Monday, July 3, 2017

Saginaw Gears (IHL, 1978-79)

This was the only season of Saginaw Gears hockey I did not have in my collection. Cross one off the "white elephant" list....

1978-79 Regular Season
Gears vs. Fort Wayne Komets
     The Saginaw Gears began their sixth season of play in the International Hockey League (IHL). Led by owner Wren Blair and Head Coach/General Manager Don Perry, the Gears had become one of the more stable franchises on and off the ice in the league. The Gears had been a Turner Cup contender for most of their existence, reaching the Finals three times, winning it all in 1976-77. The team was very popular in Mid-Michigan, as the Gears were frequently near the top of the IHL in average attendance. 1978-79 was no different, as an average of about 4,458 fans per game packed Wendler Arena that year.

Stat Sheet from Program
   This program is from a Gears-Komets game on Saturday, February 10, 1979. If you go by what is written on the cover, Saginaw won, 5-4. This game was a battle between two of the top three teams in the IHL at that point. Saginaw was holding on to first place in the North Division, with a solid 25-18-9 record, four points better than second-place Port Huron. Fort Wayne was in second place in the South, at 32-15-4, eight points behind league-best Grand Rapids.
     The design of the cover seems to be typical for that season, only the color was changed. The picture on the front is from an autograph signing at the McDonald's across the street from the arena. Gears players Doug Keans, Mark Suzor, Dave Westner, Stu Irving and Dennis Desrosiers were on hand that day with lots of photos to sign for the fans.
     As for the rest of the program, it's 55 pages long, in black-and-white on glossy paper. One page is dedicated to analyzing broadcaster Al Blade's signature, stating that Blade "has a stubborn streak, is intuitive, broadminded and selective of friends". Tuffy Mufflers has their usual "Find the Puck" contest, with the winner receiving tickets to the next Gears home game. Local advertisements include the Banana Tree Tavern, Garber Pontiac/Cadillac, Peet Packing Company and the Saginaw Steering Gear factory.
Team Photo Album
1978-79 Season
     Here's a team photo album from the 1978-79 season. I got this a couple of years ago, along with an album from the previous season. All the Gears players and staff members have black-and-white pictures in here. I didn't scan any of the pictures, but let's say the outfits everyone was wearing were very 1970s. Lots of huge-collared shirts and a few western outfits too. Ads in this album include Osterman Jewelers, WSGW Radio 790, Sun Furnace Company and the Saginaw Gears Booster Club.
     After this game, the Gears would stumble through a 9-17-1 record the rest of the way, dropping to third in the North with a 35-35-10 record. Their 80 points were 15 behind the first-place Port Huron Flags, and just five ahead of fourth-place Flint. Six different Gears had at least 30 goals that year, led by center Marcel Comeau, with 45 goals and 110 points. Defenseman Mark Toffolo led not only the Gears, but the entire IHL, in penalty minutes with an incredible 557, easily a career-high. Saginaw went through four goaltenders that season. Two future NHL netminders, Doug Keans and Bob Froese, led the way in games played. Froese would be traded to Milwaukee during the season, and Tim Thomlinson would take over as Keans's backup. Bob Parent would also tend net for the Gears, but would be dealt to Port Huron after just two games.
     The Gears faced the second-place Kalamazoo Wings in Round One of the Turner Cup Playoffs. Saginaw was quickly swept aside by the K-Wings, being outscored 21-10 in a four-game sweep. Kalamazoo then crushed Flint in four straight in Round Two, then won their first-ever Turner Cup in seven games over Grand Rapids.

