Saturday, December 30, 2017

Flint Generals yearbook (IHL, 1975-76)

     Here's the other Flint Generals yearbook I recently purchased. This one is from the 1975-76 season, the seventh season in franchise history. Similar format to the other yearbook, as each of the previous six Generals teams and their statistics are given. Each player from the 1975-76 campaign has their own black-and-white photo with a short blurb about them. Stats for every player that wore the Generals jersey are listed in the back of the yearbook.
     Flint Journal sportswriter Len Hoyes introduced the season and wrote about the sale of the team to a local group led by Dr. Eugene Chardoul. Chardoul, by the way, would own the franchise for not only the remainder of it's stay in Flint, but also it's final four seasons in Saginaw. Attendance apparently was as strong as ever, as Hoyes noted that the Generals averaged about 98% capacity in the 4,021-seat IMA Sports Arena. He also pointed out that the team would play host to their "One Millionth Fan" in just their seventh season of play.  Starting this season, the Generals would not only be affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks, but also the Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Flames
     The 1975-76 Flint Generals would slip to third place in the IHL's Northern Division, with a 34-30-14 record, one point behind second-place Port Huron and one point ahead of fourth-place Muskegon. The Generals would be blown away in Round One of the Turner Cup Playoffs by the Port Huron Flags in four straight. The Flags would reach the Turner Cup Finals, only to lose to the Dayton Gems in four games.

Here are a few notable Flint Generals players from the 1975-76 season:

Rick St. Croix shared netminding duties with veteran Merlin Jenner. St. Croix played in 42 games that year, and returned as the Generals' starting netminder in 1976-77. His strong play in 1977 earned him a call-up to the AHL's Maine Mariners, the Flyers top farm team, for 1977-78. After playing ten games with Philadelphia in the next three seasons, Ric stuck with the Flyers from 1980-83. His best NHL season came in 1980-81, in which he played 27 games and carried a sparkling 2.49 GAA with two shutouts. St. Croix was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1982-83 season. After bouncing back and forth between the Leafs and their AHL affiliate in St. Catherines, he finished his career in 1985-86 with the IHL's Fort Wayne Komets.



     Detroit native Bob Goodenow joined the Generals in 1974 after two seasons with Harvard University, where he earned his degree in Government and Economics. Goodenow had a fine rookie season for Flint, scoring 18 goals and 39 points in 59 games, along with 66 penalty minutes. Injuries caused his performance to slip in 1975-76, scoring only 7 goals and 26 points in 49 games. 
     While his stint with the Generals was brief, Bob made his mark in hockey after he hung up the blades. Goodenow returned to school at the University of Detroit, graduating in 1979. He replaced disgraced NHLPA head Alan Eagleson in 1992 and kept that job until he resigned in 2005. Goodenow was in charge of the NHLPA during three lockouts, in 1992, 1995 and 2005. After resigning from the NHLPA, he helped form what would become the Kontinental Hockey League.

     Kirk Bowman played one playoff game with the 1972-73 Generals, then joined the EHL's Greensboro Generals the following season. He returned to Flint in 1974-75 and scored 29 goals and 108 points, earning a call-up to the CHL's Dallas Black Hawks in time for the postseason. Back in Flint for the 1975-76 campaign, Kirk had a career season, scoring 44 goals and 107 points to lead the Generals in scoring. After the Generals were swept in the playoffs, Bowman returned south to Dallas, helping the Hawks reach the CHL Finals. After 11 games in Flint, Kirk Bowman reached "The Show", going straight to the Chicago Blackhawks. He bounced back and forth between the Blackhawks and their minor league teams in Dallas and New Brunswick before finishing his career in Europe.




References:

1975-76 Flint Generals Yearbook

Statistics for players from hockeydb.com

Flint Generals yearbook (IHL, 1973-74)


     I recently bought two yearbooks from the Flint Generals of the IHL. This one is from the 1973-74 season. It's a 40-page book, all in black-and-white, and on glossy paper. Each player for that season has a full page photo and a short bio. The statistics and a team photo for each Generals season are included. Stats for every player that wore the "blue and gold" are listed in the back of the yearbook. Flint Journal sportswriter Len Hoyes added an article previewing the remainder of the 1973-74 campaign. 
     One thing that Hoyes noted in his article was about attendance:
"With all of their problems, the Generals were still attracting fans at a rate of 3,950 per game. Attendance was down slightly, but Flint's percentage rate of almost 100 percent remained the envy of minor league hockey." (Hoyes, 1974)
     The original Generals were a popular team for most of their existence, and attendance only bottomed out when the region's economy tanked in the late 1970s-early 1980s. But 3,950 per game in a 4,021-seat arena is incredible! And apparently those numbers were lower than in previous years! The UHL Generals, at their peak popularity in the mid-1990s, averaged a little over 3,700 per game. IHL attendance figures are hard to find, so this was a very interesting stat.

