Thursday, December 17, 2015

Flint Firebirds (2015-16, OHL)

2015-16 Regular Season: Firebirds vs. Saginaw Spirit
     The Flint Firebirds are in their first season in the Ontario Hockey League. They are the sixth hockey team to call Flint home since 1969, and the first one in the OHL. The Firebirds are owned by Rolf Nilsen, who also owns IMS, a manufacturing company based out of Florida. The team plays it's home games at the refurbished Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center (formerly the IMA Sports Arena). Terry Christiansen (former Coach/GM of the Detroit Falcons) is the general manager, while former NHL forward John Gruden is head coach.
     While Flint is new to the OHL, the franchise is over 20 years old. It began as an expansion franchise in 1990 as the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors. Owned by Peter Karmanos, the Ambassadors would later become the Detroit Jr. Red Wings, Detroit Whalers, and, finally in 1997, the Plymouth Whalers.
     Due to declining attendance, Karmanos put the Whalers up for sale in 2015. The original plan was for the franchise to relocate to Chatham, Ontario, for the upcoming season. However, the lack of a suitable arena and no plans to build a new arena in Chatham doomed those plans.
     About that time, Nilsen purchased both the then-Perani Arena and Iceland Arena. Looking to bring in a higher level of hockey, Nilsen and IMS Hockey first attempted to purchase a USHL expansion franchise. When those attempts did not succeed, they purchased the Whalers from Karmanos and relocated the franchise north to Flint. A successful "Name-the-Team" contest was held, and "Flint Firebirds" was the winning entry.
     In November, the franchise made international headlines for all the wrong reasons. After a dramatic come-from-behind win over Oshawa, Nilsen fired both Gruden and assistant coach Dave Karpa, allegedly over the lack of playing time for Nilsen's son. The players were outraged, and walked into the front office and threw down their jerseys and "walked out". After 24 hours and a meeting with OHL Commissioner David Branch, Nilsen rehired Gruden and Karpa and gave them 3-year contract extensions. The players returned to the Firebirds shortly after.
     This program is from the December 4th, 2015, game against the Saginaw Spirit. Saginaw and Flint were  arch-rivals in the IHL and UHL for many years. The Spirit and Firebirds battle for the I-75 Challenge Cup, which goes to the team that has the most points in the 8-game series. That night, the Spirit came back from a 2-0 deficit to win in a shootout, 4-3. That night's attendance was 2950.
     It's great to see high-quality hockey back in Flint again. Nothing against the Generals, who were excellent, but this is the best level of hockey in that town since the Spirits moved away. Flint has struggled to draw crowds the past several years, but the average attendance for the Firebirds is (as of now) 3,017 per game. Not a bad start.
     This program is sixty pages long, all color pictures and on glossy paper. There are articles about the renaissance of downtown Flint, the history of the Plymouth Whalers and bios about Nilsen, Gruden and the players on the cover. Each player has a bio as well. Local advertisements include Bubba O'Malley's, Patsy Lou GMC, Hoffman's Deco Deli & Cafe and Goodwill of Mid-Michigan.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Port Huron Prowlers (FHL, 2015-16)

2015-16 Regular Season: Prowlers vs. Danville Dashers
     It's amazing how many chances Port Huron gets to support a hockey team! This is franchise #6 since 2002!    

     The Port Huron Prowlers are a Single-A level pro hockey club in the Federal Hockey League (FHL). They are in their first season of operation, and the first pro hockey team in Port Huron since the 2010 Icehawks. The Prowlers are owned by Barry Soskin, who also owns the Danville Dashers, and play their home games at McMorran Arena. They are coached by former Beacon Trevor Karasiewicz.
     With the departure of the NAHL's Fighting Falcons, Port Huron went without hockey in 2014-15, the first time that happened in 19 years. The FHL, on the lookout for expansion sites, scheduled a neutral site game at McMorran between Danbury and Danville. When a crowd of over 1700 showed up, the league granted an expansion franchise to Soskin. Most of the front office (and quite a few players) from the now-defunct Dayton Demonz (who Soskin also owned) were shipped north to Port Huron to set up this new franchise. A name-the-team contest was held, and "Prowlers" was chosen as the winner. The team's uniforms are nearly identical to the Detroit Red Wings (and a tribute to the old Port Huron Flags), with the Prowlers logo emblazoned on the front and shoulders.
    
Season Schedule
     Normally, at this point I would go through the statistics for the season, but since it's only two games old, there's no point. As for the program, I was surprised there was even one to begin with! With the Fighting Falcons, all you got was a roster sheet. The Icehawks had yearbooks, but they were kept in the Pro Shop. As for this one, it's not too big, but more than I expected. It's 23 pages, all color and on glossy paper. There are numerous local ads, such as Fuel Woodfire Grill (highly recommended, btw), Freighter's Eatery and Taproom and Flagship Community Federal Credit Union. There's a league map, bios on the front office and the coaching staff. There is also a team photo and a 2015-16 team roster page with color photos of each player.
     As for the game, Danville crushed the Prowlers, 6-0, in front of 1,053 fans (I thought there were more than that). It was a pretty sloppy game, lots of blown passes, missed hits, poor stickhandling and ugly goaltending. I wasn't expecting too much in terms of quality. Single-A level hockey can be pretty rough. It's definitely a step back from the Icehawks and Border Cats. But, it was nice to go to a hockey game at McMorran again. There seemed to be a buzz in the crowd that did not exist when the Fighting Falcons were in town. Plus, the Prowlers did a lot to keep the crowd entertained throughout the game and intermission. Again, Single-A hockey is what it is, but I enjoyed it and am glad Port Huron has a team again. I'll be back to another game. And BTW, I love this logo!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Tri City Icehawks (GLJHL, 2011-12)

2011-12 Regular Season: Icehawks vs. Wisconsin Rampage
     Here's a random program. I went to this game while my brother was still living in Bay City. 

     The Tri City Icehawks are a junior hockey team based out of Bay City, Michigan. They play their home games at the Bay County Civic Arena. The team is owned by Arthur and Colleen Dore (Colleen is also General Manager).  Chris Lacy was the head coach, with Eric Albrecht and Arthur Dore serving as his assistants.
     During the 2011-12 season, the Icehawks were part of the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League. That year, the Icehawks stumbled to a 10-32-0 record. The team scored 158 goals while allowing 288 on the year.
     This program is from the game on February 12, 2012, when the Icehawks played the Wisconsin Rampage. The Icehawks won, 4-3, in a shootout. At the time, this was their ninth win of the year.
     The Icehawks are considered a "Tier III" junior team, which would place them one step below the NAHL (where the Port Huron Fighting Falcons and Michigan Warriors once played, btw). Probably the lowest level of hockey I've watched (outside of my brother's house league games). I believe tickets were $4, about the price of high school sports. The lady taking tickets (Colleen Dore, maybe?)  seemed genuinely surprised that my brother and I came to watch the game, especially when I said where I was from. Very welcoming too, may I add. The hockey game wasn't too bad, either.
     The program is on the same level as something you'd find at, say, Deckerville High School athletic events. It's a 15-page program with advertisements (most of them pixelated), all of which are in color. Individual pictures of the players, coaching staff and front office are on the middle pages. The majority of the players from that season were from the Tri-City area, but one was from the Czech Republic! Local ads include Firehouse Soft Car Wash, Ken Wackerle Excavating and Winding Creek Boarding Kennels. BTW, the Icehawks logo on the front is pretty slick.

Aftermath: The Icehawks still exist, and still play at the Bay County Civic Arena. However, they currently play in the United States Premier Hockey League, another Tier III circuit. As of this post, the Icehawks have a 13-1-1 record, tops in the Eastern Conference of the Midwest Region. The Dore family still owns the franchise. 