References:
Saginaw Gears 1978-79 Program, 10 February 1979
International Hockey League Statistics: 1978-79 (from hockeydb.com)
Associated Press. "Saginaw Hockey Franchise Could Fold". Argus-Press, 9 June 1981.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Colorado Flames (CHL, 1982-83)

1982-83 Regular Season
Flames vs. Wichita Wind
     The Colorado Flames were an expansion franchise in the Central Hockey League, a Triple-A minor league circuit based primarily in the middle of the United States. The Flames were the primary affiliate of the NHL's Calgary Flames, and, naturally, wore uniforms that were identical to their parent club. The Flames played at Denver's McNichols Sports Arena, a 16,384-seat arena. The Flames filled the void left by the NHL's Colorado Rockies, who relocated to East Rutherford, New Jersey, after the 1981-82 season to become the New Jersey Devils.
     The Colorado Flames were owned by Detroit native Douglas Spedding, who later owned the Denver Gold of the USFL. Calgary tapped 32-year old assistant coach Pierre Page as Head Coach/General Manager for Spedding's Flames.
     Year One of the Colorado Flames was a success. Colorado benefitted from the Flames deep farm system, and finished in second place in the CHL, with a 41-36-3 record. A mere two points was all that separated the Flames from the fourth-place Salt Lake Golden Eagles, who had 83. Colorado was 17 points behind first place Indianapolis.
     The Flames were a tale of two teams in 1982-83. The offense was superb, pumping in 322 goals, second-most in the CHL. The Flames were led by veteran right winger Dan Bolduc, who scored 27 goals and 72 points. Fellow right winger topped the team in goals with 33. Four other Flames had at least 20 on the year.
     And then there was the defense, or lack thereof. Colorado struggled to keep the puck out of the net, coughing up 322 goals, second only to the hapless Wichita Wind. Marc D'Amour made 42 appearances in net for the Flames, going 16-21-2 with a 3.87 GAA and one shutout. Tim Bernhardt had a much better record, a solid 19-11-1 mark with a 3.86 GAA in 34 games. Jeff Lastiwka and Jim Ralph also saw action between the Colorado pipes. Bernhardt got the nod for the majority of the postseason.
     The Flames broke two ugly streaks for Denver hockey fans: the city's first winning season in hockey since 1974-75 (the CHL's Denver Spurs) and it's first playoff appearance since 1977-78 (the NHL's Colorado Rockies). Colorado drew the third place Birmingham South Stars in Round One of the playoffs. The Stars finished just one point behind the Flames, with a nearly identical 41-37-2 record. Not surprisingly, the series was a close one. Outside of a 4-1 Flames win in Game One, the other games were decided by two goals or less. Colorado jumped out to a 2-0 series lead, only to see the Stars win four straight to advance to the Adams Cup Finals. Once there, they would be knocked off by Indianapolis in seven games (best-of-nine).
     This was the first Colorado Flames program I saw on eBay, and I grabbed it for about $5. It's 46 pages long, almost all black-and-white, though there are a few color ads. The usual stuff is there: articles about the owner, the coach and the parent club are all included. Coach Page also has a "Coach's Corner" section where he discusses his philosophy on coaching and hockey. Each Flames player has their own bio in the last third of the program, and Page gave his thoughts on each. This program is from a game between the Flames and the Wichita Wind. No idea what date it was from, though. Local advertisements include Coors Beer, Super Foods, Schapell Jewelers, KIMN AM 95 and The Denver Post.

Aftermath: The Colorado Flames would build on their initial success in 1983-84. Future Calgary Flames' stars such as goaltender Mike Vernon and defenseman Al MacInnis started their pro careers that year in Denver. The Flames ran away with first place in the CHL, with an impressive 48-25-3 mark, 22 points ahead of second-place Tulsa. In the playoffs, the Flames would be upset by the fourth place Indianapolis Checkers in six games. The Checkers, in turn, would be blown away by the homeless Oilers in four straight. 
     While the Flames were successful, the CHL was falling apart. The league was down to five teams when Birmingham folded after '82-83. Tulsa's owners declared bankruptcy and abandoned the team to the league and the New York Rangers, who operated it as a travel team for the last several months. Soaring travel costs and declining overall attendance finally forced the CHL to fold after the 1983-84 season. Indianapolis and Salt Lake were both admitted to the IHL for the 1984-85 season. Despite rumors of also joining that league, Spedding decided to fold the Flames, likely due to heavy financial losses brought on by the USFL's Denver Gold. The IHL would eventually make it to Denver with the arrival of the Colorado Rangers in 1987, and the Denver Grizzlies in 1994. The NHL finally returned in 1995 when the Quebec Nordiques relocated to the Mile High City, then promptly won the Stanley Cup in their first year. The revived CHL also had a team in town, the short-lived Denver Cutthroats, who played from 2012-14 before folding.

