Monday, September 5, 2016

Saginaw Gears (IHL, 1972-73)

1972-73 Regular Season
Opening Night
Gears vs. Des Moines Capitols
     Professional hockey came to Mid-Michigan in 1972 with the arrival of the Saginaw Gears of the International Hockey League. The Gears were an expansion franchise awarded to North Stars executive Wren Blair, and played their home games at the new Wendler Arena, part of the Saginaw Civic Center complex. The team was named after the Saginaw Steering Gear plant, located in Buena Vista on M46, and was a nod to the city's auto industry ties. Blair's choice as head coach was Don Perry, formerly of the Eastern Hockey League. Thanks to Blair's ties to the Minnesota North Stars, the Gears would be a secondary affiliate of that NHL team.
     The Gears would take the ice in turqoise and tangerine jerseys featuring the "toothed G" logo you see on the program. Their first regular season game was in Port Huron. Despite a hat trick by forward Juri Kudrasovs, Saginaw fell, 5-4, to the defending champion Port Huron Wings.
     The Gears went through the usual struggles for an expansion team, and brought up the rear in the North Division, with a 30-41-3. Their modest 63 points would have tied the Des Moines Capitols for the final playoff spot in the South Division, but were 14 behind third place Toledo and 29 behind the first place Flint Generals.
     Saginaw didn't seem to have a problem putting the puck in the net that season. The Gears popped in 305 goals, fourth-most in the IHL. Leading the way was right winger Dennis Desrosiers, the team's first-ever signing. All "Rosie" did in Year One was set the city record for most goals in a season, with an even 60. His record would last until 1996-97, when Mark Green of the UHL Lumber Kings shattered it. Desrosiers' 97 points also led the way. He also had a certified mean streak, racking up 186 penalty minutes, and quickly became a fan favorite in the Tri-Cities. Kudrasovs, Dennis Romanesky and 1972 US Olympian Stu Irving were the other Gears with 30+ goals. Three others had at least 20 goals, including North Stars prospect Marcel Comeau, who would remain in Saginaw for the entire existence of the Gears franchise.
     Defense was a bit of an issue in 1973, as Saginaw allowed 304 goals, third-most in
1972-73 Regular Season
Gears vs. Columbus Golden Seals
the IHL. The Gears used four different netminders that year. Cal Hammond was in net for 40 games, with a 4.03 GAA. Ray Belanger, Ray Gibbs and Brad Hollister were used as backups. Belanger played the second-most games, with 19 in the Gears' net.
     No playoffs for the Gears in their inaugural season. In fact, the only time the team missed the postseason would be the first and final years of the franchise. However, Blair was able to build the core of the franchise's future success, with players such as Desrosiers, Irving and Comeau. Coach Perry would remain behind the bench through 1981, a level of stability not often seen in the minor-pro circuit. Plus, the community slowly warmed up to the team, as attendance steadily increased throughout the year. The Gears would eventually become arguably the most beloved pro sports team the region has ever had.
     Of these two programs, the first one I found online was the Gears-Capitols program. This was from opening night in 1972, the first regular season home game in franchise history. Since there wasn't any home games to take pictures of, most of the action photos are from training camp at Wendler Arena. Page 10 has the seating layout for the arena, with ticket prices listed from $2.25 to $4.25. Owner Wren Blair has his own bio on page 4, and an article declaring Saginaw "the winner" for getting into pro hockey is on page 32. Several articles throughout the program are used to educate the crowd, including what offside is, the types of penalties, even where hockey players come from. In the Seals program, Gordie Mefford, the head of minor officials for the Gears, has an article by Len Boers. Mefford would stick around not only through the Gears' entire 11-year run, but also the Generals/Hawks franchise in the mid-late 1980s. Featured on the Seals program is Mike Hornby, who scored the first goal in franchise history.
     As with all programs, these two are loaded with advertisements. The local ads include Garber Pontiac Cadillac, Larry's Lounge, First State Bank of Saginaw, WEYI TV 25 (then a CBS affiliate), the Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn and Pioneer Sugar. Since Since Saginaw was still a major part of the auto industry, car ads were featured here too. Those include the 1973 Chevrolet Chevelle Laguna, a full-page ad featuring General Motors' adjustable wheel, and the 1973 VW Beetle.

