Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rare: Lapeer Loggers (2010-11)

     After the Flint Generals folded, the single-A All-American Hockey League placed a team in nearby Lapeer for the 2010-11 season. The team was called Lapeer Loggers and would play their home games at the Polar Palace. Former General Lorne Knauft was hired as head coach.

2010-11 Regular Season--Loggers vs. Troy

     Expectations were high for the Loggers in their first season. The league was expecting not only Lapeer to get behind the team, but also Flint fans who weren't interested in the NAHL's Michigan Warriors. Loggers ownership even had a deal to bus Flint fans to Loggers games.
     The Loggers got off to a 10-5-1 start, but the crowds were just not big enough to maintain a pro hockey team at any level. The fanbase was simply split between the Loggers and Warriors, and both teams struggled at the gate. By December the team was already cancelling games and not paying rent. The franchise eventually folded after a New Year's Eve loss to Battle Creek. The team would be revived as the travelling "Michigan Moose" as the rest of the AAHL limped to a early finish.
     The AAHL was a total joke, both on and off the ice. The quality of hockey was a huge step back from the Generals, even in that team's darkest days. The teams were made up of castoffs from leagues like the IHL and players that had no chance at making it to a higher level. Off the ice, the league consisted of teams in small rinks and owned by people that simply didn't have the money to run any hockey team at any level. Small rinks, smaller crowds and owners that ran out of money quickly. Teams started dropping like flies by late-December, and the league finished it's season with a laughable "Finals Series" between Battle Creek (easily the strongest on and off the ice) and two teams made up of the leftovers of the folded clubs.
     I attended one Loggers game, an 8-2 loss to the Troy Bruins. It was ugly, pretty much over by the first intermission. Loggers defenseman (and ex-Icehawk) Derek Merlini attempted to goon it up in the third and was immediately kicked out. I would have gone to another game, but they started cancelling games before then. Not worth the risk of buying a ticket, IMO.
     With nearly three years in the books, the crowds clearly have not shown up for either Flint or Port Huron's NAHL teams. I've heard rumors that a Single-A league would immediately step in and place teams in those towns if the Warriors and Falcons folded. If that ever happens, I hope it's not another disaster like the AAHL. Single-A pro hockey, IMO, could work in those towns, but whoever steps in has to have the money to make it work. I have no interest in another All-American Hockey League trainwreck.

Rare: Albany Choppers (1990-91)

     Fort Wayne has had hockey continuously since 1952, but technically the city is on it's third franchise. The original franchise, which played from 1952-90, relocated to Albany, New York, for the 1990-91 season.

1990-91 Regular Season (Opponent Unknown)
     Hockey arrived to Albany for the 1990-91 season, when David Welker moved his Fort Wayne Komets to Albany. The team would be named "Albany Choppers" after the Price Chopper supermarket chain and would play their home games at the 15,000-seat Knickerbocker Arena. When asked why he chose Albany, Welker simply stated, "I didn't want to operate the team in Fort Wayne anymore...and I felt there was a tremendous amount of interest in hockey in the Capital District".
     Both the IHL and AHL were not pleased with this move. The AHL was not happy that a rival league had placed a team in it's own territory, especially close to an established franchise, the Adirondack Red Wings. Likely in an attempt to undercut the new Choppers, the AHL quickly approved the sale of a franchise to Mike Cantanucci, who placed his Capital District Islanders in nearby Troy's RPI Fieldhouse. The IHL was not pleased by Welker moving the team to Albany without league approval. Welker got his way when he agreed to cover the travel costs, hotel and per diem fees of six IHL teams.
     The Choppers never came close to filling the Knickerbocker Arena, rarely drawing over 3000 per game and, near the end, drawing around 1000. The team started missing pay days and by February 14, 1991, the franchise folded with a 22-30-3 record.
     What happened to Fort Wayne? The Franke family purchased the rights to the defunct Flint Spirits and moved them to Indiana in time for the 1990-91 season. The new Komets took over the name and history of the original franchise, and the Frankes still own the team, now in the ECHL. Albany would get another shot at pro hockey in 1993-94. The Capital District Islanders would relocate to Knickerbocker Arena and would become the Albany River Rats.

     Just like Lancers programs, I have only seen two Choppers programs online over the years. This was the first one I saw, and I made sure I got it.

Some of the info for this post is from an article in Hockey Digest called "The Albany Choppers: The IHL's Dirty Little Secret". An abridged version can be found here. Stats, of course, are from

Rare: Lansing Lancers (1974-75)

     Now, here are some of my rare programs. The next three teams can't even be called "one-and-done", since they didn't even make it through their first season! I'll start off with the ill-fated Lansing Lancers of the IHL. I've only seen two Lancers programs on eBay, and I grabbed this one the second I saw it posted.