Resources:

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fredericton Express (AHL, 1982-83)

1982-83 Regular Season--Express vs. Moncton Alpines
     The Fredericton Express were in their second year of existence in 1982-83. They were members of the American Hockey League and were primary affiliates of the Quebec Nordiques and Vancouver Canucks. They played their home games at 3,278-seat Aitken Centre.
     Jacques Demers was back behind the bench for the sophomore season of Express hockey. Fredericton enjoyed a huge turnaround in 1982-83, as Demers guided the Express to a brilliant 45-27-8 record. Their 98 points (53 more than last season) were 11 better than second-place Nova Scotia and three behind league-leading Rochester. An average of 3,012 fans attended Express games that season.
     The Express pumped in 348 goals that season, fourth-most in the AHL. Tony Currie led the attack, scoring 47 goals and 95 points. Tim Tookey was next with 24 goals and 67 points. Four other players had at least 20 goals that season.
     Team defense was stellar that year, as the Express allowed only 284 goals, a league-low. Demers had five goaltenders at his disposal. The two main netminders were Brian Ford and Clint Malarchuk. Ford played in 27 games, posting a 14-7-2 record with a 3.49 GAA and no shutouts. Malarchuk played 25 games with a similar record of 14-6-5, 3.11 GAA and 1 shutout. Frank Caprice, Ken Ellacott and Michel Dufour also saw time "between the pipes". Ellacott, who went 11-6-0 on the season, drew the nod for the playoffs.
     Frederiction opened the 1983 Calder Cup Playoffs against the Adirondack Red Wings. The Wings were 21 points behind the Express, but put up a fight in the series. It took Fredericton six games (two in overtime) to eliminate the Red Wings and advance. In Round Two, the Express ran into the Maine Mariners, who upset them in six games to advance to the Calder Cup Finals, where they lost to Rochester in four straight.
     This is kind of a small program, with only 40 pages. Like many programs, it's loaded with statistics and advertisements. Defenseman Terry Johnson was the full-page insert player that night. There are articles about Jacques Demers, the arenas of the AHL and the viability of the league. Local ads include CFNB 530 AM ("Voice of the Express"), Myers's White Rum, Karnes Kitchen Ltd. and Wood Ford of Fredericton (co-sponsors of the $10,000 Score-O game with CFNB). There's also a full-page color ad for Panasonic VHS players, which apparently could be held in one hand by then!

Aftermath: The Express would remain in Fredericton through the 1987-88 season, then relocated to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and be renamed "Halifax Citadels". The franchise still exists as the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins. Fredericton would be home to the Fredericton Canadiens for the next 11 seasons. That franchise still exists as the Bakersfield Condors.

References:
American Hockey League Statistics: 1982-83 (from hockeydb.com) 

Buffalo Bisons (AHL, 1969-70)

1969-70 Regular Season--Bisons vs. Baltimore Clippers
     Before the Sabres, Buffalo was home to the American Hockey League's Buffalo Bisons. The Bisons existed from 1940-70, and played their home games at Memorial Auditorium. The franchise was sponsored by Pepsi-Cola, and their logo was a Pepsi bottle cap with a stylized "Buffalo" script written across the center.
     Fred Shero, future "Broad Street Bullies" Flyers coach, was back behind the bench for the final season of Bisons hockey. Buffalo repeated as Western Division champions that year, going 40-17-15. The Bisons ran away with the division that season, as they were the lone Western team to finish above .500. Second place Hershey trailed Buffalo by 23 points, and Buffalo was just five behind league-best Montreal. Buffalo fans responded to the the Bisons' great season, as a league-best 6,745-per game average walked through "The Aud's" turnstiles.
     Buffalo scored the third-most goals that year, with 280 pucks crossing the goal line. Guy Trottier led the charge on offense, potting 55 goals and 88 points. Five other players scored at least 25 goals that season.
     The Bisons sported the best defense in the AHL in 1969-70, allowing a measly 193 goals. The team used two netminders that year: Gilles Villemure and Al Johnstone. Villemure, who would join the New York Rangers the following season, played in 65 games, with a 2.52 GAA and eight shutouts. Johnstone played in 13, with a 3.49 GAA and no shutouts. Villemure got the nod for the postseason.
     The Bisons gave their fans something to cheer about in their final season. Buffalo drew the Quebec Aces in Round One of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Quebec finished with a mediocre 27-39-6 record, barely making the playoffs. However, the Aces took a 2-1 series lead on the strength of two overtime wins. Buffalo recovered to rattle off three straight wins and eliminate the pesky Aces to advance to Round Two. In the round-robin format, the Bisons emerged with a 3-1 record and drew the Springfield Kings in the Calder Cup Finals. The Bisons then went out with a bang, crushing the Kings in four straight games to win the Calder Cup for the fifth, and final, time.
     This is a 50-page program, loaded with black-and-white (but a few color) advertisements and articles. First off, you can't beat the original price for the program: $0.50! There's a team photo of the 1969-70 Bisons as well as an article about Fred Shero. Ticket prices for that year were between $2-4.00. There's also an article about the format change for the playoffs, with a remark about how the Sabres will debut the following year. Local ads include Rich's Ice Cream, Marlette Plating, Bonanza Steak House, Dave & Len's Deli and Simon Pure Beer. Schmidt's Beer sponsors the roster pages. According to that page, the Bisons defeated Baltimore, 4-3.

Aftermath: The Bisons would fold following their Calder Cup championship and were replaced by the NHL's expansion Buffalo Sabres for the 1970-71 season.

References:
American Hockey League Statistics: 1969-70 (from hockeydb.com) 

St. Catherines Saints (AHL, 1982-83)

1982-83 Regular Season: Saints vs. Maine Mariners
     The St. Catherines Saints were an American Hockey League franchise in it's first season of play in 1982-83. They were the primary farm team of the Toronto Maple Leafs and played their home games at the 3,145-seat Garden City Arena.
     The Saints were originally the New Brunswick Hawks, from Moncton, New Brunswick. In 1982, Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard decided the Leafs needed a farm team closer to home. Despite the Hawks drawing large crowds, Ballard proposed relocating the Hawks to either St. Catherines or Niagara Falls, Ontario. This plan was originally blocked by the Buffalo Sabres and voted down by three AHL clubs.
    Rudy Pilous, director of operations for the Saints, summed up the Leafs and Sabres battle over the Saints: "The Leafs didn't feel they needed permission from a club they had allowed into the NHL 10 years ago, and the Sabres were not anxious to have another pro club so close to their city." Ballard put it more bluntly: "It was like having two bald men fight over a comb." Both franchises settled the argument, and the Saints officially moved to St. Catherines in July 1982.
     A name-the-team contest was held, and Saints was the winner, edging out Chiefs and Grape Kings. The Leafs tabbed former Flint Generals coach/GM Doug Carpenter as the team's first coach. In 1981-82, the Hawks won the Calder Cup, but the 1982-83 Saints stumbled to sixth place in the Southern Division. Their 33-41-6 record and 72 points put them eight points behind fourth-place Binghamton, 29 behind league-best Rochester.
     St. Catherines scored the seventh-most goals in the AHL that year, with 335 goals. Bruce Boudreau, future coach of Washington and Anaheim, led the Saints with 50 goals and 122 points. Reg Thomas and Normand Aubin scored over 30 goals each, and four other players scored 20 or more goals.
     Team defense was a letdown that season, as St. Catherines let in an "un-Saint-ly" 368 goals, second only to league-worst Sherbrooke. Carpenter used six different goaltenders that year, relying mostly on Vince Tremblay and Bob Parent. Parent (who played in Saginaw and Port Huron earlier), made it into 46 games, going 18-20-3 with a 4.34 GAA and one shutout. Tremblay played 35 games, sporting an 11-17-1 mark with a 4.69 GAA and no shutouts. Mike Palmateer and Jiri Crha each played rehab games that year as well. Other netminders include Bruce Dowie and Normand Aubin (a center!).
     No playoffs for the Saints that year, and attendance was dead last in the league, as the team averaged 2,339 per game, a drop from the 4,075 they averaged the previous year in New Brunswick.
     Nice program for the Saints that year, a 50-pager with mostly black-and-white photos on glossy paper. There are pictures of the old St. Catherines TeePees junior franchise. The 1959-60 TeePees picture included future NHLers Roger Crozier, Pat Stapleton, Chico Maki and Murray Hall. There are articles about the history of the AHL, the birth of the Saints franchise and a letter from the Mayor of St. Catherines. Local advertisements include Brian Cullen Chev-Olds, Harbour House Restaurant, St. Catherines Datsun and Mother's Pizza Parlour and Spaghetti House.

Aftermath: 1982-83 was the only season in Saints history when attendance was over 2,000-per game. The crowds hovered around 1800 per game the next two seasons, then bottomed out to 1,450 per game in 1985-86, the team's final season. It didn't help that the Saints were not competitive. The team made it out of Round One just once, and missed the playoffs twice in four years. After the 1985-86 season, the Saints would relocate to Newmarket, Ontario, keeping their "Saint-ly" nickname. The franchise still exists as the Toronto Marlies.