Note: For a great, in-depth history of the Saginaw Gears, check out, created by Wes Oleszewski, the son of the Gears' Zamboni driver. 

IHL Statistics: 1972-73 (from
1972-73 Saginaw Gears Souvenir Programs

Baltimore Clippers (AHL, 1972-73)

1972-73 Regular Season
Clippers vs. Virginia Red Wings
     The Baltimore Clippers were coming off their first-ever trip to the AHL's Calder Cup Finals in 1972. Terry Reardon was back behind the bench in '72-73. The Clippers were no longer affiliated with the California Golden Seals, and appeared to operate as an independent that season.
     After two straight years at the top of the Western Division, the Clippers crashed to the basement in 1973. Their record of 17-48-11 and miniscule 45 points were the worst in the AHL that year. Baltimore was 10 points behind the fifth place Cleveland/Jacksonville Barons and 68 behind the league-leading Cincinnati Swords. Oddly enough, attendance remained steady that year, as 2,910 fans per game went to the Civic Center, the same as last season.
     So, what happened that season in Baltimore? The lack of an NHL affiliate, even from one as awful as the Golden Seals, didn't help matters. Neither did a lack of goal-scoring, as the Clippers had all the firepower of a toy pop gun, scoring just 210 goals. Center Bob Rivard led the team on offense, with 25 goals and 75 points. Right winger Marc Dufour led the team in goals with an even 30 in 67 games. Only three other Clippers managed at least 20 goals that season. As of this program, Dufour was leading the pack with 17 goals and 37 points in 32 games, with Rivard (9 goals, 36 points) and left winger Brian Murphy (12, 19) right behind.
     Baltimore had the fourth-worst defense in the AHL, allowing 315 goals. Jim Shaw was back between the pipes after the playoff run in '72. Shaw played in 47 games, with a 3.64 GAA and two shutouts. Ken Lockett, previously from the Fort Wayne Komets and the University of Guelph, made it into 32 games, with a 4.57 GAA and no shutouts. Despite playing for a brutal Clippers team, both goaltenders would go on to bigger things in their careers. Lockett would make it all the way to the NHL, spending two seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. Shaw would make it to the WHA with the Toronto Toros.
     With the AHL's worst record, the Clippers were light years away from the postseason. The Cincinnati Swords would dethrone the Nova Scotia Voyageurs in the Finals.
     This program is similar to the previous year's edition. It's 40 pages thick, mostly all black-and-white. Again, the roster sheet is in color, as is the Coca-Cola ad on page 24. Head Coach Terry Reardon has a half-page bio on page 25, referring to him as "this city's Mr. Hockey". It noted that only seven players returned from the '72 Calder Cup finalist team, which likely didn't help matters in 1973. That night's opponent was the Virginia Red Wings. The Wings were coached by Doug Barkley, who apparently autographed the roster sheet in pencil. Again, no date for this game, but the Wings stats were as of December 27th. My guess is this game was played on December 30th, a 6-4 Wings win. It was the fourth-straight loss for the Clippers and dropped them to a miserable 5-21-7 record.
     Franchise records, including highest-scoring shutout (14-zip vs. Springfield in 1971!) are included on page 31. Each Clippers player has his own bio and picture on pages 2-8. Local advertisements include The Lord Nelson, Bud's Restaurant and Bar, WMAR TV-2, National Bohemian Beer ("Nat Boh"), Brooks Robinson Sporting Goods and Briggs All Meat Franks.

Aftermath: The Clippers would stick around until midway through the 1974-75 season. When the WHA's Michigan Stags relocated to Baltimore partway through that season, the Clippers franchise was terminated in order to free up the Civic Center ice. The newly renamed "Baltimore Blades" recycled the Clippers jerseys, with a Blades logo replacing the diagonal "CLIPPERS" wordmark. The Blades, already drowning in debt following their half-season in Detroit as the Stags, folded at the end of the 1975 season. The Clippers returned to the AHL in 1975-76, then switched to the Southern Hockey League for one year before folding with the rest of the SHL in 1977. Baltimore would be home to the AHL Skipjacks and AHL Bandits. After the Bandits left town in 1997, Baltimore has been without minor-pro hockey.

