fame and uscho.com. The US HHOF site and gocrimson.com timeline both show him finishing with the same record 124-29. On gocrimson.com under the coaching records they have him coaching from 1905 with an 80-25-0 record which is similar to what uscho.com has. This lead me to adding up the wins/losses from 1902 to the end of 1917 as well as the 1923/24 season using the Harvard archive schedule which brought an altogether total. Using the archive schedule as a guide I went through each season using the Boston Globe archives and the Harvard Crimson student paper. Trying to fill in gaps on the schedules I used a wide search range and narrowed down from there. This helped to uncover games that weren’t listed on the Harvard schedule but still does not bring my totals up to the same as what is listed on the websites. Winsor was a captain/coach until he graduated in 1902, I am only counting games he was an official coach. My research shows him coaching officially from 1902-1917. According to the Boston Globe archives and Harvard Crimson archives Winsor coached the 1923/24 season going 6-6. This is not reflected on the Harvard coaching records history page. These numbers are reflected in my totals.
Thanks to Ed Norris and JP Martel from SIHR for suggestions they made to me while they fact checked this article.
1. Won/loss records recorded from the Harvard Crimson official website, the Harvard Crimson student newspaper archives as well as the Boston Globe archives from the 1902/03 season until the end of the 1916/17 season and include the 1923/24 season when he came back to coach the team.
2. USA Hockey Hall of Fame, Winsor Bio.
The Daily Princetonian archives
The Harvard Crimson archives
The Boston Globe archives
The US Hockey Hall of Fame
The Harvard University Athletics website
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