By Tris Wykes
HANOVER – Dartmouth College goaltender Carey Gandy was in high spirits while stretching on the Thompson Arena ice on Jan. 6, 1982. Warmups were concluding and the junior was coming off a 48-save upset of the University of New Hampshire a week before.
Agile and known for his upbeat demeanor, the 5-foot-8 Gandy was hoping to lead the Big Green back to the form it showed in reaching the NCAA semifinals in 1979 and 1980. Just earning the starter’s job was amazing, given his background. Still, the sophomore was gunning for more.
Gandy was ready to rise from his knees for the national anthem when there was a sudden spray of ice in his face. Standing in front of him was one of Boston University’s better players, a sneer on his face.
“He said ‘We’re gonna kick y’all’s ass, nigger,’” Gandy recalled during a recent phone call from his Palm Beach, Fla., home. “Our guys asked me what he’d said and I just said he was talking shit.”
Gandy, as far as it can be discerned, is the only Black player in Dartmouth’s 115-year varsity hockey history. So why didn’t he angrily respond?
“Because he would have won and gotten what he wanted and I might not have played in the game,” said Gandy, who helped Dartmouth to a 4-3 victory over the Terriers. “I was too focused on winning then any of that other stuff.
“You don’t get to the Ivy League by being a fly-off-the-handle dummy.”
Gandy is the son and oldest of three children of Clarence and Carmelita Gandy, a pair of onetime music majors at Nashville’s Fiske University. His father played basketball at the University of Knoxville (Tenn.) before serving in the military and finishing his education at Fiske, a historically Black school.
The eldest of three children, Carey Gandy grew up on Adams Street in Huntsville, Ala., only blocks from houses where two of his great grandparents once labored as slaves. Still, he recalls a pleasant childhood occasionally marred by hockey teammates taunting him as a “nigger” on road trips.
Gandy started playing hockey at age 7, following a football teammate into a new, winter sport. He eventually played with kids four and five years older, who viewed him as prime bullying material.
“You’re the only black kid on the ice and you’re taking playing time away from white kids,” said Gandy, who remembers only one other Black player in his youth hockey organization. “I held a lot of resentments and I wanted to get out of Huntsville as fast as I could. When you go through something like that, it’s fuel for your fire.”
Huntsville regularly faced a team from Atlanta that featured slick forward Mark Ardagna, who’d grown up in New England before his family moved south. Ardagna played on Dartmouth’s national semifinal teams as a freshman and sophomore. He recalls scoring a 200-foot goal against Gandy when their teams played on a semi-outdoor rink in Decatur, Ala., and the sun was shining into the goalie’s eyes.
“He’s someone who achieved more than I possibly thought he could, both in being undersized and being an African-American from the deep South.” said Ardagna, who doesn’t recall playing with or against any Black players before coming to Dartmouth. “ I tell my kids about him and show them photos and they think it’s pretty cool.”
Gandy felt he’d gone as far as he could in southern hockey by the time he was 14 and he sent letters and game videos to more than 30 prep school programs in the northeast. He heard back from one, the Pomfret School in central Connecticut, and attended the rural institution on scholarship for three years, captaining the football, hockey and baseball teams.
Wait-listed at Harvard, Gandy got into Dartmouth and loved it at first sight, but was one of eight Big Green goaltenders as a freshman in the fall of 1980. Several of the others were touted recruits, but injury and attrition allowed Gandy to make the JV roster.
“I was surprised he made the team,” Ardagna said. “But (head coach) George Crowe understood people better than any coach I played for and he had the guts to keep him and use him and stick with him. Carey probably lost 10 pounds a game from all the shots we gave up.”
Gandy’s game time as a freshman consisted of two periods and six goals allowed during a JV tilt at Boston College. Persistence won out, however, when the Big Green varsity opened the 1981-82 season with two losses, the latter an 11-1 setback against Harvard, Gandy was thrown in as a what-the-heck starter for the next three contests, a clash with Northeastern sandwiched by games with Canadian opponents McGill and Concordia.
