There are few Rhode Islanders, if any, who have enjoyed as much sustained success in ice hockey as Cranston’s Richard Alan “Dick” Ernst.
For starters, Ernst has been part of this state’s ice hockey fabric since 1953, when he formed Cranston’s first youth team then as the Hoot Mons.
In short, Ernst has played, coached, mentored and promoted “the great game of ice hockey” – especially at the amateur level – like no other Rhode Islander for six decades and counting.
Ernst has done so, much to people’s amazement, at the boys’ and girls’ levels of amateur ice hockey.
That’s why Ernst – who has been married to Rollice Anne “Rollie” Jones Ernst of East Greenwich for 49 years in August, and whose three sons Bob, Gordie and Andrew were at one time among the state’s elite hockey players – will receive the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society’s RI Native-born Hockey Achievement Award on Sunday, Aug. 3 at Goddard Memorial State Park in Warwick.
The Reds Heritage Society, which was founded back in 2000 to preserve the tradition of the Reds’ storied 1926-77 tenure in the American Hockey League, will honor Ernst at its 14th annual reunion that features legends from those former great Reds teams, including the franchise’s Calder Cup champions.
When Cranston Mayor Allan Fung found out Ernst was selected to receive the prestigious honor, he was ecstatic.
“Coach is well-deserving of this great award,” said Fung, who played tennis at Rhode Island College from 1989-92 when Ernst coached the Anchormen. “He has impacted so many young lives, including mine, throughout his career.”
After pausing and recanting his tennis days at RIC under Ernst, Fung went on: “Coach and his family have been an important part of the hockey and tennis legacies in Rhode Island. But he has also touched so many families and taught many young men and women about not only athletics, but also about life. I will be there August third to honor him as well.”
“No one deserves this award more than Dick Ernst,” said Tom McDonough, who climbed up the state’s hockey ladder from his playing days at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket to serving as stick boy for the Reds teams of old and now serving as the Reds Heritage Society’s international director of marketing. “He has over 600 coaching victories to his credit. He and his wife are also outstanding tennis players and instructors, too.”
McDonough, who nominated Ernst and will again emcee the Reds Heritage Society reunion, went on: “There aren’t many people who don’t know Dick Ernst and his many accomplishments. More impressively is that he knows the game of hockey real well.”
After pausing and citing several different events of yesteryear, McDonough emphasized: “Dick Ernst has put so much of life into ice hockey and tennis. For us to give this award to him is an honor. He’s a most worthy recipient, and a good old Cranstonian, too.”
The prestigious award began in 2010 when the Reds Heritage Society honored Warwick’s Sara DeCosta-Hayes, former Toll Gate High School and Providence College standout and U.S. Olympic Gold Medal winner.
The award recognizes “Rhode Island-born hockey stars who have contributed significantly toward the advancement and public import of our sport,” said Buster Clegg, the tireless hard-working president of the non-profit hockey fraternity.
Previous winners have been Lou Lamoriello (2011), former PC athletic director and head hockey coach who is president of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils; Bill Belisle (2012) of Mount St. Charles fame; and Cranston natives Don Mellor (Boston Olympics EHL, co-founder of CLCF) and Tom Mellor (All-American at Boston College and captain of U.S. Olympic Team, Detroit Red Wings) in 2013.
“I’m getting the award,” said Ernst, who is obviously thrilled with what he called a “huge honor.” “But my wife Rollie deserves all the credit. Her love has strengthened my life. She’s the foundation I lean on. Her faith has carried our family through the years. There are just too many to mention, but what Rollie has done to support our sons, their teams, my teams ... in hockey and tennis is extraordinary, ever so special. Remember, she took our kids all over the country to play hockey and tennis.”
Not to mention that Jones-Ernst still ranks among the finest women’s amateur tennis players in all of New England.
The couple’s three sons skated to an unprecedented combined total of seven All-State hockey honors, and Gordie, in addition to being the men’s and women’s tennis coach at Georgetown University, serves as special instructor for First Lady Michele Obama and her daughters.
As a player, people like McDonough said of Ernst: “He was a good all around steady and strong player. I played against him when he skated for Cranston and I was at St. Ray’s. He was – and still is – a great competitor.”
Many of Ernst’s former players have all attained big-time success in professional hockey, including Jack Capuano, current head coach of the NHL’s New York Islanders, and Dave Quinn, current head hockey coach at Boston University.
“Jack and Dave all played hockey with my sons at the old Ice Bowl when they were just five years old,” Ernst recalled.
Ernst’s career also including coaching the famed Bennett brothers – John, World Hockey Association; Harvey, the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers; Billy, Boston Bruins and Hartford Whalers; and Jimmy, International Hockey League.
He began his high school playing career in 1954 at Cranston High School and in his senior year – 1956 – he was voted captain and landed All-State honors. Ernst then skated at Bridgton (Maine) Academy in 1957 before he enrolled and played at Providence College from 1958 to 1961.
In 1961 he received the prestigious Mal Brown Award that goes to a PC senior athlete displaying the qualities of honor, courage and sportsmanship in intercollegiate competition. It is the college’s highest individual athletic achievement award.
Ernst’s coaching career, which includes 629 wins in 52 years of sanctioned games, began in 1962 and continues today. He has also won championships at four different high schools – North Providence, Cranston East, North Smithfield and Ls Salle Academy.
Even today, at what he calls “the young age of 75,” Ernst is in his fourth year coaching the Lincoln-Cumberland co-op team and his fourth year of coaching the junior varsity girls’ tennis team at North Kingstown. He just finished his 13th season as head boys’ tennis coach at Barrington.
He holds the Rhode Island record for 52 years of consistent coaching hockey at the high school level, one that isn’t done yet. He also coached teams to division, state and New England championships, and his teams won six Rhode Island Hockey Officials Association Sportsmanship Awards.
But Ernst, who is a member of the Cranston Interscholastic League and Cranston Athletic Hall of Fame, is credited with helping introduce ice hockey at the high school level in California when he organized and took a team of Ocean State high school stars to the West Coast to play a series of games.
Yet another of Ernst’s accomplishments was receiving the United States People-to-People Ambassador Sports Committee Award from former President Gerald Ford for his contributions to international friendship, goodwill and understanding through athletics.
Ernst also holds honors that came in the names of the late Frank Lanning, a nationally acclaimed sports cartoonist at the Providence Journal, and that newspaper’s late schoolboy sports editor Dick Reynolds “for his most outstanding contributions to sports in Rhode Island.”
And on Sunday, Aug. 3, Ernst will be honored for his ongoing contributions to sports – in particular the game of ice hockey – by the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society for his significant success toward the advancement and public image of ice hockey not only in Rhode Island but nationally and worldwide.