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Purrington’s impressive hockey career at RCH stands out

Ben Birnell
Sports writer
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Posted 7/23/22

There are athletes that don’t get the opportunity to end their high school career on a high note.

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Purrington’s impressive hockey career at RCH stands out


There are athletes that don’t get the opportunity to end their high school career on a high note.

Then there’s JR Purrington, who put an exclamation point on an impressive hockey career at Rome Catholic High School in the early 1980s.

As a senior, Purrington helped the 1983-84 Rome Catholic squad win the school’s first Division II state championship in dramatic fashion in Glens Falls. He scored the game-winner less than a minute into overtime to push the team past Troy’s LaSalle Institute. The team, coached by Bill Fleet, finished with a 20-3 record. 

“How do you ask for more than that?” Purrington said. “I went out on the highest note I could in high school.”

The goal was set-up by Pat Monaghan with Purrington standing in front of the net.

“I don’t even remember where (the puck) went in the goal,” Purrington said. “I just know it went in the goal and the crowd went nuts.” 

Notably, LaSalle included a young goalie by the name of Guy Hebert, who went on to be a standout at Clinton’s Hamilton College before playing in the Olympics and enjoying a successful career in the National Hockey League.

“I played against him in college, too,” said Purrington, who went on to star for two seasons at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake. “You see that later and you think ‘wow.’”

In large part because of his hockey career, Purrington is getting another ‘wow’ moment as a member of the Rome Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020, which is being inducted at the end of the month. Purrington also participated in football, baseball and lacrosse. 

Also being recognized by the Hall of Fame in the Class of 2020 for a lifetime of excellence are football star Calvin Griggs, the late Mike Orbinati, who was an outstanding player and coach; former gymnastics coach Phyllis Niemi, the late Joseph A. Ryan Jr., who is being inducted as a contributor and multi-sport standout Randy J. Williams.

“It is an honor,” Purrington said. “It is a big accomplishment for me and my family to be among some of the people that are in there that are really elite athletes and elite people.”

Purrington’s 1983-84 RCH team as well as the 1984-85 squad were honored by the Rome Hall of Fame in 2016 when they earned the Ellie Bruce Exceptional Team of Excellence Award. 

“(I remember) the camaraderie and the guys I played with. We were a family,” Purrington said. “We were all close and tight-knit. We were friends. We played for each other. I couldn’t do what I did without those guys.”

Purrington said he’s not a “big speech kind of guy.” He noted he’s not one to tout his athletic accomplishments. 

“My wife is a teacher and she’ll help me,” said Purrington, who noted a friend will also help him with the speech. “I don’t see me taking the five minutes (allotted for the speech). I’m probably going to get to the main points and that’s it. I don’t want to run on.”

He’s got his share of accomplishments. Purrington ended as RCH’s all-time leading scorer with 133 goals and 98 assists. His 231 points are among the most in the state, according to the New York State High School Hockey Coaches Association website. 

“I did what I did because of everyone around me, from the coaches down to the players,” he said. “I had great teammates. They gave me the opportunity to do what I did.” 

Purrington said Fleet recently told him he has some Rome hockey records along with Dave Adams, who was a standout for Rome Free Academy from 1968 to 1971. 

“I knew how good he was and I saw him play later in his career. It was pretty cool to hear that,” Purrington said.

Purrington started playing hockey when he was younger because children around the neighborhood were playing. He said he played street hockey “almost every day” as a kid.  

“I could shoot a tennis ball better than I could shoot a hockey puck,” he said. 

It wasn’t all hockey for Purrington, though. He also played football and baseball in high school. And, Purrington said he “messed around” with a lacrosse stick in junior high because his friends had the equipment, but didn’t play organized lacrosse until college. 

“I think playing multiple sports makes you a better athlete,” he said. “There are certain sports that help each other. I think hockey and lacrosse are good sports for one another. I think the team atmosphere and winning and losing (is beneficial). … Losing builds character.” 

Playing with a junior college, he felt like a “little fish in a big pond” and it was an eye-opening experience playing with and against many good players. One of the team’s they played against featured future U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Mike Richter. 

He transferred to another school, but it wasn’t the same, he said. While he coached some youth hockey, he said he hasn’t skated in at least 15 years. 

He went on to a 25-year career with the New York State Department of Corrections. 

He’s thankful for his time at Rome Catholic as well as Fleet and assistant coach Gary LaBarge. 

“I think RCH changed my life, period,” Purrington said. “I was definitely a better person because of RCH and Bill Fleet and Gary LaBarge.”

There will be a reception for inductees and other award winners at the Rome Sports Hall of Fame from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 31. The Rome Sports Hall of Fame is located to the right of Erie Canal Village and parking is to the right of the building. The entrance is in the front facing the Village. Extra parking is available in the Village parking lot.

The annual induction awards banquet is set for 5:30 p.m. Sunday, July 31, at the Vernon Downs Casino and Hotel. The tickets are $35 each. Tickets for children 12 and younger are $15. Tickets may be purchased at Rome Sports Hall of Fame, 5790 Rome New London Road. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. The deadline to purchase tickets is this Sunday.

Related stories to come:

Tuesday: Hall of Fame inductee Joseph A. Ryan Jr.

Wednesday: Hall of Fame inductee Randy J. Williams


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