References:
Central Hockey League Statistics: 1982-83 (from hockeydb.com)
Denver Hockey History Site: Colorado Flames 82/83 (Note: Site is loaded with pop-ups)
1982-84 Colorado Flames on funwhileitlasted.net

California Golden Seals (NHL, 1975-76)

1975-76 Regular Season
Golden Seals vs. Atlanta Flames
     Just got this program a couple of weeks ago. Wasn't sure if it was a Flames program or a Golden Seals program. Either way was fine, since I didn't have one from either team.

     The California Golden Seals were in their ninth year of existence in the National Hockey League. They were one of the "Class of '67" expansion franchises added to the NHL in 1967. The team played their home games at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, a 12,021-seat arena they shared with the NBA's Golden State Warriors.
     During their short existence in the NHL, the Seals were the definition of instability. The franchise changed ownership several times, including a brief stint being operated by the NHL. The team changed names multiple times as well, even partway through their inaugural season, switching from "Oakland Seals" to "California Seals" to try and draw fans from outside Oakland. The team's "Golden" era (in nickname only) occurred after Oakland A's owner Charlie O. Finley purchased the team. Attendance was a problem throughout the franchise's existence, never coming close to 10,000 per game. One of the reasons was that many San Francisco hockey fans were unwilling to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to a game. The other reason likely was the performance of the team: In it's entire existence, the Golden Seals never finished above .500 and made the playoffs just twice.
     By 1975-76, the Seals had yet another new ownership group, led by San Francisco businessman Melvin Swig. General Manager Bill McCreary named Jack Evans, former head coach of the CHL's Salt Lake Golden Eagles, as the new head coach. In the previous two seasons, the Seals won only 32 games, including an ugly 19-48-13 record in 1974-75. Evans' first year with the club was an improvement, but not by much. California finished with a 27-42-11 record to retain last place in the Adams. Their 65 points were just four away from a franchise record, but 18 behind the third place Maple Leafs.
     The Golden Seals, while not total pushovers that year, were victims of a bizarre division alignment: they were joined by Toronto, Buffalo and Boston in the Adams. The Seals were stuck with easily the longest commutes for road games, which put them at a big disadvantage with their divisional rivals.
     California had the sixth-fewest goals in 1975-76, lighting the red light 250 times.  The Golden Seals were led in goals and points by Al MacAdam, who had 32 goals and 63 points. Rookie Dennis Maruk, who would go on to a long career in the NHL, joined MacAdam in the 30-goal club, with an even 30. Three other players on that team scored at least 20 goals: Wayne Merrick, Bob Murdoch and Gary Sabourin. Another player of note was Charlie Simmer. Simmer was only in his second season in the NHL, but would eventually become part of the famed "Triple Crown Line" in Los Angeles a few years later, scoring 50 goals twice. In 1975-76, Simmer had just 1 goal in 21 games, spending the rest of the year in Salt Lake City.
     The Seals were about middle-of-the-pack on defense in '75-76. They allowed 278 goals that year, an improvement of 38 from '74-75. California actually had solid goaltending for most of their existence. Former Flint General Gilles Meloche, regarded as the classic "good goalie on a bad team", was in his fifth season with the team. Gilles played in 41 games, and while his 12-23-6 record wasn't anything special, he had a respectable 3.44 GAA and one shutout that year. He was joined in net by former Port Huron Flag Gary Simmons. Sporting his popular black mask with a cobra on the front, Simmons had a 15-19-5 record in 40 appearances, with a 3.33 GAA and 2 shutouts.
     Once again, no playoffs for the Golden Seals in 1975-76, the sixth straight year the team was on the outside looking in on the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Montreal would dethrone the Philadelphia Flyers in four straight to capture the Cup.
     This program is typical of the "GOAL" magazines of the time. It's a Seals program on the outside with an NHL magazine sandwiched in the middle. Combine the two sections, and the program is about 88 pages thick. Most of the GOAL pages are in color, while the Seals pages are mostly black-and-white. The usual articles are all there, including ones about the owner and the front office. Full-page articles about Ralph Klassen (3rd overall pick in 1975) and Rick Hampton are in the front of the program. The GOAL section features an interview with Flyers star Bobby Clarke, a recap of the 1974-75 New York Islanders, and linesman John D'Amico.
     GOAL magazines tended to have a player from the visiting team on the front, hence the Flames' Curt Bennett. This game was played on November 30, 1975. Simmons was in net for the Seals, but the Flames won, 4-1, to hand California it's third loss in four games, dropping them to 9-16-2. Just 4,429 fans bothered to show up that night. Local ads include the Oakland Hilton Inn, Bridges Pontiac, Dreyer's Ice Cream and The Round Table pizzeria. This copy is autographed by three different players: Gilles Meloche, Dennis Maruk and Dave Gardner.

