Those who saw them play insist that Mike Karin and Phil Latreille formed the best ice hockey tandem in the history of intercollegiate competition.
In the 50 years since they last skated together, no other duo has managed to challenge this claim.
In sports, the adage goes, numbers don’t lie. That’s why there are two record books for men’s ice hockey at Middlebury, not just one. The first runs from 1923 to 1964. The second one marks achievements from 1965 to the present; it’s titled “modern-day” records. Now, 1965 is not an arbitrary date. That was the year when intercollegiate men’s ice hockey was split into divisions. (Previously, all schools, regardless of size, competed in one division.) Dividing the record book in such a way has had another consequence: it has rescued some of the greatest individual performances of recent years from relative obscurity.
Take the 35 goals scored by Kevin Cooper ’04 in 2003-04, for instance. That’s a modern-day Middlebury record. Or the 48 assists tallied by Kent Hughes ’92 in his senior year—that’s another modern-day Middlebury record. Yet neither of these worthy achievements would have approached the top of the Panthers’ record book if the book had not been divided many years ago.
“There were four or five years there in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Middlebury was scoring more goals than any other hockey team in the country,” says Coach Bill Beaney, who has coached the Panthers since 1986. “And it was basically because of two guys: Mike Karin and Phil Latreille.”
Karin ’59 and Latreille ’61 played for legendary coach Walter “Duke” Nelson ’32, and they are linked not just in the College’s all-time record book, but in the NCAA archives as well. Karin, the consummate playmaker, registered the most points in a game (13), most assists in a game (10), and most assists per game in a season (3.1) in the history of college hockey, while the more-compact Latreille, with his booming slap shot and upper-body strength, still holds seven NCAA marks, including most goals in a season (80) and most goals in a career (250), two records that may never be touched.
Last summer, Phil, Mike, and their wives, Eileen Glasoe Latreille ’62 and Lynde Sudduth Karin ’62, got together for a few days in Vermont. And as Mike and Phil always do, they reminisced for hours about their coach, their teammates, and their times together.
Mike Karin came to Middlebury in 1955 via the Northwood School in Lake Placid. His father was a high school principal, and his mother was a teacher, and while growing up in Clinton, New York, he was a stick boy for the Clinton Comets in the rough-and-tumble Eastern Hockey League. Jean Phillipe Latreille grew up in Montreal, in a working-class family that spoke French, English, and a little Italian. His high school played its home games at the Montreal Forum, and he quickly became one of the most heralded scholastic hockey players in Quebec.
One winter’s day in 1957, Duke Nelson decided to drive up to Montreal to watch Latreille play. “The real reason I went to Middlebury was because of Duke Nelson,” Latreille says. “I can still see him talking to my mother in our little apartment. Duke had that look in his eye, and he told her he’d take care of me, so my mother said, ‘Middlebury, that’s where you should go to school.’”
By Latreille’s account, he had more than 70 offers to play hockey in the U.S. and Canada. A powerful skater and a strong student, he was coveted by the Ivy League, as well as some Big Ten schools, several colleges out West, and a number of schools and programs in Canada; even the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings expressed interest. (He would eventually enjoy a brief career with the New York Rangers post-Middlebury.) But because Duke Nelson hit it off with his mother, Latreille went to Middlebury and etched his name in the Panther record book.
In their first game together, the 1957 season’s opener, Latreille and Karin faced the Bowdoin College Polar Bears at Middlebury’s Memorial Field House. Karin, the first-line center, had a pair of tallies to go with four assists. Latreille debuted with two goals and three assists on an all-freshman line with Dick Morrison ’61 and Frank Coy ’61. The Middlebury Campus called the 15-0 outcome a “massacre.”
After the game, Bowdoin’s coach was steamed. As Latreille recalls, he came into the locker room afterwards and told Duke, “As long as those six freshmen are on your team, I am not playing you again.” And the coach kept his promise. Bowdoin didn’t schedule Middlebury again until 1962, when the aforementioned freshmen had graduated.