1974-75 Regular Season--Lancers vs. Kalamazoo

     The Lansing Lancers arrived on the scene for the 1974-75 season, and were Lansing's first pro hockey team. The team had played the previous 11 years in Toledo, first as the Blades (1963-70) and the Hornets (1970-74). Declining attendance due to mediocre hockey teams eventually forced owner Paul Bright to relocate north to Michigan's State Capital.
     The team played their home games at the new Metro Ice Arena. The IHL media guide for that year listed capacity at 4600, but financial problems left construction incomplete, and the capacity stalled at 900. The Lancers, despite being an existing team, played like an expansion franchise, going 12-28-1 in their first season in Lansing. Crowds sometimes dipped to below 100 per game, and concerns about finishing the season were mounting.
     After a rejected attempt to relocate to Grand Rapids for the remainder of the season, the Lancers folded after an 8-2 loss to Muskegon on January 15th. Metro Ice Arena closed after it's first year of operation, reopened from 1976-78, then closed for good.
     In the mid-late 1990s, Lansing was rumored to be returning to pro hockey. The IHL was considering moving the mothballed San Francisco Spiders to town, and the UHL was also looking into adding a franchise in Michigan's Capital. However, none of these rumors came true, and Lansing has never had another shot at pro hockey.
     Maybe with a more competitive team and a suitable arena, Lansing would have worked in the IHL. Back then, they had several nearby IHL teams within 120 miles (Flint, Saginaw, Port Huron, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Toledo). I don't really know much about the Lancers, but trying to run a Triple A hockey team in a 900-seat arena is asking for trouble. I'm sure that any debt from the franchise's Toledo days didn't help matters, either.
     As for Toledo, they were granted an expansion team for the 1974-75 season. With former Flags/Wings head coach Ted Garvin at the helm, the Goaldiggers would stage "The Miracle on Main Street" by storming to the Turner Cup title in their first year of existence. The Diggers would last through 1986, winning three more Turner Cups and be one of the strongest teams in the league.

Port Huron Hockey: Icehawks (2007-10)

     If you can believe it, Port Huron got their fourth shot at UHL hockey after the Flags folded....sort of.
By now, the UHL was really starting to fall apart, having lost over a dozen teams in two seasons. The remaining owners, led by the Franke family of Fort Wayne, reorganized as the IHL, dropping the UHL history and trophies in favor of the records, history and trophies of the original IHL (which folded in 2001).
     After the Flags folded, the league granted another expansion franchise to Port Huron for the 2007-08 season. The team would be called the Icehawks and would be owned by Frank and Larry Kinney. They retained coach Stan Drulia for the upcoming season.
     I was a big Icehawks fan during their three years in Port Huron, and went to several games each year. They really didn't have programs for sale like the previous teams, opting instead for the cheaper roster printouts or four-page booklets. They did have yearbooks in their final two seasons (why they didn't sell them at the gate instead of in the Pro Shop, I have no idea), and I made sure to buy them. Here are some scans.

2008 Turner Cup Finals--Icehawks vs. Fort Wayne
     Expectations were rather low for the Icehawks in 2007-08. They were the fourth team in Port Huron since 2002, and the city was considered burnt out by shady owners, poor hockey teams and instability. Many people (me included) thought that Port Huron was added to the IHL just to give the league the necessary six teams to meet work visa requirements and would be history after one year. A late start to marketing didn't help, either. 
     However, coach Stan Drulia quietly put together a strong team. The Icehawks eventually finished in second place, with a solid 41-29-6 record, 32 points behind first place Fort Wayne. Attendance dropped significantly for the Icehawks, as they averaged a league-worst 1344 per game.
     Rookie Tab Lardner led the Icehawks in scoring that season, netting 39 goals and 81 points on his way to Rookie of the Year. Jamie Carroll and Jeff Zehr joined him in the 30-goal group, and Flags holdover Kris Vernarsky netted 21. As a group, the Icehawks scored 241 goals.
     The Icehawks were even better in net. They started the season with Marty Magers and Ron Vogel. While they were dependable, the Icehawks got a big boost by the arrival of Larry Sterling from the CHL. Sterling took over the top spot and had an excellent season, going 24-14-3 with a 2.51 GAA and 1 shutout. As a group, the Icehawks allowed 230 goals, second-lowest in the league.
     The Icehawks really came together in the playoffs. In Round One, they faced Flint, and easily knocked off the Generals in five games to reach the Turner Cup Finals. This was the first time a Port Huron hockey team had reached a finals series since 1977-78, and their opponent would not be an easy one. The Icehawks faced the Komets, who had dominated the league and went 56-12-8.
     Most expected the Icehawks to simply show up for the minimum amount of games and watch the Komets skate off with the Turner Cup. However, the series was a thriller, as Port Huron jumped out to a 3-1 lead before the Komets rebounded to win it in seven. Game 7 was a heartbreaker, as the Komets took the Cup in triple OT.
     This booklet is from Game 6, which the Komets won, 4-3, in front of a sellout crowd of 3129 at McMorran Arena. I went to all three games in Port Huron, and had a blast. Two of the three games (Games 2 and 6) were city attendance records, and Game 4 drew a respectable (for a weekday) 2500 fans.