References:
American Hockey League Statistics: 1982-83 (from hockeydb.com) 
Winokur, Mark. "How the Saints Were Born". 1982-83 St. Catherines Saints Program. Saint Catherines Saints Hockey Club. January 1983.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Port Huron Flags (IHL, 1977-78)

1977-78 Regular Season: Flags vs. Fort Wayne Komets
      The Port Huron Flags were in their fifteenth season of IHL hockey during the 1977-78 season. They were a secondary farm club of the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals that season. The Flags played their home games at McMorran Arena, which had a capacity of 3,582.
     The Flags were coming off a disastrous 1976-77 campaign, a mess both on and off the ice. The Flags slumped to a league-worst 27-43-8 record, nine points behind the next worst team, Columbus. Off the ice, attendance slumped to dangerously low levels. A last-minute cash donation of about $50,000 kept the team afloat for the following season.
     Morris Snider returned as General Manager (he was also GM of McMorran Arena), and the team had a new face behind the bench: former Komets center Ron Ullyot. This was Ullyot's rookie year as a head coach, and he helped pull the Flags out of the cellar. Port Huron finished the season with a 33-32-15 record, good enough for fourth place in the Northern Division. The Flags' 81 points were just three behind second-place Kalamazoo and 11 behind first-place Saginaw.
     Ullyot's Flags scored the fourth-most goals in the IHL that season, pumping in 322 on the year. Left winger Larry Gould led the attack, with 36 goals and 105 points. Paul Nicholson and Dave Faulkner were the other thirty-goal scorers in Port Huron that season. Five other players lit the lamp at least 20 times.
     Port Huron struggled a bit on defense, as they surrendered 331 goals, third highest in the league. Rollie Boutin was the main netminder that season, making it into 58 games with a 3.85 GAA. Dale Ridout was his backup, playing 15 games with a 4.57 GAA. Ted Tucker was loaned to the Flags during the season from Toledo.
     The 1977-78 Flags iced a physical team, to say the least. The team racked up 2,232 penalty minutes in the rough-and-tumble IHL that year. Leading the march to the "sin bin" was right winger and league superpest Archie Henderson. Henderson, who was 6'6" and 220 pounds, piled up a team-best 419 PIM, also a career high. Left winger Gary Rissling was next with 341 minutes, followed by Brent Tremblay (281), Jim Gustafson (202), Reid Bailey (162) and Les Auge (104).
1977-78 Regular Season: Flags vs. Kalamazoo Wings
     Port Huron opened up the Turner Cup Playoffs against the defending champion Saginaw Gears. Most were expecting Saginaw to make quick work of the Flags, but the opposite happened. Port Huron crushed the Gears in five games (best-of-seven), outscoring Saginaw 31-19 in the process. In the semifinals, the Flags faced second-place Kalamazoo. After dropping Game 1 in Kalamazoo, Port Huron rattled off three straight wins to advance to their second Turner Cup Finals in three years.
     The Flags would face the Toledo Goaldiggers in the 1978 Turner Cup Finals, who had lost the previous year. The series was a back-and-forth classic. Port Huron had a 2-1 series lead, then fell behind 3-2 after getting smoked 11-2 in Game 5. They rebounded on McMorran ice, 6-3, to square the series at 3, but fell in Game 7 at Toledo, 4-3.
     Though no Flags won any individual trophies, two players made the postseason all-star teams. Larry Gould made the first team all-star roster on left wing, while Jim Bannatyne was named to the second team on defense.
     I bought both of these programs on eBay recently, and they just arrived. Both are from early in the 1977-78 season. Not sure about the results of each
1977-78 Flags Team Photo and Roster insert

game, though. They are 48 pages full of the usual ads, articles and stats. All the pictures are black-and-white. There are messages from GM Morris Snider and Head Coach Ron Ullyot in both, and the green program includes a brief article about former Capitals goaltender (and then scout) Roger Crozier. Both still have the inserts: the green program's insert is a picture of right winger Mike McDougal and the orange program's insert is of center Jim Gustafson. Local advertisements include WHLS 1450 AM, Bob's Hairstyling for Men, Ruiz Taco Hut, Sperry's Department Store and London's Dairy. There's also a team photo of the 1976-77 Flags, featuring future NHL on NBC announcer Mike Emrick, who was the Flags' announcer and PR Director.
     I added two pictures of Flags artifacts that I got a few years before. I think the first picture was an insert from a program, or may have been a giveaway. Dad got this for me at the Croswell Flea Market (I think). The second picture is a set of souvenirs Dad bought for me at the Croswell Flea Market. It includes a plastic cup, several pins, some keyrings (there are four, one is hanging in my room), a hockey stick pencil (still has lead!) and a '77-78 team photo patch. 

Port Huron Flags souvenirs
Aftermath: 1977-78 was the final time the Flags would reach the Turner Cup Finals. Port Huron was the smallest city in the IHL at the time, and the Flags would continue to struggle to draw decent crowds to McMorran Arena. Operating losses hovered around $150,000 per year. The crippling recession of the early 1980s would do even more damage to the Flags (and most of the league, for that matter). Their two home games in the 1981 Playoffs averaged under 900 per game, causing Snider and the McMorran Authority to fold the franchise shortly after.
    

References:
  International Hockey League Statistics: 1977-78 (from hockeydb.com)
1978-79 International Hockey League Yearbook. Matt Dennis, Editor, 1978.  

Friday, September 18, 2015

Muskegon Fury (CoHL, 1995-96)

1995-96 Regular Season--Fury vs. Saginaw Wheels
     The Muskegon Fury were members of the Colonial/United Hockey League. They joined the league as an expansion franchise, replacing the recently departed Muskegon Lumberjacks of the IHL. The franchise was owned by Tony Lisman, who was also General Manager. Bill Stewart was the Head Coach The Fury played their home games at 5000-seat LC Walker Arena.
     The Fury had a fine season both on and off the ice in 1995-96. Muskegon captured the West Division crown with a solid 40-27-7 record. Their 87 points were three points ahead of second place Thunder Bay, but 20 behind Tarry Cup-winning Flint. LC Walker Arena saw an average of 3,383 fans per game file into the building that year, third highest in the league.
     The Fury iced a low-scoring team that year, lighting the lamp just 273 times, third-lowest in the league. Brett Seguin led the way on offense, with 106 points on the strength of 31 goals. Steve Walker had a team-best 43 goals. Two other players scored over 30 goals.
    
1995-96 Yearbook
Muskegon was much better on defense, tying the Flint Generals for the lowest amount of goals allowed with 248. They were led in goal by Rich Parent, who went 23-7-4 with an excellent 2.44 GAA and 2 shutouts in 36 games. Brian Greer made it into 27 games (8-10-2, 3.75 GAA) and Mike Parson got into 19 games (9-7-1, 3.64 GAA). Female goaltender Erin Whitten split time with Muskegon and Flint that season as well.
     The Fury would draw the Detroit Falcons in Round One of the Colonial Cup Playoffs that spring. The Falcons, in their final season, went a mediocre 33-32-9, 12 points behind Muskegon in the standings. But with star goalie Parent with the IHL's Detroit Vipers, the Falcons upset the Fury in five games. Flint would go on to win their first Colonial Cup in six games over the Thunder Bay Senators.
     The program and the yearbook are both from an estate sale. My parents picked these up for me a long time ago. The program is from a game against the Saginaw Wheels on March 2, 1996. The Fury won the game, 4-1.
     The program is in pretty good shape. There's a crease down the middle, but there are no torn pages. It's 44 pages, almost all in color on glossy paper. Most of it is advertisements, though there are a couple articles. There's one about "The Persepective of Being a Fury Fan" and "An Afternoon with the Muskegon Fury". There's also a "Fic-tionary", which is a list of favorite phrases by the team's colorful radio voice, Terry Ficorelli. Local advertisements include Jones Sporting Goods, Breakaway Bicycles, Meijer and Leppinks Food Center.
     The photo album is in excellent condition, 40 pages with no tears or creases. All the pictures inside are black-and-white and include bios of each player. There's also a league directory and game-by-game results for the 1994-95 season.

Aftermath: The Fury were always a dangerous team, and became a league powerhouse in the late 1990s. They won their first Colonial Cup in 1999, dethroning two-time champion Quad City in six games. They would win three more in six years. Lisman sold the Fury in 2008 to Stacey Patulskey, Jeff Patulskey and Tim Taylor, who changed the team's name to Muskegon Lumberjacks. The newly christened Lumberjacks were strong on the ice, even making the (now) Turner Cup Finals in 2009. Off the ice was a different story, as the sagging economy led to fewer and fewer paying customers. In 2010, it was announced that the Lumberjacks were folding and being replaced by a USHL franchise with the same name. The new Lumberjacks still exist to this day, though under new ownership.