Dartmouth won only one of those three games, but Gandy earned the starter’s job. During his two seasons in net he was a combined 16-25-1 with a 5.08 goals-against average and an .855 save percentage.
“He was really positive and energetic and a fun guy to be around,” said Bob Gaudet, Dartmouth’s starting goaltender during Gandy’s freshman year and an assistant coach when the younger man was a senior. “He was raw in terms of experience, but he apprenticed and learned to stay outside the crease in good position and let pucks hit him in the chest and legs.”
Gandy said he can’t remember any other Black players in the 17-team ECAC at the time, but he certainly recalls one game at Yale, where he was once again called “nigger”, this time by Bulldogs fans.
“The irony was that we were at this bastion of education,” Gandy said. “But there are people like that everywhere and by that point, it was water off a duck’s back.
“People act like all the racism going on today is some kind of revelation. They don’t know it’s been going on forever.”
Gandy said his time at Dartmouth was almost all positive, although a sour taste was temporarily left in his mouth late in his career when he heard that a few Big Green teammates had purposely shot at his head during practices because they didn’t care for his skin color.
Gaudet, Dartmouth’s coach from 1997 until retiring earlier this year, said he experienced the same welcome as a freshman. The veterans always gave rookie netminders “a little chin music” during their early days, he said.
“I never heard or knew of anything racist,” said Gaudet, who served as Gandy’s upperclass mentor in their fraternity, Chi Heorot. “Your background was never even broached. If you could play, you could play. Carey was accepted because of that and he was part of our family.”
Ardagna, Dartmouth’s captain during the 1982-83 season, was stunned when Gandy’s struggles were recently relayed to him. The longtime businessman said he recalls no racist incidents involving Gandy inside or outside the program while he was playing.
“Maybe I was naive,” Ardagna said, speaking slowly and clearly troubled. “Carey didn’t say anything about it. He was truly a pioneer at the youth, prep-school and college levels and he had to be very brave to do that.”
Gandy’s final campaign was not what he’d hoped. The government major said he didn’t play well while battling freshmen goalies Jeff Bower, Jay Samek and Mark Hoppe and wasn’t feeling much love for the pounding he’d absorbed the past two years. Demoted to second-strong on the JV roster, Gandy quit early in the season.
In truth, the program was circling the drain, en route to a 3-23 record that would mark the end of Crowe’s time at the helm. Graduation losses hit hard after the second trip to the Frozen Four and star Carey Wilson, who’d later enjoy a long NHL career, left Dartmouth in 1981 after his sophomore season, playing the next two years in Finland.
Crowe, who died in 2019, and Ardagna said admissions standards were tightened after the Big Green’s turn in the national spotlight. It was joined there in 1979 by the University of Pennsylvania’s men’s basketball team, which also reach the NCAA semifinals. It was unseemly for an Ivy League school to receive more attention for sports than for academics, was the clear message.
All Gandy knew was he’d moved on, his parents never having attended a Dartmouth game because the travel costs were too steep. He has never again skated since gliding off the Thompson Arena ice for the last time.
“How are you going to ever replace that thrill?” said Gandy, who’s enjoyed a business career with stops in the finance, furniture and debt settlement industries. “For me, it couldn’t get any better than playing at that level.”
Gandy instead became a recreational distance runner and cycled with a group on weekends. He tossed in swimming and wound up competing in eight Ironman Triathlons, comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. The 59-year old has also endured a divorce, hip-replacement surgery and, three years ago, cancer treatment requiring the removal of a third of one lung.
“It takes a little of the wind out of your sails,” he admitted.
Something that still brings a smile is when new friends or strangers become aware of Gandy’s hockey past. Disbelief is almost always the reaction when someone discovers he competed at the Division I college level.
“Thank God for Google, because people trip out,” Gandy said with a laugh. “But I always thought it was more interesting that I was from Alabama and played hockey, not that I’m Black.”
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