2008-09 Yearbook
      Coming off a surprise finals run in 2008, the Icehawks improved during the regular season. Stan Drulia's squad finished 44-21-11 in 2008-09, good enough for second place and just five points behind Fort Wayne. The Icehawks were actually in first for the majority of the season before injuries started to mount.
     Lardner returned to the team and didn't suffer from a sophomore jinx, scoring 37 goals and 65 points. Newcomer Nicklas Lindberg led the team in scoring with 29 goals and 81 points. Jamie Carroll was right behind him with 28 goals and 80 points. A deadline deal brought Steve Rymsha from Flint, and he scored 11 goals and 33 points in 26 games. Veteran NHLer Bryan Smolinski joined the team for the stretch run and added 9 goals and 30 points in 21 games. As a team, the Icehawks scored 262 goals, fourth best in the league.
     Larry Sterling returned for his first full season between the pipes, and it was a memorable one. After participating in the Red Wings training camp, he came to Port Huron and went 27-15-6 with a 2.68 GAA and 1 shutout. The Icehawks used three other backups, led by Ryan Mior, who went 11-3-5 with a 1.94 GAA and 4 shutouts. As a team, the Icehawks allowed a league-low 201 goals.
     Despite the slow finish, the Icehawks were favorites to return to the Turner Cup Finals. However, they ran into a hot Muskegon Lumberjacks squad in Round One. Port Huron went down in six games to Muskegon, who would lose to Fort Wayne in the Finals.
     The Icehawks were named Franchise of the Year, and Stan Drulia won Coach of the Year for the 2008-09 season. Attendance rose a little, but was still a league-worst 1467 per game.
    This is the yearbook the team sold at the Pro Shop during games. They still gave out scoresheets and game booklets at the door, but kept these in the Pro Shop. I don't know why they didn't try to sell these at the gates like other teams do with programs. It's pretty sharp, 33 pages with articles, player bios and advertisements from local businesses.

2009-10 Yearbook--Icehawks vs. Bloomington
     The Icehawks had another solid season in 2009-10, as Stan Drulia's squad continued to improve in the win column. Port Huron went 47-25-4, and again led the IHL for part of the season before settling for third place, nine points behind Muskegon. Attendance again climbed, but was still a weak 1627 per game, second-worst in the league.
     Rookie Mikael Bedard led the team in scoring, with 35 goals and 73 points, to win IHL Rookie of the Year honors. Derek Patrosso was right behind him with 30 goals and 70 points. As a team, the Icehawks scored 259 goals, third best in the IHL.
     Larry Sterling was back in net for the third straight year, and had another solid season. He played in 39 games and went 23-11-1 with a 2.76 GAA and 1 shutout. Adam Russo had nearly identical numbers, going 23-14-3 with a 2.81 GAA and 1 shutout. Rafael D'Orso was a late-season pick-up, making it into one game before being called on to play the majority of the games in the playoffs. As a group, the Icehawks surrendered 223 goals, third-fewest in the league.
     For the second time in three years, the Icehawks faced the Fort Wayne Komets. And, again, the Icehawks jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. However, an injury to Sterling forced the team to use rookie D'Orso for four of the seven games. Despite his strong play, the Icehawks lost in seven to the Komets, who went on to win their third straight Turner Cup, five games over Flint.
     Again, the Icehawks had a yearbook, but kept it safely hidden in the Pro Shop. This one's even smaller than last year's. It's only 24 pages, but includes the necessary player bios, ads and team articles. Not too bad, but they should have tried to sell them at the gates. Any money is good, right?

     Despite three straight 40+ win seasons and a finals berth in 2008, the Icehawks could never draw enough big crowds to keep the team in the black financially. Having lost about $3 million in three years, the Kinneys decided to suspend operations instead of joining the other IHL teams in the CHL.
     I thought that the Kinneys and the Icehawks were the best chance for pro hockey to succeed again in Port Huron. They were a first-class organization that went all out in promoting their team and bringing an entertaining product to McMorran. However, the damage was done after three failures in the UHL in six years by the time the Icehawks arrived. They'll likely be the last pro team to dare try to play in Port Huron. The crowds are just not there anymore.

     Shortly after the Icehawks folded, junior hockey arrived on the scene. The NAHL's Port Huron Fighting Falcons have been in town for the past three years, and despite seeing attendance drop to under 1000 per game, will return for the 2013-14 season.

Port Huron Hockey: Flags (2005-07)


     Port Huron got another shot at UHL hockey after the Beacons skipped town. The league awarded an expansion franchise to a non-profit organization led by local businessmen. The idea was that hockey teams struggled in Port Huron because the teams were owned by out-of-towners that were out of touch with the community.
     The new team would be called Flags, in honor of the original franchise that played in the IHL from 1962-81. They brought back the old logo and the Red Wings-like jerseys. At first, it looked like this team might have a shot at success. Their two-year existence, however, would disprove those hopes.

     The Flags were around while I was in the middle of mid-tier and student teaching, so I really didn't have any time for hockey games back then. I did make it to one game, and here's the program.

2005-06 Regular Season--Flags vs. Motor City
     Despite the fresh start, the new team, and the high hopes, the reality was that this was the third team in Port Huron since 2002. If the Flags planned on being successful in the long run, they really needed to hit the ground running and make as few mistakes as possible in their inaugural season. Unfortunately, that wasn't to be, as they made several key blunders that cut the legs out of the franchise.
     The first big mistake was their choice for head coach. The Flags hired Paul Willett, a long-time minor leaguer who had no head coaching experience. Even worse, he was in the middle of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Willett and GM Herb Hammond put together a weak hockey club that stumbled to a 20-32-5 record before Willett was let go. Defenseman Kam White took over, and the Flags ended up going 23-47-6, second-worst in the UHL. Despite the awful record, the Flags saw a surge in attendance, as the team averaged 2387 per game, the highest number since the Border Cats.
     The Flags were bad all over. As a team, they scored a pathetic 191 goals, worst in the league. Brett Lutes led the team in scoring, with 23 goals and 53 points. He was the only 20-goal scorer on the team, though Brad Mehalko managed 18 goals.
     It wasn't much better on defense. A porous defense made life miserable for Flags goaltenders, as the team allowed 327 goals, second-worst in the UHL. Despite the awful defense, the Flags only used two netminders, Scott Hay and Jeremy Symington. Hay took the brunt of the abuse that year, playing 58 games and going 18-34-3 with a 3.96 GAA. Symington made it into 32 games, going 5-13-3 with a 4.46 GAA.
     This program is from the only Flags game I made it to, a March game against the Motor City Mechanics. Kam White's crew lost, 2-1, in a shootout, just one of many losses that year.