References:
Colonial Hockey League Statistics: 1995-96 (from hockeydb.com)

Detroit Red Wings (NHL, 1971-72)

1971-72 Regular Season--Red Wings vs. St. Louis Blues
     The Detroit Red Wings had a noticeable absence in their locker room heading into the 1971-72 season. Legendary Gordie Howe retired after the 1970-71 season. Only Alex Delvecchio remained from the 1955 Stanley Cup roster, and he would continue until 1974. The times were changing at the Olympia.
     After such a miserable 1970-71 season, the Red Wings could look forward to the second overall pick in the 1971 NHL Entry Draft. (Note: They picked behind the Montreal Canadiens, who won the 1971 Stanley Cup. Montreal got the #1 pick from the California Golden Seals in an incredibly one-sided deal...which probably explains why the Golden Seals no longer exist.). The Wings used that pick on St. Catherines Black Hawks star Marcel Dionne. In a very unpopular move (for both sides), the Wings also sent rising star Garry Unger to the St. Louis Blues for star center Red Berenson.
     Bruce Norris was still owner of the franchise and Harkness was back as General Manager after his nightmarish first season. Doug Barkley also returned behind the bench. He would only last 11 games (with a 3-8-0 record) before being canned in favor of another ex-Wing, Johnny Wilson. Under Wilson, the Red Wings improved their play, going 30-27-10 to finish 33-35-10 on the season. Their 76 points were not enough to qualify for the playoffs in the tough East Division, just four back of fourth place Toronto. On the other hand, it would have been more than enough to comfortably finish in third place in the expansion-heavy West Division. Sadly, this season would be one of the best the Red Wings had in the entire decade!
     Detroit didn't have much of a problem scoring goals that year, as they were the fourth best with 261 goals. Dionne would have an immediate impact on the Red Wings, leading the team with 77 points on the strength of 28 goals. Mickey Redmond proved to be a great acquisition for the Wings, scoring 42 goals to lead the team. Three other players, including the ageless Delvecchio, scored over 20 goals.
     Team defense was improved slightly over last season, as the Wings allowed 262 goals on the year, fifth-highest in the league. Three men tended goal for the Wings that year: Joe Daley, Al Smith and Andy Brown. Smith got the majority of time between the pipes, going 18-20-4 with a 3.24 GAA and 4 shutouts. Daley went 11-10-5 with and even better 3.15 GAA in 29 games. Brown went 4-5-1 with a 3.96 GAA in 10 games.
     As stated earlier, the Wings just missed the playoffs, and were kind of the victim of a lopsided division setup. The West Division only had Chicago and Minnesota with records above .500, and the Wings would have easily qualified in that division. This program is from the October 17, 1971, game against the St. Louis Blues. The Red Wings knocked off the Blues, 5-3, for their first win of the year.
     Lots of wear-and-tear on this program, but all 44 pages are present and accounted for. Similar format to the previous year's program, with mostly black-and-white ads and pictures. There are articles about Red Wing Tim Eccelstone and the Wings preseason tilt with the Blues, their first games against former teammates Garry Unger, Carl Brewer and Wayne Connelly. There's aslo a cartoon called "Sticks and Yuks" by Mackey which points out how the Blues netminders have big nets to fill after Glenn Hall retired. Full page pictures include Red Wing Alan Karlander and Blue Terry Crisp. The Upcoming Events section includes a picture of pro wrestling legend Dick the Bruiser, "The World's Most Dangerous Man". Car ads include the '72 Chevrolet Chevelle, '72 Ford Gran Torino, '72 Buick Riviera and the '72 Dodge Charger. Local ads include Stu Evans Lincoln-Mercury, Michigan Popcorn Company, Carl's Chop House and WKBD Channel 50.

Aftermath: The phrase "Darkness with Harkness" was an understatement. Harkness's complete incompetence as a GM drove the Red Wings into the ground, going through coaches and players like Kleenex. The fans' hatred of Harkness would only be equalled by future Detroit GM flops Randy Smith and Matt Millen. The Wings were far out the playoffs when Norris finally fired Harkness in 1974, replacing him with Alex Delvecchio. The franchise continued to struggle, bottoming out completely in 1976-77, with a disastrous 16-55-9 record. They made the playoffs just once more in the 1970s, making it to the second round in 1978. By then, both Mickey Redmond and Marcel Dionne were long gone, due to injury (Redmond) and trade (Dionne). The Wings would continue to flounder until they were purchased by Mike Illitch in 1982. They would slowly make their way back to prominence throughout the next 15 years, until finally winning the Stanley Cup in 1997. They would win three more since.

References:
National Hockey League Statistics: 1971-72 (from hockeydb.com)
 

Detroit Red Wings (NHL, 1970-71)

1970-71 Regular Season--Red Wings v.s Minnesota North Stars
     1970-71 was the 44th season of play for the Detroit Red Wings. After making the Stanley Cup Finals four times in the 1960s (losing each time), the franchise collapsed. The Wings missed the playoffs in 1967 and 1968. They rebounded in 1970, but were quickly swept away by Chicago in the first round.
     In 1970-71, the Red Wings were still owned by Bruce Norris, whose family had owned the team since the 1930s. Norris would hire a name that would become infamous in Detroit sports that offseason: Ned Harkness, fresh from the college ranks. Harkness would immediately clash with his players, many of which did not care for his "rah-rah", often profane outbursts behind the bench. Not surprisingly, the Wings got off to a miserable 12-22-4 start. GM Sid Abel, after hearing numerous complaints from the players, approached Norris to see if he had the power to fire Harkness. When Norris said no, Abel resigned in disgust. Norris then promoted Harkness to GM, who then hired ex-Wing Doug Barkley as his replacement behind the bench. Barkley did even worse, as the Wings went 10-23-7 the rest of the way to finish with a 22-45-11 record, dead last in the East Division, 66 points behind league-best Boston. Embarrassingly, the Wings finished behind both new expansion franchises that year! Only the inept California Golden Seals were worse than the Red Wings. The low-point of the season would be a 13-0 annihilation in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada.
     The Red Wings scored the fourth-fewest goals that year, just 209. Tom Webster led the team on offense, scoring 30 goals to go with 67 points. Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio, the last two ties to the franchise's glory years of the 1950s, were the only other Wings to score over 20 goals that year.
     Team defense was a big problem in 1970-71, as the Wings allowed 309 goals, second only to the Golden Seals. Four different goaltenders guarded the Detroit crease that year, with Roy Edwards and Jim Rutherford playing the majority of the games. Edwards went 11-19-7 with a 3.39 GAA in 37 games. Rutherford (a future executive in Carolina), went 7-15-3 in his rookie year, and would go on to a long career in the NHL, the majority of it spent with the Red Wings.
     With a season as forgettable as that, the Wings would obviously miss the playoffs that year. In fact, they would miss the playoffs each year until 1977-78.
     This program is from a January 17, 1971, game against the Minnesota North Stars. This was Gordie Howe's final season with the Wings, and Mr. Hockey graces the cover of the program. Mickey Redmond was just acquired from Montreal for Frank Mahovolich by then, and would go on to be the team's first fifty goal-scorer two seasons later. The North Stars featured Danny Grant, another future 50-goal scorer for the Wings. In net, the Stars featured Cesare Maniago and legendary Gump Worsley, a tandem nicknamed "Mutt and Jeff". Minnesota would skate away with a 2-0 shutout at the Olympia that night.
     This program is 44 pages long, with numerous in-game pictures. There is an article about the 1971 All-Star Game, which was broadcast on Channel 50 that year from Boston. There are also articles about North Stars players Cesare Maniago and Danny Grant, and full-page pictures of Tom Webster and Jude Drouin. Nice muscle car ads in here too, including the '71 Camaro and the '71 Ford Torino Cobra. Local advertisements include Red Pelican Mustard, Stroh's Beer (still a Detroit company back then), Pfeiffer Beer and Stu Evans Lincoln-Mercury.

