Monday, October 14, 2013

Detroit Minor League Hockey: Detroit Falcons (CoHL, 1991-96)

     I know, it's been a long time since I've added any programs. Life happens...

     Up next is a look at programs from a couple of Detroit's past minor league teams. I'll start off with the Detroit Falcons.
     The Falcons arrived on the scene in 1991, one of the five original members of the Colonial Hockey League. The team was owned by Dr. Mostafa Afr, and played in the Detroit suburb of Fraser at Fraser Ice Arena (now Great Lakes Sports City Superior Arena). The franchise was affiliated with NHL teams for most of its existence, including the Red Wings (1991-94) and Florida Panthers (1995-96), as well as the IHL's Detroit Vipers (1994-95).
     The Falcons were a competitive team on the ice, making the playoffs every season and often finishing near the top of the league. On the other hand, the Falcons rarely flew past the first round, advancing only twice in their existence. Being the lowest level of hockey in a saturated Detroit market, the Falcons struggled to draw decent crowds during their five-year run in Fraser, leading to their eventual departure for Port Huron after the 1995-96 season.

     Here are some of the Falcons programs in my collection.


1992-93 Regular Season
      The Falcons were originally called the "Michigan Falcons", but dropped Michigan in favor of Detroit for their sophomore season. They also dropped their original logo in favor a logo featuring a muscle-bound, pissed off falcon shooting a puck (still one of my all-time favorite logos, btw). Very 1990s.
     Coach Terry Christianson, along with several key players, returned for Year 2. The Falcons featured the #1 defense in the Colonial Hockey League, surrendering a mere 239 goals. Guarding the nets for Detroit was holdover Jamie Stewart, who had a stellar 27-16-3 record with a 3.59 GAA and 1 shutout. Four other goaltenders, including ex-Maple Leaf Peter Ing, were used as Stewart's backup that season.
     On offense, the Falcons were led by Vladimir Tsyplakov, who lit the lamp 35 times to go along with 78 points. Tsyplakov, by the way, would go on to have a seven-year career in the NHL (one of the few players that would make it from the CoHL to the NHL. Clayton Young (30 goals, 76 points) and Bob McKillop (39, 72) were the other 30-goal scorers, as the Falcons as a team scored 303 goals, third-highest in the league.
     Detroit led the Colonial Hockey League for most of the season, but were eventually overtaken by the Brantford Smoke. The Falcons finished the season in second place, with a stellar 36-20-4 record, just five points behind the Smoke. In the playoffs, the Falcons again drew the St. Thomas Wildcats and, again, were bounced out by the Cats in six games. Christianson would be let go after the disappointing finish. Despite the strong season, attendance was a miserable 1,212 per game (in a 3,400-seat arena), second-worst in the league.
     Again, love the Falcons logo. This program is loaded with ads, articles, even a merchandise catalog. By far, this was the most detailed program the team published. The Falcons, for this season, wore jerseys that featured "dazzle" material, which was kind of popular at the time. It was a heavy-duty polyester material that actually gleamed under arena lights. While it looked cool, it weighed a ton and I'm sure didn't breathe too well. I gave it the nickname "dazzle burlap", and that material was dropped in favor of lighter, more breathable mesh jerseys.

1993-94 Regular Season

     Former NHLer Lou Franceschetti was hired as Head Coach/GM for the 1993-94 season, as numerous new faces joined the Falcons roster. The team, now in the new Western Division (the CoHL was now an 8-team circuit), slipped to a third-place tie with the expansion Flint Generals, finishing 34-25-5 record. The Falcons won the tie breaker with Flint, since they won two more games.
     With the departure of Jamie Stewart, the Falcons' net was guarded by both Maxim Mikhalovsky and Mike Risdale. Risdale played 34 games, with a 17-14-2 record and a 4.12 GAA, while Mikhalovsky 14-8-3 with a 3.49 GAA. Two other goalies were with the team during the season, and as a whole, Detroit allowed 275 goals, second-lowest in the league.
     Offense was a weaker part of the team, as the Falcons scored 296 goals, sixth in the league. Leading the way was newcomer Andy Rhymsha, with 24 goals and 62 points. Andy was the lone 20-goal scorer on the team that year, though Darryl Noren and Christian Lalonde each had over 50 points.
     In the playoffs, the Falcons drew the Flint Generals. The series (a best of five affair) helped ignite a fierce rivalry, and also give the Colonial League a black eye. The Falcons and Generals split the first two games, then returned to Fraser for the pivotal Game 4. The high-powered Generals blew away Detroit, 9-3, in a game that disintegrated into a bench-clearing brawl that spilled into the locker rooms and the stands. I was at that game with Dad and Brandon, and while I can't remember what exactly started it (I think it was some stick work by Kevin Kerr), I remember the brawl getting out of hand. I even had some beer spilled on me.
     The Falcons were facing elimination heading into Flint for Game 4. An incident involving Detroit's Darren Miciak and Flint's Kevin Kerr during warmups threatened to start more problems. Amazingly, after the ugly brawl in Game 4, league commissioner Bob Myers did not attend the game. The Falcons, incensed that Kerr was not punished for his role in the brawl and the warmup events, simply refused to take the ice. After warnings by Myers and the officials, the game was forfeited to Flint. Franceschetti, who tried to get his players on the ice for the game, was fired after the season.
     Despite the dip in the standings, the Falcons saw their attendance climb to 1,991 per game, sixth in the league and one of three teams to average less than 2,000 per game.
     This program was autographed by several Falcons players. I didn't get this at a game, but bought it off eBay a year or so ago. You rarely see Falcons programs online...or Falcons anything for that matter.