AHL Statistics: 1972-73 (from
1972-73 Baltimore Clippers Souvenir Program

Baltimore Clippers (AHL, 1971-72)

1971-72 Regular Season
Clippers vs. Hershey Bears
     Baltimore has had a long history in the American Hockey League. Prior to the Skipjacks and Bandits, Baltimore was home to the Clippers, who began play in 1962. Terry Reardon returned as Head Coach and General Manager. The Clippers played their home games at the Baltimore Civic Center, which held 11,329. For the 1971-72 season, the Clippers were the primary affiliate of the NHL's California Golden Seals.
     Reardon's Clippers successfully defended their Western Division crown in '71-72, but it wasn't easy. In a hotly contested division race, the Clippers finished with a 34-31-11 mark. Their 79 points tied with Hershey and was one point ahead of Cincinnati. The fourth place Cleveland Barons were just five back of Baltimore. Leading the way on offense for the Clippers was left winger Peter Laframboise, who what 37 goals and 81 points. Center Joe Szura had the most goals on the team, popping in 38. As a team, the Clippers scored 240 goals, third-fewest in the AHL.
     Team defense was much stronger that season. The Clippers allowed 249 goals, fourth-lowest in the AHL. Five different goaltenders were used in 1971-72, but Bob Whidden was the main netminder. Whidden played in 44 games with a 3.33 GAA and two shutouts. His career would go as high as the WHA, as Gerry Cheever's backup with the Cleveland Crusaders. As of this program, Whidden's backup in the Baltimore net was Jim Shaw, who was in goal for four games with a 4.25 GAA. Shaw played the majority of playoff games. A defenseman of note was veteran Kent Douglas. Douglas was the 1963 Calder Trophy winner as the NHL's top rookie while playing in Toronto and was part of the Leafs Stanley Cup win that year. Douglas bounced in and out of the NHL after that. In 1971-72, he scored 6 goals and 37 points.
     The Clippers opened the 1972 Calder Cup Playoffs against the fourth place Cleveland Barons. The series went to six games, but Baltimore advanced after a 4-1 win at Cleveland. Round Two's opponent was the Cincinnati Swords and, again, the series went to six before the Clippers advanced. In their first-ever Calder Cup Finals, Baltimore ran into the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, Montreal's top affiliate. Despite scoring only 8 goals, the Clippers were able to stretch the series to six games (even taking a 2-0 lead) before falling.
     I have two Clippers programs, and I believe this is the second one I got. While there is no date for the game, judging by the stats on the roster sheet, I'm guessing it's from the game on April 2, 1972. The program is 40 pages long, mostly black-and-white, but the roster sheet is in color. Pages 4-7 feature in-game pictures, one of which features future NHL executive Craig Patrick. A "History of Hockey" article is featured on page 13, while the ownership and front office of the Clippers are featured on pages 14 and 15. Each Clippers team picture through 1970-71 is included on pages 34-35.
     As usual, there are a ton of advertisements. The roster sheet is sponsored by National Bohemian Beer. This ad features the National beer bottle flanked by two cartoon characters: a pelican and a man with a banjo (if you know their names, let me know). Other advertisements include Watson's Garden Center, Frankford Garden Liquors, WFBR CBS Radio 13 and the Brass Rail.