References:
National Hockey League Statistics: 1970-71 (from hockeydb.com)

Detroit Red Wings (NHL, 1963-64)

1963-64 Regular Season--Red Wings vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
     The Detroit Red Wings were in the middle of their 37th year of existence during the 1963-64 season. The franchise was owned by Bruce Norris and played their home games at Olympia Stadium. Former "Production Line" center Sid Abel was back behind the bench and took on the role of General Manager as well.
     On December 31, 1963, the Red Wings would ring in the new year with a game against their arch-rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs were the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, having routed the Wings in five games the previous season.
     This season was toward the end of the fabled "Original Six" era in the NHL, as the league fielded only a half-dozen teams from 1942-43 to 1966-67. As a result, most NHL rosters were pretty strong. The Red Wings were no different, as they had eight future Hall of Famers on their roster. They are Terry Sawchuck, Marcel Pronovost, Bill Gadsby, Norm Ullman, Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Sid Abel. The Leafs countered with their own Hall of Fame lineup: Johnny Bower, Red Kelly, Tim Horton, George Armstrong, Ron Stewart, Dave Keon, Bob Pulford, Dick Duff, Bob Baun, Allen Stanley, Frank Mahovolich and coach Punch Imlach. Defenseman Carl Brewer, btw, was inducted into the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003. The Leafs would win that night's game, 5-4, in front of 14,284 fans.
     The Red Wings had a so-so season that year, going a mediocre 30-29-11, good enough for fourth, 14 points behind league-best Montreal. They qualified for the last playoff spot that year, finishing 17 points ahead of fifth place New York. The Wings were also fourth in goals-scored, denting the twine 191 times. Gordie Howe led the way with 26 goals and 73 points. Three more players scored over 20 goals that season.
     On defense, Detroit finished fourth overall as well, allowing 204 goals that year. They used five different goaltenders that year, but the main two were Sawchuk and Roger Crozier. Sawchuk was in net for 53 games, going 25-20-7 with a 2.64 GAA and 5 shutouts. Crozier went 5-6-4 with a 3.40 GAA and 2 shutouts of his own. Hank Bassen, Pat Rupp and Harrison Gray each made it into one game.
     The Red Wings drew the Chicago Blackhawks in Round One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Chicago finished just one point behind Montreal in the standings that year, and featured stars like Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Glenn Hall. In a back-and-forth series, the Red Wings overcame a 3-2 deficit to down the Hawks in seven games to advance to the finals. Again, they would face the Leafs for the Stanley Cup, but this time, the series would go the limit. The Red Wings took a 3-2 series lead back to Detroit, but lost a heartbreaking Game Six, 4-3, in overtime. Toronto would win their third Cup in a row at Maple Leaf Gardens two nights later. This would be the final time the Leafs and Red Wings would meet in the Stanley Cup Finals, and last playoff matchup between the two rivals until 1986-87.
     I believe I bought this program at Gibraltar Trade Center in Mount Clemens several years ago. It's in very nice shape, not tears or major creases. The program is 28 pages long, mostly with black-and-white pictures. There are some color ads. There are a few articles from around the league, including one about Jacques Plante's struggles in the Rangers' net and the end of defenseman Doug Harvey's great career. Plenty of ads for cars (it is the Motor City, after all), including the '64 Chevy Corvair, '64 Ford Falcon and the Buick Riviera. Other local ads include Stu Evans Lincoln Mercury, Peters Weiners (a hot dog company!), Vernors (still a Detroit company then) and Krun-Chee Potato Chips. There's also an ad for a "Stanley Cup NHL Hockey" table-top game.

References:
National Hockey League Statistics: 1963-64 (from hockeydb.com)

Cleveland Barons (AHL, 1946-47)

1946-47 Regular Season--Barons vs. Indianapolis Capitals
     The Cleveland Barons were a long-time member of the American Hockey League, the second-highest level of pro hockey in North America. They existed from 1937-73 and played their home games at Cleveland Arena, a 9953-seat arena.
     In 1946-47, the Barons were coached by former New York Rangers star forward Frederick "Bun" Cook, who would coach the team from 1943-56. His Barons would win the AHL Western Division crown by one point, edging out second place Buffalo. Cleveland's 38-18-8 record and 84 points would tie the Hershey Bears for first overall that season, with Cleveland winning the regular season with two more victories. This program is from a November 30, 1946, game against the Indianapolis Capitals, who were coached by future Red Wings coach Tommy Ivan. Cook's Cleveland bunch won this game, 7-3, to improve their record to 13-4-0.
     Cook's Barons would score the third-most goals in the AHL that season, with 272. Bob Carse led the team in scoring, with 27 goals and 88 points. Johnny Holota scored the most goals, lighting the lamp 52 times. Five other players scored at least 20 goals.
     Cleveland was fourth-best in the goals-against department, allowing 215 pucks to cross the goal line that season. The Barons employed two different goaltenders. Roger Bessette, who played 24 games that season, had a familiar partner in the Barons crease that season. Johnny Bower was in his third year of pro hockey by this season. Bower would play 40 games for the Barons that year, and would continue to tend
goal for the Barons through the 1950s. Bower would finally make it to the NHL by the 1952-53 season. He wouldn't stick in the NHL until 1958-59 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
     In the playoffs, the Barons would, strangely enough, face the East Division champion Hershey Bears in Round One. Despite finishing so close in the standings, the Bears obliterated the Barons in four straight games. Cleveland managed only 3 goals in the series, and were shut out twice. Hershey would earn a second-round bye, then win the Calder Cup championship in seven games over the Pittsburgh Hornets, erasing a 3-1 series deficit in the process.
     This program is in surprisingly good shape for it's age. There are three strips of tape along the binding, but I'm not seeing any tears or water damage. All the ads are in black and white, and quite a few of them are full-page. Local advertisements include the Hotel Mayflower ("Home of the Famed Terrace Room"), Harry Mamolen's Restaurant and Mexican Cocktail Bar, Regal Beer ("Cleveland's Prince of Beers") and Steve Gresch's Nickel Plate Grill. There are also team pictures of the 1946-47 Barons, the 1946-47 Cleveland Rebels basketball team and the 1946-47 Cleveland Browns (of the All-America Football Conference!). Note the flags on the cover of the program. This was before Canada became it's own country, so the British Union Jack is displayed with the United States flag.

Aftermath: The Barons would make headlines in the early 1950s by issuing an open challenge to the  Stanley Cup champions, then applied to join the NHL. They were turned down both times. The Barons would win nine Calder Cups in their existence, the last coming in 1963-64. The team would be forced out of Cleveland in 1973, with the arrival of the WHA's Cleveland Crusaders. In January, 1973, the Barons would relocate to, of all places, Jacksonville, Florida. Attendance slumped for the Barons after their first game in their new home, and the franchise folded after the season. Two other franchises used the "Cleveland Barons" moniker after the AHL team: The NHL's California Seals from 1976-78 and the AHL's Kentucky Thoroughblades from 2001-06. Both teams struggled to draw fans and left shortly afterward. Cleveland is currently home to the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters.


Resources:
American Hockey League Statistics: 1946-47 (from hockeydb.com)
    
      

Monday, April 6, 2015

Flint Spirits (IHL, 1988-89)

1988-89 Regular Season: Opponent Unknown
     After such a great season in 1987-88, the Spirits saw many changes on and off the ice. Head Coach/GM Rick Dudley was hired by the Buffalo Sabres and was replaced by top defenseman Don Waddell. Star forward John Cullen also jumped to "The Show", signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Spirits were affiliated with Buffalo, Detroit, Los Angeles and Toronto.
     1988-89 was a huge disappointment, as the Spirits crashed to the league cellar, with a pathetic 22-54-6. With only 50 points on the year, Flint was 35 points behind fourth place Kalamazoo and a mind-numbing 71 behind Huber Trophy winner Muskegon.
     Waddell's first team had trouble scoring goals, bringing up the rear in the IHL with just 287. New arrival Michel Mongeau, a former Saginaw General, scored 41 goals and 117 points to lead the team. Yves Heroux was second-best with 43 goals and 85 points. The only other Spirits player with over 30 goals was Mike Hoffman. New assistant coach Peter Horachek returned to the ice after a one-year retirement, but scored just 10 goals and 32 points.
     Flint was slightly better on defense, allowing 428 goals on the year, second only to the expansion Indianapolis Ice. Waddell used six goaltenders that year. Both goaltenders from the previous year's finals run, Gary Kruzich and Ray LeBlanc, did return that year, but struggled to put up decent numbers behind a porous defense. Kruzich went 9-17-1 with a 4.84 GAA and one shutout. LeBlanc would be traded partway into the season to Saginaw for young forward Lonnie Loach. Maple Leafs prospect Dean Anderson had a brutal 1-12-0 record in 16 games, though that lone win was a shutout. Mark Reimer, Scott Brower and Kenton Rein were the other netminders that year.
     Obviously, there would be no playoff run in 1988-89, as the Spirits were one of two teams eliminated from postseason play. Don Waddell would remain on as General Manager, and the team would become the primary farm team of the New York Rangers in 1989-90, the franchise's final season in Flint.
     There are 64 pages in this program, again all black-and-white. Plenty of advertisements too, including the Raincheck Lounge, PASS Sports and Beavers IGA. Then-mayor Matthew Collier left a note welcoming fans to the game and wishing the team luck. His letter also included a picture of him playing hockey! There are also pictures of Spirits players John Cullen and Dan Woodley receiving awards from IHL Commissioner Bud Poile, an article about last season's accomplishments and an interview with current coach Don Waddell. I think this is about the time I started going to hockey games. Didn't want to go back then (I even faked being sick!), but I was only seven.

