The sport of tennis requires quick reflexes, agility, and speed—all qualities that are essential for hockey players. Tennis also promotes hand-eye coordination, which is key for making those quick, accurate passes on the ice. Tennis makes you mentally and physically stronger and helps to speed up your reaction time and can help you improve your mental toughness and tenacity. It can also make you a more informed and competitive athlete by improving your concentration. It is no wonder that tennis had a major influence on the origins of hockey in Rhode Island and spawned future successful two-sport athletes.
Malcolm G. Chace, born in Central Falls, RI, was one of the pioneer athletes in tennis and is considered the father of American hockey. As a student at Brown University, Chace visited Niagara Falls, Ontario, for the International Lawn Tennis Tournament. While there, Chace and other American players discussed the merits of ice polo (American game) versus ice hockey (Canadian game) with Canadian tennis players. The outcome was the Americans were invited to visit Canada and play a series of games (one half by American rules and the other half by Canadian rules) the following winter. According to a March 1911 Boston Herald article, George Wright got the American team together during Christmas break in 1894. Chace captained a team of men from Yale, Brown, Harvard and Columbia touring Montreal, Kingston, Ottawa and Toronto to learn how to play the Canadian game. Upon their return each of the players established hockey clubs at their respective schools. Chace transferred from Brown to Yale, where he served as team captain and player-coach.
On February 14, 1896, Yale played in the first intercollegiate hockey match in the United States against Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore's North Avenue Rink. Yale won the game 2–1 and both goals were scored by Chace. Later the inaugural game was claimed by Brown versus Harvard in January 19, 1998. After graduation Chace continued to play hockey for the St. Nicholas team in New York and was one of the financial backers of New York's St. Nicholas Rink. In 1932 Chace rescued the Rhode Island Auditorium from foreclosure. Chace's tennis career started at an early age. At 14 years old he became Rhode Island's youngest state tennis champion and placed four times among the top ten amateur tennis players. Upon graduating from Yale in 1896 he set a record by winning the U.S. Intercollegiate Singles and Doubles titles for three consecutive years (1893–1895). Chace was inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1961 and the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame in 1971. The Rhode Island Hockey Hall of Fame established the Malcolm Greene Chace Memorial Trophy to be presented each year for "Lifetime contributions of a Rhode Islander to the game of ice hockey". In 2019 Chace was enshrined in the RI Hockey Hall of Fame. Fred R. Budlong, was a hockey star at Hope Steet High on the first Rhode Island Interscholastic champion Hope Street School in 1903. He continued with hockey and tennis at Brown University (where he captained the hockey team in 1909 and was runner-up in the New England finals in tennis). He was part of the Budlong family who played for the Providence Hockey Club starting in the mid 1900s. In 1908, like his brother Clarence R. Budlong in 1893, he paired up with Chace, this time to win the state doubles championship at Agawam Hunt.
Ray Chace was also a standout athlete at Hope Street High School. He was 1st Team All-State in hockey in 1928 and 1929 at wing and was the 1928 Interscholastic singles champion on his state champion high school team. He was considered the most outstanding tennis player produced at Brown University from the mid-1920’s through World War II. He captained the Bruin netmen for 3 seasons. During World War II, Chace won the Persian Gulf Command singles championship and was presented a trophy by the Shah of Iran. Chace also captained the Brown hockey team in his senior year in 1934 and was its leading scorer. He was inducted in the Brown Athletic Hall of Fame in 1978.
Fast forward to the 1960s as many standout schoolboy hockey players continued to pick up a tennis racket after the hockey season ended. Dick Ernst (Cranston East '56 and Providence College) was a high profile tennis and hockey player through the 1970s. After playing both at Bridgeton Academy and PC he continued playing and coaching both in the amateur ranks. He won the 1968 Rhode Island State Championship, an early men's and women's grass court tennis tournament founded in 1888 until 1969, and was a fixture at the Rhode Island Open Tennis Championships and Roger Williams Tennis Courts. He was inducted into the New England Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005. Herb Kaufman, Cranston East High School hockey high scorer, picked up tennis 15 months prior before going undefeated in the spring of 1960 taking the #1 all-state positions in both interscholastic singles and doubles. Don Henson of Hope High School led the Blue Wave between the pipes and garnered some all-league votes at goalie his senior year. In the spring, Henson was the captain of the tennis team and was All-State as the #3 netman of the schoolboy circuit in 1961 before continuing at the University of Vermont and amateur play.
The most dominating high school netman was also the most dominate iceman of the 1960s. Joe Cavanagh (Harvard University) culminated each hockey All-State selection with a tennis selection in the spring from 1964-66. He was #2 (1964), #1 (1965) and #1 (1966) in singles and #2 (1964), #1 (1965) and #1 (1966) in doubles at Cranston East High School. In 1966 teammate and future NHLer Curt Bennett (Brown University) was the #3 ranked player and shared the #1 ranking in doubles with Cavanagh in 1965 and 1966. Curt's brother John (Brown University and WHA) was #5 in 1966 (and reached the #1 spot in 1967). The 1966 Bolt team also included Rich McLaughlin (Brown), Don Smith (UConn), David Cavanagh (Harvard University) and Teddy Bryand (Boston University) from their 1966 state champion hockey team. Smith, a goalie, earned the #2 singles and #1 doubles spots in 1967. Harvey Bennett became the third Bennett brother to earn All-State in tennis by earning #2 in doubles in 1968 and #3 in singles in 1969 for East. The Cranston East High School tennis team would not only win the Rhode Island state championship six straight seasons (1964-69) but also back-to-back New England championships in 1967 and 1968. The 1968 team included Harvey Bennett (Boston College and NHL), Doug Smith (Brown University), Bob Mills (Providence College) and Len Alsfeld (Providence College). The Ernst legacy continued in the 1980s as his hockey All-State sons (Gordie (Brown University), Bobby (Brown University) and Andy) continued with All-State selections as well as state and New England championships (1983 and 1984) in tennis at Cranston East.