Aftermath: Despite the last-place finish and league-worst attendance average, there were reasons for optimism in the Bay Area. The Seals had begun piling up young talent, such as Dennis Maruk, Charlie Simmer and Ralph Klassen, to go with a solid 1-2 punch in net. The team, after two straight horrific seasons, was actually in contention for a playoff berth for part of the season. Melvin Swig gave the Seals quality ownership, something that had been lacking for years. And while the attendance average was worst in the league, the 6,944 fans per game was a franchise record. Despite it's losing ways, the Seals had developed a die-hard, vocal core of fans during their stay in California.
     However, it all depended on the construction of a new arena in San Francisco, where the majority of the team's fans were located. When plans for a new rink were scuttled by civic leaders, Swig was convinced by partners George and Gordon Gund to relocate the Golden Seals to Cleveland, Ohio, for the 1976-77 season. The team was renamed "Cleveland Barons", in honor of the popular AHL franchise that existed until 1973. The Barons played in the state-of-the-art Richfield Coliseum, an 18,544-seat stadium with luxury boxes. However, it was located in the middle of nowhere off a rural two-lane road. Thanks to poor location and no time for advertising, the Barons flopped on and off the ice in their two-year history. They needed a cash loan from the NHL and NHLPA to avoid going out of business partway through year one. 
     Swig got out after 1977, leaving the Gunds to operate the team. Despite an increase in funds to try and improve the team, the Barons attendance average dipped even lower in 1977-78, averaging just 5,676 per game. Seeing the writing on the wall, the NHL allowed the Gunds to merge the Barons with another floundering team, the Minnesota North Stars. The Stars would continue in the league, but take over the Barons' spot in the Adams Division. The Golden Seals/Barons franchise was the first NHL team to cease operations since the 1942 Brooklyn Americans, and the last in the four North American major leagues. The Bay Area returned to the NHL in 1991 with the arrival of the San Jose Sharks.


References:
National Hockey League Statistics: 1975-76 (from hockeydb.com)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Saginaw Spirit (OHL, 2016-17)

2016-17 Regular Season
Spirit vs. Kitchener Rangers
     Hard to believe, this is the fifteenth season of Saginaw Spirit hockey. The Spirit are the longest-lasting team to ever play in Saginaw, with the next-oldest team being the IHL's Gears (1972-83). The Spirit's principal owner is still Dick Garber, but he has been joined by investors Brandon Bordeaux, Detroit Red Wings and Tigers executive Jimmy Devellano and former Wings goalie Chris Osgood. The Spirt have yet another new coach behind the bench: former ECHL coach Spencer Carbery.
     The Spirit got off to a horrendous start to the year, winning just 3 games out of 15, but have rebounded to get back into the playoff chase. This program was from the Saturday, November 26th game against the Kitchener Rangers. The Rangers won, 4-1, in front of 2,812 at Dow Event Center.
     This is a compact program, similar in dimensions to the Prowlers program. However, it's 87 pages thick, all on glossy paper and all in color. Most of the Spirit players and their billet families were photographed and included on several pages. Each team in the West Division is given their own full-page bio, and there's a Q&A section with Coach Carbery. Red Wings prospect Filip Hronek has a feature article as well. Local advertisements include Saginaw Valley State University, the Great Lakes Loons, the Temple Theater and United Way of Saginaw County.