Sources:
International Hockey League Statistics: 1988-89 (from hockeydb.com)
1988-89 Flint Spirits Game Program

Flint Spirits (IHL, 1987-88)

1987-88 Regular Season: Spirits vs. Milwaukee Admirals
     The Flint Spirits were in their third year of operation by 1987-88. Rick Dudley was back as Coach/GM, and the team was now a secondary affiliate of Buffalo, Detroit, Philadelphia and Vancouver.
     After a 26-win turnaround the following season, the Spirits had their greatest season in their five-year history in 1987-88. They broke or tied 59 team records that year, as they went 42-31-9 that year. While only finishing fourth in a very strong East Division, they would have clinched the West with that record. The team's 42 wins were also a franchise record. The Spirits' 93 points were just four points behind third place Saginaw, but a distant 33 behind league best Muskegon.
     Rick Dudley's team had no problem putting the puck in the net, scoring 396 goals, second-highest in the league. Future NHLer John Cullen led the charge, scoring 48 goals and 157 points. Cullen would share Rookie of the Year honors with Saginaw's Ed Belfour. Darren Lowe was the team's 50-goal scorer, lighting the lamp 53 times and 117 points. Mario Chitaroni nearly joined him, scoring 49 goals to go along with 96 points. Three other players scored at least 20. Defenseman Don Waddell had a spectacular final season of play, scoring 17 goals and 75 points, being named IHL All-Star.
     On defense, the Spirits were just as good, surrendering just 289 goals, second only to Muskegon. While the team did use seven different goaltenders, the main two used were Gary Kruzich and Ray LeBlanc. LeBlanc was the #1 netminder, going 27-19-8 with a 4.39 GAA and one shutout. Kruzich went 14-5-1 with a 4.15 GAA. LeBlanc drew the nod for 16 of the team's 18 postseason games.
     For the second straight season, the Flint Spirits qualified for the Turner Cup Playoffs. They drew the powerful Muskegon Lumberjacks, three-time Turner Cup Finalist. Flint pulled off the upset, knocking off the Lumberjacks in six games, including a 9-0 blowout in Game 6 at the IMA Sports Arena. They would then face the Saginaw Hawks in the East Division Finals. Despite two games going to overtime, the Hawks would be swept aside in four straight, as the Spirits would go on to the Turner Cup Finals.
     In the Finals, Flint would face a formidable opponent: the defending Turner Cup champion Salt Lake Golden Eagles. The Spirits took the first two games at the IMA, but the Golden Eagles would sweep the next four games to retake the Cup in six games, winning it all on IMA ice in Game 6.
     This is a 56-page program, mostly all black-and-white, but there are a couple color photos. There are game photos from the previous season, a bio on Rick Dudley and a preview of the "New Look IHL". Local ads include Buick, WNEM TV 5, Bob Perani's Pizza Arena and Halo Burger. That night was Gordie Howe Night, and the insert includes a picture of Mr. Hockey in his Hartford Whalers uniform.

Sources:
International Hockey League Statistics: 1987-88 (from hockeydb.com)
1987-88 Flint Spirits Souvenir Program
1988-89 Flint Spirits Souvenir Program

Flint Spirits (IHL, 1985-86)

1985-86 Regular Season: Spirits vs. Kalamazoo Wings
     The Flint Spirits were an expansion franchise that joined the IHL late in the summer of 1985. Flint's previous team, the Generals, left for Saginaw in July after failing to come to terms on a lease for the IMA Sports Arena. The Spirits replaced them on August 6, 1985, a mere eight weeks before training camp!
     The Spirits were originally owned by Laraine and Carl Lamb. Former Red Wings great Ted Lindsay helped get the franchise off the ground as consultant, and suggested the Lambs hire Doug McKay as Coach/GM. Due to the late start for the franchise, the Spirits operated as an independent club (no NHL affiliates).
     Doug McKay had success in the IHL before, leading the Kalamazoo Wings to two-straight Turner Cup Finals berths, winning it all in 1980. However, he would have no such success in Flint. His Spirits slammed head-first into the basement of the IHL, with a horrific 16-60-6 record. Their anemic 38 points were 20 points behind second-worst Toledo, 74 behind league-best Fort Wayne.
     Understandably, McKay couldn't build a winner on such short notice and with no NHL parent clubs. He had very little to work with, and his Spirits brought up the rear in both offense and defense. Flint scored just 270 goals, 23 behind second-worst Toledo. As bad as their offense was, the Spirits did have two forty-goal scorers on the roster. Jim Egerton led the team on offense, scoring 46 goals and 102 points. He also topped the team in penalty minutes, spending 226 minutes in the sin bin. Future Saginaw Wheel super-pest John Vecchiarelli was next with 40 goals and 92 points. There was a dropoff after that, as only Carmine Vani (traded partway through the season to Milwaukee) scored 20 goals that year.
     The Spirits were even worse on defense, allowing a league-high 495 goals, 74 more than (surprise!) second-worst Toledo. The team used five different goaltenders that season. Dave Parro and Michel Valliere took the brunt of the abuse, playing in over 40 games each. Parro went 10-34-0 with a 5.58 GAA. Dan Olsen, David Moffitt and Terry Kleisinger (a late-season pickup from Toledo) played in about 3-4 games each.
     Again, seeing that the team was formed in such short notice, the results were predictable. Even a winning
1985-86 Flint Spirits team photo
coach like Doug McKay couldn't make this team competitive. Flint fans, irritated about the loss of the Generals and not impressed with the new club, stayed away in droves. To show how bad it was, the Flint Journal reported that two WWF house shows brought in more money than the entire 1985-86 Spirits season! The Lambs would eventually be bought out by a group led by Donald Chambers and former Generals star Bob Perani. Given a proper offseason to work with, the new owners cleaned house, bringing in former Sabre (and General) Rick Dudley as Coach/GM.
     This is the first Spirits program from that season I have seen online, and I grabbed it quickly. This is from early in their first season, only 12 games in. The original owner stapled a business card to the front cover. It's a pretty nice program. It's 60 pages, almost all black-and-white. There's a team photo of the 1969-70 Generals, asking fans to see how many names they could come up with. Then-Flint Mayor James Sharp welcomed the new franchise to town. Local ads include Buick, WSMH FOX 66 and WCRZ Cars 108 FM. One of the most interesting pages is the one that has all the nicknames submitted in the "Name-the-Team" contest. The names went from Acorns to Ziplomats. Plenty of auto-related names, and a few old IHL nicknames as well (Flags, Gems). There are even a few that would be used for future teams in Flint--Warriors and Bulldogs.

Sources:
International Hockey League Statistics: 1985-86 (from hockeydb.com)
Flint Spirits 1985-86 Game Program

Saginaw Spirit (OHL, 2014-15)

2014-15 OHL Playoffs: Spirit vs. Soo Greyhounds
     2014-15 was the twelfth season of the Saginaw Spirit, making that franchise the longest-lasting in the history of Saginaw hockey. Since their arrival in the summer of 2002, the Spirit have been a huge success off the ice, drawing 1.77 million fans to the Dow Event Center in twelve years. On the ice, the team has had mixed results. While competitive for the most part, the Spirit have won just one division title, and have yet to advance past the second round. On the other hand, the Spirit have sent numerous players to the NHL, including current Chicago Blackhawk Brandon Saad.
     The Spirit are owned by local car dealer Richard Garber, who has owned the team in it's entire existence. The head coach is Greg Gilbert, a former NHL forward who is the only player to win the Stanley Cup with both New York teams. Gilbert arrived in 2013 during the season, and led a struggling Spirit squad to the playoffs. He won the OHL Coach of the Year award that year, and is a finalist this season.
     2014-15 was a rough season for the Spirit. Saginaw battled with the Plymouth Whalers all season for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. At the trading deadline, Saginaw GM Jim Paliatito traded away all the team's overagers (including Red Wings prospect Jake Patterson), leaving the Spirit with the youngest roster in the OHL. Only star forward Dylan Sadowy was an NHL draft choice. It was another attempt at building for the future for the franchise.
     Saginaw scored the seventh-fewest goals in 2014-15, with only 212. Sadowy was the team's leading scorer with 42 goals and 74 points. Mitchell Stephens had the second most points, with 48, on the strength of 22 goals. Tye Felhaber was the only other Spirit player to score 20 goals.
     The Spirit also struggled on defense, allowing 271 goals, third-worst in the league. They used four different goaltenders this past year. Jake Patterson was the #1 netminder for most of the year, going 12-11-1 with a 3.48 GAA and 1 shutout, before being traded to Kitchener at midseason. Evan Cormier took over the reigns for the remainder of the season, going 9-10-0 with a 3.48 GAA and 1 shutout, showing a lot of promise on such a young team. Other netminders include David Ovsjannikov and Nikita Serebryakov. Cormier drew the nod for the postseason.
     Despite the trades, the Spirit were able to clinch the final playoff berth in the last week of the season. Unfortunately, as the #8 seed, they drew the powerful Sault Ste. Marie Greyounds in Round One. The Greyhounds won the regular season title, going 54-12-2, a whopping 49 points ahead of Saginaw. With a roster full of NHL draft choices, everyone expected the Greyhounds to crush the Spirit in four games. Those predictions were accurate, as Sault Ste. Marie swept the Spirit aside with ease.
     This program is from Game 3 of that series, the only Spirit game I made it to this year, and the first one in two years. It's a great program as always, with 75 full-color pages full of ads, articles and bios on each player. There are letters from Dick Garber and Jim Paliatito. Local ads include Meijer, Garber Buick and Nissan, the Great Lakes Loons and Saginaw Valley State University. There's an article on former Spirit forward Brandon Saad. Very nice program, and only cost $3. It was only sold at the souvenir stand that night, but stat booklets were given away for free.