AHL Statistics: 1971-72 (from
1971-72 Baltimore Clippers Souvenir Program

Fort Wayne Komets (IHL, 1969-70)

1969-70 Regular Season
Komets vs. Toledo Blades
     The Komets were in their 18th year of play in the International Hockey League, one of the oldest and most stable franchises in that circuit. Owned by a group headed by Colin Lister, the Komets were lead by Vice President/GM Ken Ullyot and Head Coach Moe Bartoli. The team played it's home games at Memorial Coliseum, which they still do to this day.
     Fort Wayne had a rough season in '69-70, finishing with a dismal 26-38-8 record. Their 60 points were just six ahead of the expansion Flint Generals for the final playoff spot in the North, and a whopping 40 behind league-best Muskegon. Veteran center Ray Brunel, in his only season with the team,  led the Komets in scoring, with 33 goals and 88 points. Brunel was joined in the 30-goal club by left winger Bob Baird and right winger Merv Dubchak. A player of note on the 1969-70 Komets was right winger Ron Ullyot. After a stint at Michigan, Ullyot played several seasons in Fort Wayne, including the 1972-73 Turner Cup championship team. After his playing days, Ullyot had a long coaching career, with stops in Port Huron, Fort Worth, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In 1969-70, Ullyot had 13 goals and 30 points in 43 games.  As a team, the Komets scored just 241 goals, better than only Flint.
1969-70 Regular Season
Komets vs. Columbus Checkers
     Fort Wayne was much better on defense that year. Though employing four different goaltenders that year, Bartoli relied on former Michigan Wolverine Jim Keough and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Paul Hoganson. Both netminders played in over 30 games that season. As a team, the Komets allowed 266 goals, the third-fewest in the IHL.
     The Komets were able to grab the final playoff berth in the North Division. Since Muskegon earned a first round bye, Fort Wayne's opponent would be the second-place Port Huron Flags. The Flags, coached by Ted Garvin, had a solid 37-28-7 record, and their 81 points were second-highest in the IHL. The series was a best-of-five format, and the Flags swept aside the Komets in three straight, outscoring them 14-8 in the process. Port Huron would then knock off the Des Moines Oak Leafs in five games (best-of-five) in the semifinals before falling to the Dayton Gems in the Turner Cup Finals in seven games.
1969-70 Regular Season
Komets vs. Toledo Blades
     The green program at the top of this post is the first one I got from this season. I purchased all of them online over the years. As you can see, the programs from the 1969-70 season have the same format, just a different color and different picture. The background image is the same, and each have virtually the same information inside. Each are 26 pages long, all in black-and-white. Pepsi-Cola is the sponsor for the roster sheets. 
     There are a few differences though. Each program has a different article written by Treasurer Colin Lister. These articles give information about the upcoming game, the injury status of players and upcoming events.      Other than Lister's article, most of the pages are the same in each program. The IHL's major trophies, including the Turner Cup, are pictured and written about in separate pages. The 1968-69 Komets team photo is included on Page 5. Other team photos include the 1969-70 Fort Wayne "Pepsi Komets" and the 1968-69 Fort Wayne "Midget Komets", who were coached by Lister and were the "National Runners-Up" that year. Each IHL team had a paragraph dedicated to them on various pages. The Komet home and road schedules are featured on page 8.
     Despite being only 26 pages long, these programs are loaded with advertisements.
19689-70 Regular Season
Komets vs. Port Huron Flags
Inside the back cover is an ad for a Maganavox "Total Automatic TV" set. This color set included automatic tint control and fine tuning, as well as an 82-channel remote control. If you were interested, this TV would set you back a bit, costing about $650. Adjusted for inflation, that would cost you just over $4,000 in today's world! 
     Other ads include Marhoefer's Happy Wieners (actual name), who also featured Sporkee Bacon and lunch meats. The Indiana Bus Company has a half-page ad which proclaims they were the "Official Komet Carriers the Past Nine Years". Former Komets in business included Len Thornson and  State Farm Insurance Agency as well as Hartley McLeod of Hughie's Mobile Home Sales. Ted and Tom's Restaurant, Meadow Gold and Bill Hefner's Chevrolet Plaza are included as well.

Aftermath: Bartoli retired as a player after the 1969-70 season. After one year in the college ranks, he returned to the IHL with the Columbus Golden Seals. He remained with the Seals (later the Owls) throughout their time in Columbus until their move to Dayton in 1977. Bartoli was replaced in Fort Wayne by Marc Boileau, who led the team to the 1973 Turner Cup. 

IHL Statistics: 1969-70 (from
1969-70 Fort Wayne Komets Program