     After a tough first season, the Flags hired former ECHL coach Stan Drulia for Season Two. Drulia did the best he could with a financially-strapped organization, guiding it to a 29-37-10 record and playoff appearance. However, the Flags were blown away by the first place Muskegon Fury in four straight in Round One. Attendance dropped back under 2000 per game, as the Flags averaged 1938 in their final season. After unsuccessfully attempting to find a new owner for the 2007-08 season, the Flags suspended operations.

     Naming a new team after a successful former team doesn't guarantee success. Sometimes, it works like gangbusters (IE: Flint Generals), sometimes it fails spectacularly (IE: Saginaw Gears). While the UHL Flags weren't as big a bomb as the UHL Gears, they didn't come close to being as successful as the IHL Flags were. Whether it was hiring a coach with a sexual harassment lawsuit, icing poor hockey teams, or even naming a former mayor the PR Director (who had no experience in that job, btw), the Flags were never long for the hockey world.
     I remember, after the second season, I drove up to Port Huron to look for a Flags jersey. I was looking for a replica, but after seeing that replicas had cheap, stamped on logos, I ended up buying Kam White's road gamer for $125. When I asked the lady at the desk if the team was coming back in 2007, she smiled and said "Well, we're trying." The Flags folded two weeks later. I like to think my $125 helped pay the electric bill.
     This program is a nice one. Lots of color pictures and articles about the old Flags, the current team and player bios. Plenty of advertisements as well. 

Port Huron Hockey: Beacons (2002-05)

     After the Border Cats folded, the UHL added an expansion team in time for the 2002-03 season. The team was owned by Ken and Kristen Dixon of Ohio. Many expected the new team to be called Flags, but the owners decided to go with a unique, and goofy, nickname: Beacons.
     The Beacons lasted from 2002-05, and actually were competitive on the ice in two of their three seasons. However, the fanbase, still smarting from the Border Cats and cool towards the Beacons ownership, did not respond to the new team like they did during the heyday of the Border Cats. After three seasons, the Dixons moved the Beacons to Roanoke, Virginia.
     I was not a Beacons fan, and therefore, only went to one of their games (a playoff game against Flint). I didn't like the nickname (the logos were goofy as well), and didn't care for the lack of effort I thought the Dixons made to market the team in Port Huron. However, I have bought a couple Beacons programs a year or so ago online. Here they are.

2002-03 Regular Season (Opponent Unknown)

     2002-03 was the first season of Beacons hockey in Port Huron. The Dixons hired Brad Jones, former BC Icemen coach, to lead the squad in Year One. However, 53 games into the season, Jones was fired with a mediocre 24-24-5 record. He was replaced for the remainder of the season by former UHL heavyweight Bruce Ramsay, who led the Beacons to a 14-6-3 record. The team went 38-30-8, good enough for fourth place in the East, 15 points behind first place Fort Wayne. Attendance climbed slightly from the last Border Cats season, but was still a dismal 1991 per game.
     Offensively, the Beacons were led by former Thunder Bay forward Jason Firth, who scored 26 goals and 98 points. Chris MacKenzie, Brent Gretzky (yes, Wayne's brother), Peter Bournazakis, Michel Beausoleil and Bob McKillop each scored at least 20 goals. As a team, the Beacons scored 248 goals.
     In nets, Kory Cooper played the majority of the games. Cooper went 26-17-7 in 54 games with a 3.19 GAA and 3 shutouts. Bujar Amidovski played in 28 games, going 11-13 with a 3.80 GAA. Overall, the Beacons were scored on 268 times.
     The Beacons made the playoffs in their first season, but didn't last long. They faced first place Fort Wayne, and were quickly ousted by the eventual champion Komets in three straight, outscored 12-5 in the process.
     Ramsay would return for the second season, and lead the Beacons to third place with a 38-31-7 record in 2003-04. More importantly, his Beacons would advance to the second round, the first time a Port Huron team won a playoff series since 1979-80. Attendance declined however, reaching a low of 1493 per game, worst in the league.

2004-05 Regular Season (Opponent Unknown)

     After a successful 2003-04 season, Ramsay was let go in favor of Rick Adduono, fresh off a successful run in the ECHL. However, his Beacons struggled in 2004-05, bringing up the rear in the East with a 34-40-6 record, fourth worst in the UHL. Attendance slightly improved, but was still a league-low 1659 per game.
     Aaron Brand returned to the Beacons and led the team in scoring that year, scoring 31 goals and 82 points. David Alexandre Beauregard returned to Port Huron and scored a team-high 47 goals. Joey Sewell (27) was the only other 20-goal scorer, as the Beacons lit the lamp 245 times.
     The team used three goaltenders in 2004-05, led by former Border Cat Stu Dunn. Dunn was in net for 41 games, with a 16-17-2 record, a 3.31 GAA and 2 shutouts. Former NHLer Daniel Berthiaume joined the team, but struggled to a 7-17-3 mark with a 3.56 GAA. Kory Cooper managed appearances in 20 games, with a 11-6-1 mark and 2 shutouts. Overall, the Beacons allowed 283 goals, fourth worst in the league.
     The team stumbled out of the gates in 2004-05, winning only 6 of their first 20 games. By March, they recovered enough to reach .500 (28-28-4), but a 10-game winless streak effectively ended their season.