Sources:
Ontario Hockey League Statistics: 2014-15 (from ontariohockeyleague.com)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL, 1998-99)

1998-99 Regular Season: Leafs vs. Chicago Blackhawks
     1998-99 was a memorable season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maple Leaf Gardens, the Leafs iconic home for the past 68 years, was closing midway through the year, replaced by the Air Canada Center.
     Since it's grand opening in 1931, the Gardens had been home to not only the Leafs, but also pro basketball, pro wrestling, rock concerts, boxing, you name it. It saw the highs of 11 Stanley Cup championships to the nadir of the Harold Ballard era of the 1970s and 1980s. The building had become not just a legendary sports arena, but a Canadian cultural shrine.
     The Maple Leafs were coming off two straight disappointing seasons by the time 1998-99 rolled around. The team had slumped after making two straight conference finals in the early 1990s, and missed the playoffs altogether in 1997 and 1998. 
     Major changes were made for the upcoming year. Montreal Canadiens goaltending legend Ken Dryden was named President/GM. Dryden, in turn, hired former Vancouver Coach Pat Quinn as Leafs head coach. Dryden then made a big splash in free agency by signing star goaltender Curtis Joseph to shore up the "last line of defense". And to top it off, the Leafs switched from the Western Conference to the East, joining up with arch-rival Montreal.
     1998-99 was a huge turnaround for the Maple Leafs. Now in the Northeast Division, Toronto soared to a 45-30-7 record, good enough for second place. Their 97 points were just six behind division leader Ottawa. Mats Sundin again led the team in offense, scoring 31 goals and 83 points. He was joined in the 30-goal club by Sergei Berezin, who scored a career-best 37 goals. Four others scored at least 20, and as a team, the Leafs scored 268 goals, a huge jump from the paltry 194 they scored the previous season.
     Toronto had a decent defense that year with Curtis Joseph playing the lions-share of games. CuJo was in net for 67 games, going 35-24-7 with a 2.56 GAA and 3 shutouts. Three other goaltenders were used that year, with Glenn Healy getting into the second-most games (9).
     This program, of course, is from the last NHL game at Maple Leaf Gardens, played on February 13, 1999. The Leafs played the Chicago Blackhawks, who were also the opponent in the first NHL game at the Gardens. Chicago had a horrible season, losing 41 games and finishing only 7 points ahead of the expansion Nashville Predators. It was the beginning of the long decline of the franchise during the "Dollar Bill" Wirtz era. That night, however, the Blackhawks looked like world-beaters, embarrassing the Leafs on national TV, 6-2. Longtime NHL enforcer Bob Probert made history, scoring the last NHL goal in Maple Leaf Gardens history. I watched that game, and thought the Leafs looked nervous and distracted. Any other night, and they probably would have handled Chicago.
     The post-game ceremony was excellent. Led by Hockey Night in Canada host Ron MacLean, the Leafs brought back former players from each decade, even the 1930s. Even Doug Gilmour, by then a Blackhawk, was part of the festivities. A highlight of his famous "behind-the-net spinorama" goal in 1993 against St. Louis drew loud cheers, and a few laughs when the camera showed current Leaf Curtis Joseph wincing. There was also a "C'MON TEEDER!" cheer for Ted Kennedy, who was ill and couldn't attend. In the end, 1930s Leaf Red Horner presented current Leaf Mats Sundin with a Gardens flag, telling him to "take this flag to our new home, but never forget us". 
     The Leafs made the playoffs for the first time since 1995-96, and drew the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round. It was a low-scoring affair, as Flyers goalie John Vanbiesbrouck shut out the Leafs in Game 1 and kept them scoreless through the first two periods of Game 2. Toronto was able to pull off a dramatic win in Game 2, and eventually eliminated the Flyers in six games. In Round Two, the Leafs drew the Pittsburgh Penguins and again needed six games (two of their wins in overtime) to knock off the Penguins. In their first conference final sine 1994, Toronto ran into Dominik Hasek and the Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo knocked off Toronto in five games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to Dallas in six.
     Bought this program on eBay awhile ago. Always wanted a copy, since it was a historic night. It has 178 pages, loaded with pictures of current and former Leafs and all the major events that happened at Maple Leaf Gardens. It's incredible to think how many hockey legends, bands and pop culture icons have performed there. Rock icons like The Beatles, Elvis Presley and Queen performed at the Gardens. Muhammad Ali fought there. Even Queen Elizabeth appeared at a Maple Leafs game. And, of course, great hockey stars such as Syl Apps, Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard, Frank Mahovolich, Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky have played there.
     Since closing in 1999, Maple Leaf Gardens sat empty for years before being bought by Loblaws and converted into a grocery store. There's still hockey played there, too, as an arena was added near the ceiling. I'm glad they found a use for that building. Would have hated to see it become an eyesore like Tiger Stadium did.

Sources:
National Hockey League Statistics: 1998-99 (from hockeydb.com)
"The Final Game: February 13, 1999, Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Chicago Blackhawks", 1998-99 Toronto Maple Leafs Game Program
  

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Muskegon Lumberjacks (IHL, 1989-90)

1989-90 Regular Season--Lumberjacks vs. Flint Spirits
     The Muskegon Lumberjacks were coming off their second Turner Cup championship of the 1980s. Ever since Larry Gordon purchased the franchise in 1984, the Lumberjacks were at or near the top of the league standings, winning 50+ games every year but on in that stretch. The Lumberjacks were the primary affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
     1989-90 was no different, as Blair MacDonald's team once again won the Huber Trophy as regular season champions. Their 55-21-6 record was four points behind second place Kalamazoo and just two ahead of West Division champ Indianapolis.
     Muskegon was tied for the league lead in goal-scoring, pumping in 389 goals (tied with Kalamazoo). Dave Michayluk led the team with 51 goals and 102 points. Two players had 40+ goals (Scott Gruhl and Perry Ganchar) and three others had at least 25.
     The Lumberjacks allowed the second-fewest goals in the league that season, as only 304 pucks crossed the goal line. Blair MacDonald used three different goaltenders: Bruce Racine, Chris Clifford and Frank Pietrangelo. Racine was the #1 goalie on the team, going 29-15-4 with a 3.75 GAA in 49 games. Racine and Clifford alternated starts in the playoffs.
     Muskegon made quick work of the Fort Wayne Komets, sweeping them aside in four straight. In the second round, the Lumberjacks were taken to the limit by their archrivals, the Kalamazoo Wings, before advancing to their second straight Turner Cup Finals. Once there, they ran into a red-hot Indianapolis Ice. The Ice were the primary affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, and just missed the top record in the IHL. In the Finals, the Ice swept aside the defending champs in four straight to win their only Turner Cup title.
     Another great-looking program, 104 pages loaded with advertisements and articles. There is also a roster sheet featuring up-to-date stats for the Lumberjacks and that night's opponent, the Flint Spirits. The program also has that night's ticket stub and a season schedule glued to a blank lineup sheet in the program. According to the writing on the program, the Lumberjacks blew out the Spirits, 10-3, which clinched the Huber Trophy. Local Ads include Viking Foods and Shur-Fine Groceries (Very colorful, very 1980s Viking Foods logo), Maxis' Restaurant and Nite Spot and Betten Chevrolet-Geo.