Port Huron Prowlers (FHL, 2016-17)

2016-17 Regular Season
Prowlers vs. Cornwall Nationals
     The Prowlers entered their second season of play as the defending Commissioner's Cup Champions, the first pro hockey title in Port Huron since 1972. Head Coach Trevor Karasiewicz returned behind the bench for 2016-17, along with a few returning players from last year's championship team. Off the ice, attendance has gone up slightly, as the team averages about 982 per game, tops in the FHL (which doesn't say much).
     Per usual with the Federal Hockey League, there was offseason instability. The league lost the Dayton Demolition and Brewster Bulldogs, but saw the return of the Watertown Wolves after a one-season absence. The FHL also welcomed the St. Clair Shores Fighting Saints, Cornwall Nationals and Carolina Thunderbirds (who will start next season).
     This program is from the Friday, January 6th game between the Prowlers and Cornwall Nationals. In front of 1,036 fans, the Prowlers overcame a brutal start (2 Nats goals on two shots by the first 3:00) to win 5-3. Decent game, a little sloppy at times, but enjoyable. My tickets for the game, by the way, were free. Another fan was handing out spare tickets and Rob and I grabbed two of them.
     This game was also Karasiewicz's last game as Prowlers coach. In a bizarre move, owner Barry Soskin fired Karasiewicz on Saturday, offering no reason other than "it was time". While the Prowlers did get off to a slow start this year, they did just win a championship.
     Anyway, about the program. It's very similar to last year's edition. It's a compact program, with 22 pages, all in color and on glossy paper. The cover is nearly identical to last year's, expect for the championship logo. Two team photos of last year's championship team (postgame and formal) are included. Local advertisements include Tio Gordo's Cocina, Fuel Woodfire Grill, Blue Water Sports Bar and Grill and Aspen Dental.

Flint Firebirds (OHL, 2016-17)

2016-17 Regular Season
Firebirds vs. Saginaw Spirit
Hockey season's back, so here are the latest programs added to my massive collection.

     This program is from the Friday, December 30th game between the Flint Firebirds and the Saginaw Spirit. The Firebirds won, 3-2, in a hard-hitting, exciting game in front of 3,989 fans. Flint's Mathieu Henderson scored a beauty of a backhand goal in OT with just over 8 seconds left to give the Firebirds the win.
     After last year's off-ice nonsense, the OHL took control of the day-to-day operations of the Firebirds. They hired longtime OHL coach and general manager George Burnett as General Manager. Burnett's experience in junior hockey gave the Firebirds immediate credibility in the junior hockey world. He then hired North Bay assistant coach (and former Red Wings prospect) Ryan Oulahan as head coach, who in turn hired former Flyers prospect Eric Wellwood as his assistant. Despite their youth, Oulahan and Wellwood brought years of junior coaching experience to Flint.
     No need to go over all the stats, since the season is still going on. As of that game, Flint held the eighth and final playoff berth in the conference, just 4 points ahead of Saginaw.
     Now, for the program itself. It's a great-looking program, 64 pages, all in color and all on glossy paper. There are several articles about the team, including Firebirds that were drafted this past season, Burnett's hiring and trades that have been made. There's also an article about Flint's victory over Saginaw in the first "I-75 Divide" Series. Some of the articles were simply reprints from last year, which didn't make much sense. Local advertisements include Perani's Hockey World, Powers Catholic High School, Flint Farmers' Market and Sage Link Credit Union.