     After three years and facing losses rumored to be in the millions, the Dixons had enough of Port Huron and moved the Beacons to Roanoke, Virginia for the 2005-06 season. The newly-named Roanoke Valley Vipers were a disaster in their lone season, going 17-53-6, dead last in the UHL. Even worse, the team drew a meager 1521 per game, less than they did in their final season in Port Huron and in an arena that was nearly 5000 seats larger than McMorran Arena. The Vipers folded after one season.

     Port Huron would get a third shot at UHL hockey after the Beacons left town, as the UHL granted an expansion franchise to local businessmen for the 2005-06 season.

Port Huron Hockey: Border Cats (1996-2002)

     After the Flags folded in 1981, Port Huron went without pro hockey for 15 years (except for the 1987-88 Clippers). The city was rumored to be one of the first teams in the new Colonial League in 1991, but nothing ever came of it. Hockey would not return until the summer of 1996, when the Detroit Falcons arrived in town.
     The Falcons were one of the original five members of the Colonial League, and played at the Fraser Ice Arenas in Fraser, Michigan. Despite icing a competitive team each year, the Falcons never drew big enough crowds to show a profit. After losing in Round Two to Flint in the 1996 playoffs, the Falcons packed up their bags and flew north to Port Huron for the 1996-97 season. The newly-named Border Cats were a smash hit in their new town, easily breaking franchise records for attendance. They stayed in Port Huron for six years before suspending operations after the 2001-02 season. The Cats were affiliated with the Florida Panthers throughout their existence, along with the IHL's Las Vegas Thunder.
     I was a big Detroit Falcons fan, and followed the team to Port Huron. Here are the programs I have for this team.

1996-97 Regular Season--Border Cats vs. Brantford
     Pro hockey returned to the Blue Water Area for the 1996-97 in the form of the Colonial Hockey League's Port Huron Border Cats. GM Costa Papista led an aggressive marketing campaign to build up interest in the area, and the results were evident during the first year. The Cats were a smash hit in Port Huron, averaging 2526 per game, easily breaking the franchise's attendance records. The team was a tough one, piling up 2148 penalty minutes, third most in the league, led by fan favorite Chris Scourletis (333 PIM). Due to the type of hockey the Cats played and the relatively small ice surface at McMorran, the Border Cats ripped off a 12-game unbeaten streak at their new home.
     Led by Coach Dave Cameron, the Border Cats finished the season 38-31-5, third place in the East, 30 points behind league-leading Flint. They were led on offense by Bob McKillop, a Falcons holdover who pumped in 45 goals and 88 points. Jon Nelson (30) and Jean Blouin (32) joined McKillop in the 30-goal club. As a group, the Cats scored 280 goals.
     The Border Cats went through seven goaltenders in Year One, with Kevin Butt and Igor Karpenko playing the majority of them. Butt led the way with 46 games, with a 25-15-3 record and a 3.72 mark. Karpenko played 22 games, with a 9-9-1 record and 3.50 GAA. Overall, the Cats surrendered 288 goals.
     In the playoffs, the Border Cats faced the Brantford Smoke. Despite being 20 points behind the Smoke during the season, the Cats took them to the limit in the best-of-five first round tilt. Brantford advanced, however, taking Game Five, 7-1, to end the Border Cats first season.
     This is a 70-page program, full of articles and ads from around the Port Huron area. The pictures on the cover are from a preseason game against Flint (note the Generals players wearing jerseys from the 1994-95 season). The mascot's name, btw, is Bridges. This is from a regular season game against Brantford, which the Border Cats won, 7-1, in front of 2852. I also attended Game 4 of the playoff series against the Smoke (which the Cats won, 3-2 in overtime).

1997-98 Regular Season--Border Cats vs. Muskegon
     After their successful first season, the Cats took a step back on the ice. Dave Cameron left after 1996-97 and was replaced by Doug Crossman. Crossman's bunch stumbled to a 31-33-10 mark, still in third place in the East and 26 points behind first place Flint. This was the first losing season in franchise history, but it didn't affect the crowds, as attendance increased to 2629 per game, fifth overall in the league.
     Offensively, the Cats were led by newcomer Brian Dobbin, who scored 38 goals and 84 points. McKillop was next with 35 goals and 60 points, but only two other players (Ryan Black and Doug Martin) cracked the 20-goal mark that year. As a team, scoring dropped to 256 goals.
     Igor Karpenko became the starting goaltender in 1997-98. He played 56 games and had a record of 27-23-6 with a 3.77 GAA. Four other netminders filled in as backup, led by Johnny Lorenzo's 17 games. Last year's starter, Kevin Butt, was dealt to Saginaw early in the year. As a team, the defense struggled, allowing their opponents to light the lamp 303 times, sixth-worst in the UHL.
     A bright spot to the season was the first-ever UHL All-Star Game. The game was held in Port Huron, and a sellout crowd watched the UHL All-Stars take on a team of Canadian juniors.
     Due to the sluggish season, Crossman was fired and replaced by ex-Saginaw coach John Blum, who was recently let go by the Lumber Kings.
     This program is from a regular season game against the Muskegon Fury. The Cats won, 6-5, in a shootout in front of 2409 fans. Again, the program is loaded with advertisements and news about the team and the UHL.