Sources:
International Hockey League Standings: 1989-90 (from wikipedia.org)
Muskegon Lumberjacks Statistics: 1989-90 (from hockeydb.com)
    

Saginaw Gears (IHL, 1981-82)

1981-82 Regular Season--Gears vs. Toledo Goaldiggers
     The Saginaw Gears were in their 10th season of IHL hockey in 1981-82. They were coming off the franchise's second Turner Cup championship thanks to a talent-loaded roster. However, they also had to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection due to declining attendance and revenue. Longtime owner Wren Blair was out, and Ken MacDonald (of MacDonald Broadcasting) took over the team. The Gears were still a secondary affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings.
     There was major roster turnover, as most of the players from the 1980-81 squad were promoted to New Haven of the AHL. The Gears also had a new coach, as Don Perry was promoted as well. To replace Perry, the Gears simply hired star forward Marcel Comeau as player/coach.
     If there was anyone that could be considered "Mr. Everything" for the Saginaw Gears, it's Marcel Comeau. He was one of the original Gears players, he played his entire pro career in Saginaw (except for a few AHL playoff games in Maine in 1982-83), was captain, won the IHL MVP in 1981, and served as player/coach/GM in the final two years of the franchise. Marcel was also the only player in Saginaw hockey history to win both Turner Cup titles. His number 17 was also briefly retired by the UHL's Saginaw Lumber Kings in 1998.
     The IHL was struggling mightily in the early 1980s, due to the recession that hit the Midwest especially hard. After the Port Huron Flags folded in 1981, the league was down to seven teams and dropped it's divisional format. Comeau's Gears got off to a slow start, and were in last place by February 7th (the night this program is from). They rebounded late in the season to finish in fifth place with a mediocre 36-38-8, just one point behind fourth place Fort Wayne, but 31 behind league-best Toledo.
     Saginaw had no problem scoring goals that year, as they lit the red light 401 times, second-best in the IHL. Gordie Brooks led the team in points, on the strength of 49 goals and 113 points. JP Dubois was the team's 50-goal scorer, with 57 on the year. Steve Salvucci just missed 50 goals, scoring 49 in only 67 games. Three other players had over 30 goals, and two others had over 25. Even player/coach Comeau managed to score 33 goals and 101 points in 67 games!
Player/Coach/GM Marcel Comeau

     It was on defense that the Gears struggled mightily. Saginaw allowed 402 goals--only the woeful Muskegon Mohawks allowed more that year. Four different goalies were between the pipes that year, with Mike Blake and Paul Pageau played the majority of the games. Both split the duties during the playoffs.
     Saginaw qualified for the Turner Cup Playoffs for the ninth straight season, as only last-place Muskegon was the only team left out in the cold. The Gears opened the playoffs against the Milwaukee Admirals. The Admirals finished in second place that year, 11 points ahead of Saginaw, but the Gears won the best-of-seven series in five games. Round Two was a strange format: a round robin between the Gears, Toledo Goaldiggers and Fort Wayne Komets. Each team would play four games, and the two teams with the best records would advance to the Turner Cup Finals. Saginaw would go 3-1 in the round robin, the best mark of the three teams, and faced the Goaldiggers in the Finals.
     The Gears and Goaldiggers had faced each other two previous times in the Finals, and both series went the limit, each team winning the Turner Cup. The rubber match was not as close. The Gears hung tough against the powerful Goaldiggers, and two games went to overtime. But, in the end, Saginaw relinquished the Turner Cup in five games, losing 6-1 in Game Five in Toledo.
     This is one of the smallest Gears programs I own, and the second one I found online. It's only 30 pages, all black-and-white. Page 19 has a team photo of the 1980-81 Champs. There are a few orange pages with an article about the Toledo Goaldiggers (that night's opponent), an IHL directory, and a profile on goalie Mike Blake. The insert has up-to-date stats, with a bingo card on the back. Local advertisements include Peet Packing Company (Farmer Peet's Hot Dogs), the Casa del Rey Mexican Restaurant and WSAM 1400 AM (The radio home of the Gears).

Aftermath: 1981-82 was the last playoff appearance for the Saginaw Gears. The team slumped to last place in 1982-83 with a 29-44-9 record, 11 points back of third place Flint. Attendance continued to slump, and the franchise folded after the season. Hockey would not return to Saginaw until 1985, when the Flint Generals moved to town for the 1985-86 season.

Sources:
International Hockey League Statistics: 1981-82 (from hockeydb.com)
1981-82 Saginaw Gears Souvenir Program

Friday, March 27, 2015

White Whale: Another Program I Want

Forgot to add one more program I'm looking for

1978-79 Saginaw Gears: This is the only season that I don't have. I have a yearbook from that year and trading cards, but haven't seen a program online yet.

No luck yet on the other white whales. There are a couple Grand Rapids Owls programs, but they're way out of my price range. I have several Fort Wayne Komets programs I have listed on eBay, so if you're interested, take a look.

Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL, 2010-11)

2010-11 Regular Season--Wings vs. Gwinnett Gladiators
      The Kalamazoo Wings are members of the ECHL. This version of the K-Wings actually began in 1999-2000 as the Madison Kodiaks in the United Hockey League. After the IHL's Kalamazoo Wings franchise suspended operations, the Kodiaks were quickly purchased and relocated to Wings Stadium. They assumed the K-Wings nickname and brought back the original color scheme upon their arrival. After nine years in the UHL, the K-Wings switched to the ECHL, where they've been ever since.
     In 2010-11, the K-Wings were the secondary affiliate of the New York Islanders. Nick Bootland, a former K-Wing himself, was back behind the bench. Paul Pickard, former commissioner of the IHL, was team president.
     Kalamazoo had a fine season in 2010-11, capturing the North Division crown. Their 40-24-2-6 record was seven points better than second place Wheeling, but nine points behind league-best Alaska. They had the third best offense that year, scoring 255 goals. The K-Wings were led by longtime minor league veteran Kory Karlander. Karlander had 34 goals to go with 80 points. Two other players had over 30 goals, Trent Daavettila and Andrew Fournier. Patrick Taylor and Justin Asselin were the other players who scored at least 20 goals.
    The K-Wings were okay on defense, allowing 225 goals, 11th-best in the league (pretty defensive-minded league!). Ryan Nie was the #1 netminder in Kalamazoo that year, going 30-16-5 with a 2.80 GAA and 2 shutouts. His main backup was Riley Gill, who went 10-7-3 with a 3.05 GAA and two shutouts. Garrett Zemlak was the other netminder used that year.
     Kalamazoo got on a hot streak in the Kelly Cup Playoffs that year. After disposing of the Florida Everblades in four games (best-of-five) in Round One, they swept aside Reading in four straight in Round 2. In the semifinals, Kalamazoo faced the Wheeling Nailers (coached by ex-Icehawks coach Stan Drulia). After falling behind 2-1 in the series, the K-Wings ripped off three straight wins to advance to the Kelly Cup Finals for the first time ever. Their luck ran out, as they faced an even hotter team, the Alaska Aces. Alaska took both games in Anchorage, and except for a Game 3 loss in Kalamazoo, zipped by the K-Wings in five games to win the Kelly Cup title.    
     The program is small, about 35 pages and compact. On the other hand, it's all in color. Plenty of advertisements and articles about the K-Wings and the ECHL. Advertisements include Celebration Cinemas, Auto Owners Insurance and WWMT TV3, a local CBS affiliate. The roster booklet is about four pages and includes stats and pictures of the K-Wings roster. Both came with a roster sheet with up-to-date statistics and standings.
The roster booklet from the same game
     Both the program above and the roster booklet are from the game against the Gwinnett Gladiators on January 29, 2011. This was the first K-Wings game I ever went to. I lost both the Port Huron Icehawks and Flint Generals, and wasn't interested in going to Michigan Warriors games, so I decided to go on a few "road trips" to places I haven't been before, like Kalamazoo and Fort Wayne.
     As you can see on the booklet, that night's game was the annual "Golden Ice Night", in which the ice was dyed yellow and proceeds went to the Ronald McDonald House Children's Charities. (PS: Spare me your yellow snow jokes, lol). Pretty fun night of hockey, I really enjoyed Wings Stadium. It's been kept up nicely, but also has that "old school" charm to it. Not a bad seat in the house either.
     Later on, I remember saying that we might go to another K-Wings game if they had a long playoff run. Sure enough, they reached the Finals. When the series was guaranteed to go to at least five games, I bought tickets for that game. While I wanted Kalamazoo to win, I got to see Alaska win the Kelly Cup. First time I saw a team win a championship live, and I've been going to hockey games since 1988. Pretty cool, and I took a lot of pictures. Here's a video of the Kelly Cup presentation:

 

Sources: 
ECHL Statistics: 2010-11 (from hockeydb.com)
Kalamazoo Wings Game Night Program, 2010-11 Season