Inside Stories

When the Soviets “Invaded” Lowell

The date was December 23, 1985. A Monday night somewhere near the midway point between the stunning U.S.A. Olympic Hockey upset of the feared U.S.S.R. team at the Lake Placid Olympics in 1980 (Do you believe in miracles? Yes!), and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A touring team of Soviets called Sokol-Kiev visited the Mill City to skate against the local university’s college hockey team, the ULowell Chiefs, in a game played at the Tully Forum in Billerica.

The passage of time sure does funny things to history, doesn’t it?

The world now recognizes Kiev as the capital of Ukraine, a nation currently fighting the Russian army to maintain land and sovereignty gained shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991.

The Chiefs themselves collapsed, at the altar of political correctness in 1994, three years after ULowell got swallowed up by the UMass system and morphed into the UMass Lowell River Hawks.

Tully Forum, previously named Billerica Forum, is now known as the Chelmsford Forum. That it’s still located in Billerica is of little consequence to their traditional sports rivals in the Town of Chelmsford, current owner of the property.

The game itself turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining and competitive affair. As described in the 1986 school yearbook, the fast skating and aggressive Soviets had buried Maine (11-1) and Boston University (5-1) as they entered a sold out Tully Forum, which packed 3,300 bodies in for the exhibition game.

ULowell gave the visitors all they could handle, however, before falling by a 3-1 score. (you can read the hockey yearbook recap below)

Ironically it was Steve Stowell, Lowell’s Historic Board Administrator, who recently uncovered a souvenir shirt from the game and shared it with us. If there’s one thing Stowell enjoys more than the history of brick mill buildings, it’s the history of the local university’s hockey program.

So if you happen to see him at the Tsongas Center one of these nights, rooting on the River Hawks while wearing a strange and very tired looking t-shirt with some Atari-esque logos on it, ask him what it was like to be there in 1985.

Like so much else involving Lowell, it was a night steeped in history.






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