Hockey has a home in Los Alamos

Manhattan Project assessor included hockey rink among site features

April 1, 2024

Zia Project Hockey Rink 20151120
Henry K. Shadel’s photo of Project Y’s ready-made hockey rink Manhattan Project National Historical Park at Los Alamos National Laboratory

All eyes are on the ice as hockey’s regular season winds down and teams head into the playoffs . The speed, the physicality, the gooooaaaals — hockey is an exciting sport to watch and play, and one that has a history in Los Alamos.

The icy game has had its fans and players in Los Alamos well before the Laboratory came into existence. Young students at the bygone Los Alamos Ranch School used to play the game on frozen-over Ashley Pond in the winter. The school would ultimately become headquarters for Project Y, the Los Alamos hub of the Manhattan Project. Physicist Edwin McMillan recalled of the school, “Soon as (Gen. Leslie) Groves saw it, Groves said, ‘This is it.’”

No record is known of Groves being moved by the potential to have a ready-made hockey rink at Project Y (if such a record exists, please let the Bradbury’s collections manager know), but the frozen pond was part of site assessor Henry K. Shadel’s documentation.

Shadel, chief of the real estate division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, photographed an unknown man, who does not appear to be wearing ice skates, on the frozen pond. The photo is dated Dec. 30, 1942, mere days after the school’s head, A.J. Connell, announced to students that the Los Alamos Ranch School would be “acquired for military purposes.” Shadel’s job was to appropriate Los Alamos sites and land for Project Y, also referred to as the Zia Project. His identified this site in his photo documentation as “Zia Project Hockey Rink.” Why not scout for a few potential perks for a clandestine military operation?

Hockey was not the only cold-weather sport in which the Project Y population participated. While many transplanted personnel were surprised to find ice and snow in their new home, several took advantage of it for their R&R. Physicist Niels Bohr was particularly fond of skiing.

Winter sports, including hockey, continue to be a part of Los Alamos life and culture for current-day Labbies. Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thom Mason was a hockey player in his youth, and the game has been a bond for Lab employees like “the frozen five.” It seems Shadel was correct to highlight the “hockey rink” as a feature for the future Laboratory’s home.