If you’re watching one of the many Peanuts holiday specials, you might wonder why ice sports show up often.
Charles Schulz, the creator of the comic strip and animated cartoon “Peanuts,” was born in Minnesota and fell in love with the game of hockey at an early age. His father took him to St. Paul Saints and Minneapolis Millers hockey games, and built a rink in the family’s backyard. His love for hockey even influenced Peanuts: Zambonis show up at least a dozen times in the comic strip and Snoopy is sometimes referred to as the “world-famous hockey player.“
In the 1960’s, when Peanuts was already a world-wide success, Schulz moved to Santa Rosa, in Northern California’s Sonoma County and quickly put his stamp on the local community. in 1969, he funded the construction of the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, known affectionately as “Snoopy’s Home Ice.” The arena doesn’t look like a traditional facility; it’s modeled after a Swiss chalet. Snoopy’s Home Ice was a home away from home for Schulz; his studio was in the arena, he ate at the Warm Puppy Café almost every day, and he played hockey there until his death in 2000 at the age of 77.
In 1975, Schulz started the Snoopy’s Senior World Hockey Tournament which attracted thousands of players aged 40-90 from around the world. Schulz himself played as a member of the Diamond Ices team. Schulz described the weekly-long tournament as “summer camp for adults” – perhaps not surprising given its presence in the heart of wine country. In 1991, after the NHL granted its franchise rights, the San Jose Sharks became a sponsor of the tournament.
For the San Jose Sharks inaugural 91-92 season, Schulz designed a Sharks Magazine cover featuring a Sharks-finned Zamboni driven by Snoopy on an iced-over bird bath with three hockey stick-toting birds in the foreground. Even though artists were typically paid for these covers, Schulz refused to accept payment.
The issue also included a feature on the San Francisco Seals’ minor league hockey successor, the San Francisco Shamrocks, in the newly-formed Pacific Hockey League and the first public acknowledgement of the Sharks mascot, S.J.Sharkie, who would be formally named at Fan Appreciation Night. Schulz even created an homage to his love of hockey by including a Sharks pennant above Linus’ bed in one of the Peanuts comic strips.
Collaborating with Schulz was an early example of the Sharks exploring the intersection of hockey and art; it’s too bad we never got him to design a warmup jersey.
USA Hockey recognized Schulz in 1981 with the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey. In 1993, USA Hockey once again honored him by inducting him to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Today, Schulz is the only person with no connection to any professional hockey team or league to win the award or to become a member of the hall of fame.
Charles Schulz was a Sharks supporter and a world-famous hockey fan.
(An earlier version of this article appeared on Becher’s Bytes)