Before there were the Bulldogs, there were the Cobras.
That was the nickname of Crawford County’s prep hockey team during a span of a few years in the late 1970s, right when the program was first established.
Today, prior to Meadville’s 7:45 p.m. face-off with Mt. Lebanon at the DeArment Ice Arena, the Bulldogs will be honoring their fanged origins with a Crawford County Cobras recognition night.
“The sweaters they had were disgusting,” remembers Dan Craven, who is organizing the recognition night. “They were green and gold and white. And the cobra on the front was like a bad tattoo.”
This was in the early days of the Meadville Area Recreation Complex ice rink, which at the time wasn’t enclosed.
“There used to be a chain link fence, basically, around the rink,” said Craven. “As the years went on, they eventually put some siding on it, closed it up. But it used to get pretty cold there. I could remember when we had just moved here, I remember standing there watching a game and the snow would be falling on your shoes.”
Into this atmosphere came the Cobras, which was a high school-age extension of Meadville’s then-burgeoning youth program.
“It came about after the first couple years of Crawford County Youth Hockey,” said Greg Carpenter, who was the coach of the Cobras and is considered the chief architect of organized hockey in Meadville.
“As those kids got older, they didn’t want to stop playing hockey,” he said. “We wanted a place for kids 16, 17 or 18 to play hockey, because youth hockey doesn’t go that high. We wanted to make a more lasting place for them to play.”
Those first few years weren’t exactly a success as far as wins and losses were concerned.
“We played in the Lakeshore Hockey League — Prep, McDowell, Fairview and Erie All-City, that’s what they were called then,” said Carpenter. “It took us three years until we won one game. We won two games that year, the third year.
“Prep and McDowell, they just joked with us,” he added. “They would beat us 18 or 19 goals to none.
“But you have to do that when you’re starting out. Those kids (from Prep and McDowell) had all played years and years of hockey. Those teams had been around for awhile. We were just brand new. Even CCYHA was brand new. They had only been in existence a few years. There were no competitive hockey players, really. One or two, but that doesn’t make a team.”
While they weren’t racking up the wins, the Cobras were instead laying a foundation for what would become one of the most successful high school hockey programs in the state of Pennsylvania.
After a few years, the team got permission to use the Bulldogs mascot, tying it informally with the high school. Then in 1986, current head coach Jamie Plunkett took over the program and turned it into a powerhouse that would eventually win eight state championships.
“My first year of coaching the Bulldogs, we beat Prep for the first time,” said Plunkett. “And I had heard these stories about how bad it used to be — double-digit losses and things like that. So when we were finally able to break through, it was a milestone. It was a win for not only the current team but for a lot of the kids that had paved the way.”
And that’s why the Cobras are getting honored tonight.
Invitations to attend tonight’s game against Mt. Lebanon have been extended to all former Cobras players that are still in the area. And coach Carpenter is planning on being there as well. And there will be a special acknowledgement of those former players before the Bulldogs’ game.
“We had fun,” said Carpenter. “The people were excited about playing hockey. Everyone was excited about it. We didn’t have any skills. But we had fun. It was fun.”
Before there were the Bulldogs, there were the Cobras.
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