1997-98 Colonial Cup Playoffs--Border Cats vs. Brantford
     John Blum's squad made the playoffs in 1997-98, and again faced the Brantford Smoke in Round One. This time, the Smoke made quick work of the Cats, sweeping them away in four straight and outscoring them 21-11. This program is from Game 1, which Brantford won, 3-1, in front of 3056 fans.
     Blum would not be retained after the season, as the Cats hired Greg "Chief" Puhalski as head coach. Costa Papista would also step down, taking the GM job with the AHL's Louisville Panthers.
     This program is pretty much the same as the previous one, just with a different cover.

1998-99 Regular Season--Border Cats vs. Saginaw
     After the disappointing 1998-99 season, changes were made to the Border Cats. New Coach Greg Puhalski and GM Paul Maxwell put together a much stronger squad. The biggest move they made was landing UHL all-time scorer Paul Polillo from the Smoke in a huge seven-player deal. Polillo became available when the Smoke relocated to Asheville after the previous year. The Border Cats acquired Polillo, Bernie John and Darryl Paquette in the deal, while giving up JD Eaton, Dale Greenwood, Gairin Smith and Chris Scourletis.
     Polillo led the Border Cats to a 41-26-7 record, second place in the East and 17 points behind first-place Muskegon. He scored 28 goals and 107 points to lead the team. Chris Bergeron (26), Bob McKillop (34),  and Kevin Brown (23) joined Polillo in the 20-goal club. As a unit, the Cats lit the lamp 261 times.
     Defensively, the Border Cats were vastly improved from last year. Goals-against dropped to 239, third best in the league. Longtime minor leaguer Ollie Sundstrom played in 33 games, most on the team, going 17-10-3 with a 2.98 GAA. Sundstrom was traded to Binghamton for Jon Hildebrandt, who went 10-5-1 with an excellent 2.32 GAA and 3 shutouts.
     In the playoffs, the Cats continued to struggle for postseason success. They faced the Thunder Bay Thunder Cats in Round One. Despite two games going to overtime (including Game 7), the Border Cats fell in seven to Thunder Bay, another early exit in the playoffs. Polillo would retire after the season, but occasionally return in the final two years of the franchise.
     This is from a game against the Saginaw Gears, which the Cats won easily. My program was autographed on the Thomas Edison Inn ad, which meant I got to participate in the Score-O game during intermission. They put me a few feet in front of the wide-open net for the game, instead of the usual "shoot from the blue line with a puck-sized target to shoot at". Obviously, I scored (I really just pushed the puck in as much as I shot it), and won a gift certificate to the Edison Inn.
     Coach Puhalski stayed on through the 1999-2000 season, then was hired by the Fort Wayne Komets. JF Laforest took over in the 2000-01 season.

2000-01 Regular Season--Border Cats vs. Muskegon
     During the 1999-2000 season, owner Mostafa Afr attempted to purchase McMorran Arena, was declined in negotiations that, at times, were ugly. Afr tried to do the next-best thing, build his own arena. The Kimball Sports and Entertainment Center was supposed to be next to the outlet mall just outside Port Huron. The Border Cats planned on starting the season at McMorran, then moving into their new home during the 2000-01 season.
     However, funding for the building ran out about 20% (if that) into construction, forcing the Cats to play in four stadiums that year (both Sarnia arenas, McMorran Arena, even Fraser Ice Arenas!). The amount of chaos in the organization, along with a last-place Cats team (30-34-10), led to attendance plummeting to 1443 per game, the lowest since the team's days in Fraser.
     Despite the turmoil, the Cats did have some bright spots. David Alexandre Beauregard, a San Jose draft pick in 1994, arrived after two years in the ECHL. Beauregard led the team in scoring (33 goals, 63 points), and was joined by Ryan Pawluk and Jason Glover (21 each) as the only 20+ goal scorers on the team. Overall, the Cats scored 234 goals, third worst in the league (not counting Mohawk Valley, which folded during the season).
     The Border Cats used two netminders that season, as Kevin St. Pierre and Hugo Hamelin shared goaltending duties that year. St. Pierre had a decent season, going 16-13-5 with a 3.02 GAA and 3 shutouts. Hamelin record was worse, 14-21-5 with a 3.59 GAA and 1 shutout. The Cats surrendered 260 goals that year, fourth best in the league.
     After that disastrous season, Afr signed a one-year lease for McMorran Arena for the 2001-02 season. The arena in Kimball would never be completed and earned the nickname "Stonehenge". This season likely finished off the Border Cats in the area, as they never reached the attendance levels of earlier seasons again.
     This program is from a game against Muskegon, which the Cats won, 5-1. As you can see, the team changed logos for this season, with a more fierce cat now. Even the mascot changed, as Bridges was replaced by "Clawed" for the final two years. Pretty sharp logo, but I like the old one better.