     The Generals stumbled to a 30-43-3 record, just two points ahead of last-place Port Huron. They won their first-ever series, downing the Toledo Hornets in 3 games (best of three) before bowing out to the eventual champion Des Moines Capitols in 5 games (best of seven) in the semifinals.

Here are a few notable players from the 1973-74 Flint Generals season:


     Bob Perani was acquired from the Muskegon Mohawks in a midseason trade. He stabilized the Flint net and became the first star player in Generals history, playing in 34 games, posting four shutouts and a sparkling 2.86 GAA on a last place expansion team. Perani would finish his career with the Generals, retiring after the 1973-74 season. He would open Perani's Pizza Arena in 1972 and Perani's Hockey World in 1976, a hockey equipment business that would grow into several franchises in the United States and Canada. He would later become part owner of the IHL's Flint Spirits in 1985 and the UHL's Flint Generals in 2007. He was also one of two original Generals to have his number retired by the UHL franchise. The IMA Sports Arena, the home of the Generals, would eventually be renamed "Perani's Hockey World and Event Center" (later Perani Arena) in his honor. Bob Perani passed away at age 69 in 2012 while flying from Detroit to Tokyo.


     Doug Manchak joined the Generals for the 1972-73 and immediately made his presence felt, with 64 points in only 63 games. A consistent goal-scorer in his first three seasons in the IHL, Manchak hit career highs in 1974-75, leading the league in goal scoring with 61 goals. Injuries derailed his promising career, and he was traded to Toledo during the 1975-76 season. A popular player in his day, Manchak's #16 was retired by the UHL's Flint Generals in 1998, along with teammate Bob Perani's #1. Manchak sadly passed away in July of 1998.







   
     Wayne Zuk arrived in Flint after a midseason trade with the Toledo Blades. A consistent goal-scorer throughout his IHL career, Zuk's best season came in 1972-73, his first as the Generals' captain, as he scored 51 goals to go with 112 points. He followed that performance up with a 37-goal, 83-point campaign in 1973-74, a season that saw Zuk play in two games with the WHA's Edmonton Oilers, the highest level of hockey he played in his career. Zuk would be traded to the Saginaw Gears during the 1975-76 season. In 1976-77, the final season of his career, Wayne scored 24 goals and 63 points and helped lead the Gears to their first Turner Cup Championship.






     Frank Beaton had one of the greatest nicknames for an enforcer: Seldom. He arrived in Flint in 1973 as an undrafted left winger after two seasons in the Southern Ontario Junior Hockey League. He played two seasons in the "blue and gold" and established himself as one of the tougher players in the IHL. In his rookie season of 1973-74, Beaton had 9 goals, 23 points and 190 penalty minutes in 66 games. He followed that up with a 4-goal, 21-point and 175-PIM year in 1974-75. Frank went on to have a long career in hockey, spent mostly in the minors with a few seasons in the WHA. He made it to the NHL for two games with the New York Rangers in 1978-79, followed by a 23-game stint in 1980-81. He retired after the 1982-83 season with the Birmingham South Stars of the Central Hockey League.

References:

Hoyes, Len. Article about the 1973-74 Flint Generals Season (no title). Flint Generals 1973-74 Yearbook.

1973-74 Flint Generals Yearbook

Port Huron Flags (IHL, 1967-68)

1967-68 Regular Season
Flags vs. Dayton Gems
     The 1967-68 season was the sixth season in the International Hockey League (IHL) for the Port Huron Flags. The Flags were owned by John Wismer, who also owned radio stations WHLS and WSAQ. Jerry Toppazzini, who spent twelve years in the NHL, mostly with the Boston Bruins, was player/coach that year, taking over for Lloyd Maxfield, who was now Administrative Assistant to the President. The Flags played their home games at the 3,400-seat McMorran Arena.
     Maxfield's Flags just missed the playoffs in 1967, finishing three points behind fourth-place Des Moines. Toppazzini's Flags fared much worse in 1968, finishing in sixth place (out of seven) with a 25-36-11 record. Their 61 points were twelve points behind the fourth-place Fort Wayne Komets and 37 behind the league-leading Muskegon Mohawks.
     The Flags owned the third worst offense (269 goals scored) and the worst defense (343 allowed) in the IHL in 1967-68. Randy Prior led the team in scoring, with 56 goals and 90 points. Marty Reynolds (38), Ken Gribbons (28) and Frank Golembrosky (22) were the other Flags with over 20 goals on the season. Coach Toppazzini had 37 points in 37 games (11 goals).
     Ray Reeson played in 54 games for Port Huron in his first full professional season. He would go on to play several seasons in the CHL and AHL. His backup was Norm Jacques, an original Flags player. Jacques would play in 27 games in his final pro season (though he did suit up for one game as an emergency fill-in for the Flags in 1980-81). Gaye Cooley made it into one game, and became the main netminder for the team in 1968-69.
     This program is from a Saturday, March 16th game against the Dayton Gems. The
player on the front of the program is defenseman Guy James. James, another member of the first Flags team, had become and Iron Man, having not missed a hockey game in nearly ten years at that time. That night's game was the 700th consecutive game for James. Page 9 of this program includes a nice article about his accomplishment. Another notable Flags player was center Bob McCammon. McCammon would later become head coach of the Wings/Flags himself in the mid-1970s and eventually coach the Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks in the 1980s.
     This is a 19-page program, all in black-and-white. Both road and home schedules are included, as well as a team photo from last season's team. Local advertisements include Sperry's (then a department store, now a movie theater), Port Huron Paper Company, Sport Shop Toys, Little Pigs Barbecue, and Port Huron TV Cable Company.
     No playoffs for the second straight season for the Flags, and Coach Toppazzini would be shown the door after only one season. The Muskegon Mohawks would cruise through the Turner Cup Playoffs, downing both the Columbus Checkers and Dayton Gems to win the Turner Cup.