1994-95 Regular Season--Falcons vs. Muskegon Fury
     1994-95 was the beginning of a sort of "golden age" for hockey in the Detroit area. Along with the Red Wings, the area was also home to the OHL's Detroit Jr. Red Wings and Windsor Spitfires, the Falcons and the new Detroit Vipers of the IHL. Add in Michigan and Michigan State hockey and you have a very congested market.
     For Year Four, the Falcons were had another new coach and a new affiliate. The franchise was now a farm club of the Vipers, and welcomed Larry Floyd in as Head Coach/GM.
     Thanks to the influx of talent from the Vipers, the Falcons took first place in the West, with a sparkling 45-27-2 mark, 8 points behind league-leading Thunder Bay. Continuing their tradition of strong defense, Detroit was tops in the league in goals-against, allowing only 273. They used five different goaltenders, but the main tandem was the returning Maxim Mikhalovsky and rookie Sergei Zvyagin. Mikhailovsky went 20-7-0 with a 3.02 GAA and 1 shutout, while Zvyagin went 12-15-2 with a 4.36 GAA. Mike Risdale played 12 games, and Vipers netminders David Goverde and Norm Foster played the remaining games.
     The offense improved over the previous season, as Detroit lit the lamp 329 times, sixth-best in the league. They were led by Egor Bashkatov, who scored 49 goals and 92 points. Stas Tkatch (39 goals, 84 points) and Bob McKillop (32 goals, 77 points) joined Egor in the 30+ goal club.
     The Falcons drew the Utica Blizzard in Round One, and did something they had never done before: win a playoff series. Detroit pushed aside Utica in 6 games, winning the series in overtime in Game 6. The Falcons then ran into the Muskegon Fury, who eliminated them in 6.
     Attendance slumped to 1,578 per game, second-worst in the league, despite the excellent season. After the season, Floyd moved on to the Huntsville Channel Cats of the Southern Hockey League and the Detroit Vipers aligned themselves with the more financially stable Flint Generals. It was becoming more and more apparent that the Detroit area wasn't big enough for three pro hockey teams. Despite the long odds, the Falcons would hang on for one more year.
     This program is from a game against Muskegon. It was from Max Mikhailovsky's lone shutout and the first shutout I had seen. 


1995-96 Regular Season--Falcons vs. Flint Generals
     Another season, another new coach and affiliate. Larry Floyd was replaced by Dave Cameron, and the Falcons became part of the Florida Panthers farm system. They also tweaked their wordmark logo and added yellow to their red, black and white color scheme (the jerseys were similar to the Vancouver Canucks).
     After the stellar season the year before, the Falcons stumbled to third place, with a 33-32-9 record, a whopping 32 points behind first place Flint. The team struggled on defense, allowing a franchise record 310 goals, fourth worst in the league. Zyvagin returned and appeared in 40 games, going 14-13-6 with a 3.62 GAA and 4 shutouts. He would be traded near the deadline to Quad City, where he would go on to win two Colonial Cups and establish himself as one of the league's greatest goaltenders. Dan Ryder would play in 28 games, going 11-12-1 with a 3.66 GAA. Four other netminders would spend time in the Falcons crease that year.
     The offense also slumped this season, as Detroit netted only 275 goals, fourth-worst in the league. Doug Smith (who was traded to Saginaw) led the way with 25 goals and 58 points. Tim Harris, Bob McKillop and Ken Blum were the only other 20-goal scorers on the team.
     In the playoffs, the Falcons stunned the favored Muskegon Fury in a tight five-game series (best of seven). Unfortunately, they then drew the red-hot Flint Generals, who dominated the league all season. The Generals blew away their old rivals in five games, outscoring Detroit 18-9 in the process. The Gens would go on to dethrone Thunder Bay in the finals to win their first Colonial Cup.
     Despite a mediocre season, attendance actually jumped to a franchise-high 2,046 per game. While it was still second-worst in the league, it was the first time the club broke the 2,000 per game barrier.

     In the end, the surge in attendance wasn't enough. The Detroit market simply was too saturated with hockey choices for a Colonial Hockey League team to survive. Rumors were swirling during the playoffs that Afr was considering moving his team out of Fraser if season ticket numbers didn't increase. During the offseason, the rumors became true, as Afr relocated the Falcons to Port Huron for the 1996-97 season. They would become the Port Huron Border Cats, and would smash all franchise attendance records while also reviving pro hockey in the Blue Water area.

     I went to a lot of Detroit Falcons games over the years, every season except the first. Not only was the team competitive, they also gave away all sorts of promotional items. Posters, team photos, you name it. I still have a lot of Falcons souvenirs and am glad I kept them all these years. That was a great time for going to hockey games. Flint, Saginaw, Fraser and Auburn Hills all had pro hockey teams, and all of them were pretty good.


Statistics are from hockeydb.com, a great source for hockey stats and logos.