2001-02 Regular Season--Border Cats vs. Binghamton
     After the mess of 2000-01, Dr. Afr signed a one-year lease for McMorran Arena for the 2001-02 season. He apologized for last season and admitted he made a mistake in not picking one arena for the year. Laforest returned behind the bench, but would be fired midway through the season in favor of longtime Border Cat Bob McKillop. The Cats continued to struggle, going 27-35-12, sixth place in the East and 32 points behind first place Elmira (also owned by the Afrs). Attendance improved slightly, but was still below 2000 per game (1718).
     David Alexandre Beauregard returned and had an excellent season, scoring 50 goal and 85 points, tops on the team. After him, there was quite a dropoff. Rick Judson was the only other player to score 20 goals, and as a team, the offense scored an anemic 207, worst in the league.
     Defensively, the Cats allowed 261 goals, sixth-worst in the league. Kevin St. Pierre returned and did the best he could with a weak roster, going 14-16-2 with a 3.12 GAA. He was joined by newcomer Matt Mullin, who went 7-13-7 with a 3.67 GAA and 1 shutout. Stu Dunn started the season in Port Huron, but was traded to Flint for Mullin.
     This program is from a game against the BC (Binghamton) Icemen. The Cats lost, 5-3, in front of 2920 fans. This was the last Border Cats game I went to. I remember getting two pucks tossed to me by the Icemen's backup goaltender (Bryan Shoen, perhaps?) during the game. Still have those pucks, btw, though they just have advertisements on them.

     After the 2001-02 season, Afr attempted to find a buyer for the Border Cats franchise. Finding little interest in a damaged brand, he decided to suspend operations for the upcoming season. Port Huron would not go long without UHL hockey, as the Dixon family would bring a new team to town.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bonus: Port Huron Flags "Old Timers"

Flags Old-Timers vs. St. Clair County Community College

     Here's a rare one, a program from an "Old Timers" game between the Flags Alums and St. Clair County Community College. I found this at the flea market in Croswell years ago, the first Flags program I found.
     The Flags roster includes former stars like Lloyd Maxfield, Marcel Goyette, Bill LeCaine and Bill Sinnett. John Wismer, original owner of the Flags, was behind the bench. According to the roster, the President of SC4, Richard Norris, was also "acting coach" of the Skippers!
     Not sure of the date for this program. It might be from 1977, but I also saw a copyright date from 1975. Who knows? Still, it's a rare one!

Port Huron Hockey: Flags/Wings (1962-81)

Now, on to Port Huron.

     Port Huron has had a long, yet checkered, history of pro hockey. The most successful franchise, by far, was the Port Huron Flags (also called Wings for a few years) of the IHL. The Flags were, for the most part, a competitve team on the ice, making the Turner Cup Finals seven times and winning the Cup on three occasions. For three years, (1971-74), the franchise was a farm team of the Detroit Red Wings, and sent numerous players on to the NHL in it's existence. However, the team had problems drawing big enough crowds. While the Flags lasted for nearly 20 years, former GM Morris Snider later admitted that the franchise could have folded three years before it actually did, due to declining attendance.

I've found some Flags/Wings programs online over the years, and here's what I have.

1963-64 Regular Season--Flags vs. Windsor

      1963-64 was the second year of existence for the Flags. After missing the playoffs in their inaugural campaign, the team rebounded to finish 37-31-2, good enough for third place in the seven-team league. Coach Edgar "Chirp" Brenchley returned for a second season behind the Flags bench.
      This program cover held true for the remainder of the season, as the Flags were led by these four players and forward Bill LeCaine in scoring. Lloyd Maxfield led the way with 49 goals (tops in the league) and 106 points (2nd). Bill LeCaine and Ken Saunders both had 28 goals, while Ken Gribbons popped in 35. Overall, the Flags lit the lamp 279 times, third best in the league.
     In goal, Norm Jacques played 62 games, being spelled by three other netminders throughout the season. As a team, the Flags allowed 279 goals.
     In their first postseason appearance, the Flags fell to the eventual champion Toledo Blades in seven games, outscored 19-13 in the process.
     This program is the oldest Flags program I've seen online so far. It's from a game against the Windsor Bulldogs, one of two Canadian teams in the IHL (the Chatham Maroons being the other). Both Canadian clubs would fold after this season, and the IHL would not return north of the border until the Quebec Rafales and Manitoba Moose arrived in 1996.

1970-71 Regular Season--Flags vs. Des Moines
     Coming off a Turner Cup Finals run in 1969-70, the Flags stumbled to sixth place with a forgettable 25-36-11 record, 30 points behind league-leading Muskegon. Marty Reynolds led the team in scoring with 28 goals and 71 points. He was joined by seven other players in the 20+ goal club, as the team overall scored 248 goals.
     Defensively, the team struggled, as opponents lit the lamp 292 times, second-worst in the league. Three goaltenders (Phil Headley, Ted Ouimet and Ron Marlow) each played over 24 games and Dan Bruner made it into four.
     Despite their lowly record, the Flags got hot in the Turner Cup Playoffs. Port Huron upset league leading Muskegon in Round One, outscoring the Mohawks 20-18 in a six-game series. After a round-robin second round, the Flags advanced to face second place Des Moines in the Turner Cup Finals. Again playing "giant killer", the Flags knocked off the Oak Leafs in six games, including a 5-0 blowout in the clinching game at McMorran Arena. This was the second championship for the franchise, and first under coach Ted Garvin.
     This is a small program, but it's 36 pages are full of ads from around the Blue Water area. Take a look at the picture of McMorran Arena. Other than the scoreboard and the railway around the concourse edge, the arena hasn't really changed at all, even the seats are still the same!