Aftermath: The Flags would replace Toppazzini with Sarnia native Ted Garvin. Garvin would guide the Flags (later Wings) to their greatest era. The team would reach the Turner Cup Finals four times in the next five years, winning it all in 1970-71 and 1971-72. The franchise would remain in Port Huron until ceasing operations after the 1980-81 season due to financial losses reaching over $250,000 in the final year.


References:
International Hockey League Statistics: 1967-68 (from hockeydb.com)

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Flint Firebirds (OHL, 2017-18)

2017-18 Regular Season
Firebirds vs. Erie Otters
     2017-18 is the third year of Flint Firebirds hockey in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The Firebirds are coming off a "bounce-back" season in 2016-17, in which they went 32-28-3-5 and made the playoffs after a disastrous inaugural season. Head Coach Ryan Oulahan returned behind the bench, but GM George Burnett was replaced by Barclay Branch (the son of OHL commissioner David Branch).
     This program is from the game I went to between the Firebirds and Erie Otters. The Firebirds were in the middle of a long winless streak, and lost to Erie, 5-2. Probably one of the more uninspired OHL games I have ever went to. Rumors were flying that "suspended" owner Rolf Nilsen and his assistants were causing trouble behind the scenes again, leading to the players being disinterested on the ice.
     The Firebirds have had nice programs in each of their three seasons, and this is no different. It's 64 pages, all in color and on glossy paper. The front office and Coach Oulahan each have their own biographies. There is an article about billet families (the families that have OHL players live with them), and one about players that have been drafted by NHL teams. Local advertisements include Black Rock Bar & Grill, Perani's Hockey World, Sagelink Credit Union and Powers Catholic High School.
   

Dayton Gems (CHL, 2011-12)

2011-12 Regular Season--Opponent Unknown
     The Dayton Gems were members of the Central Hockey League (CHL). They joined the CHL in 2010 when that league merged with the International Hockey League. The Gems played their home games at Hara Arena, a 5,500-seat arena in nearby Trotwood.
      Brian Gratz returned as head coach for the Gems that season. However, 2011-12 was not as good as last year, as the Gems dropped to 23-29-7-7. Their 60 points were good enough for sixth place in the CHL's Turner Division, 22 points behind Quad City for the last playoff berth. Attendance increased slightly from 2010-11, as the Gems drew 2,228 per game, the lowest average in the CHL.
     The Gems struggled both on offense and defense that season, scoring only 185 while allowing 228, both near the bottom of the league. Damian Surma led the team in scoring, with 31 goals and 65 points. Former Port Huron Icehawk Larry Sterling led the team in goaltending, with a 12-14-5 record, a 2.92 GAA and one shutout. The Gems used four other netminders that season.
     The Gems were miles out of the playoff picture in 2011-12. Fellow IHL alum Fort Wayne won the Miron Cup championship by beating the Wichita Thunder.
     Decent program for the Gems that season. It's 33 pages, all in color and on glossy paper. The team had a promotion at every game, from retro jerseys to Angry Birds plushes. Each player had a color picture with their stats. Local advertisements include Super Subby's, Cassano's Pizza and Buckminn's D&D Harley-Davidson.

Aftermath: The Gems suspended operations after this season, due to low attendance. They were replaced by the Dayton Demonz of the Federal Hockey League (FHL). Despite winning the FHL championship in their first season, attendance dropped significantly, leading to the Demonz folding after three years. They were replaced by the the FHL's Dayton Demolition, who promptly folded after the 2015-16 season. Hara Arena, the long time home of minor-pro hockey and concerts in the Dayton area, had by then was falling apart and losing millions and closed shortly after the Demolition folded. 

References:
Central Hockey League Statistics: 2011-12 (from hockeydb.com)

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 whale" 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.