1971-72 Regular Season--Wings vs. Dayton

     After their stunning Turner Cup win in 1970-71, the Flags became a farm team of the Detroit Red Wings. The team changed it's name to "Port Huron Wings" for the 1971-72 season, and dressed identically to their parent club. With prospects from Detroit, Ted Garvin's squad improved to 37-31-4, good enough for second place in the North, 22 points behind league-leading Muskegon.
     The Flags had a pair of 40-goal scorers on the roster, Len Fontaine (44 goals) and Don Grierson (41). Bob Brinkworth, Marty Reynolds, Randy Sokoll and Steve Sutherland each scored over 20 goals. As a team, the Wings popped in 276, fourth highest in the league.
     On defense, the Wings greatly improved on last year's effort, allowing 262 goals, 30 less than 1970-71. George Hulme and Brian Cropper played over 35 games each, with Cropper getting the nod for the majority of the playoffs.
      The Wings made it back to the Turner Cup Finals in 1971-72. In Round One, they defeated Flint in a tight four-game series (best of 5), then defeated Fort Wayne in five (best of 5) in Round Two. In the Finals, the Wings defeated first-place Muskegon in six games. Brian Cropper blanked the Mohawks in Game Six, 4-0 in front of a delirious McMorran crowd of 3582, which stormed the ice after the win. This would be the franchise's final Turner Cup win and the last Port Huron hockey championship to date.
     Snoopy graces the cover of this program, though the advertisement is for an event at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. Check out the announcement to Snoopy's right. On November 19th, the Wings held "Turkey Night", where they gave away over 500 pounds of turkey (24 birds!) to lucky fans during the second intermission. Now that's a promotion!

1972-73 Exhibition--Red Wings vs. Philadelphia

    Another year, another winning Ted Garvin squad in Port Huron. The Wings, coming off their second-straight Turner Cup, continued to improve in the regular season. The team finished with a solid 41-31-1 record, again finishing in second place, six points behind first place Flint.
     Larry Klewchuk led a balanced Wing attack, scoring 28 goals and 67 points. Nine players scored at least 20 goals, and a mere 7 points separated Klewchuk from the fourth-highest goal scorer, Gary Holt. As a team, the Wings lit the lamp 266 times.
     Defensively, the team had a strong year. The Wings allowed 237 goals, third-lowest in the league. Bill McKenzie was in goal for 45 games, registering a solid 2.84 GAA. Glen Seperich made it into 33 games, with a 3.32 GAA.
     In the playoffs, the Wings made it to their third straight Turner Cup Finals. They knocked off Toledo in five games (best of 5) in Round one, outscoring the Hornets 13-5 in the process. Round Two brought on the Dayton Gems, who the Wings swept away in three straight, allowing only 7 goals in the series. In the finals, the Wings ran into league-leading Fort Wayne, who had blown out Flint in the second round. The Komets would crush the Wings in four straight, outscoring Port Huron 19-8, including a 5-1 romp in Game Four at McMorran.
     After the season, Ted Garvin was promoted to head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, but only lasted 11 games in 1973-74 before being fired.
     This program isn't from a Wings game, but an exhibition game between Detroit and Philadelphia, held at McMorran Arena. It does, however, have pictures from Game 6 of the 1972 Turner Cup Finals and the locker room celebration. Then-Michigan Governor William Milliken wrote a congratulatory and best-wishes note on the first page. Wings programs are rare online. I have only seen two, and bought them both.

1974-75 Regular Season--Flags vs. Saginaw
     After three straight trips to the Turner Cup Finals, the Wings collapsed to the North Division basement in 1973-74. After that season, the Red Wings switched IHL affiliates to the new Kalamazoo Wings. Port Huron reverted back to the Flags nickname and became a farm team of the New York Rangers and Kansas City Scouts.
     Coach Bob McCammon returned behind the bench for a second year, and the Flags improved to 35-38-3, good enough for fourth place in the North, 26 points behind Muskegon and 34 points behind last place Kalamazoo (Lansing folded partway through the year).
     McCammon's crew was led by Ray Germain, who scored 30 goals and 69 points. Six other players scored at least 20 goals. As a team, the Flags scored 255 goals, seventh in the league.
     The Flags used six different goaltenders. Mike Ralph and Ty Langton played the most, making it into about 40 games each. The team allowed 270 goals.
     The Flags drew Muskegon in Round One of the Turner Cup Playoffs. Unlike previous years, there would be no upset, as the Mohawks cruised to a five-game (best of 7) series victory.
     Nice design on the program. This time, the advertisement on the front is for events happening in Port Huron, not Detroit. A program insert features a poster of forward Larry Jacques, who scored 20 goals and 41 points in his rookie season. The Flags played the Saginaw Gears that night, and several of the game pictures inside are of games against the Gears. The radio announcer for the Flags that year? Future NHL on NBC voice Mike Emrick, who called Flags games on WHLS from 1973-77.

1978-79 Regular Season--Flags vs. Saginaw
     In 1977-78, the Flags made a surprise run to the Turner Cup Finals. They upset defending champion Saginaw in Round One, then defeated Kalamazoo in Round Two before falling to Toledo in a grueling seven game finals.
     Ron Ullyot was back behind the bench in 1978-79, as the Flags were now affiliated with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals. With prospects from these teams, the Flags finished first in the North Division, with a 44-29-7 record, 14 points behind league-leading Grand Rapids.
     The Flags led the league in scoring, pumping in 393 goals. They were led by four players who scored over 40 goals. Serge Menard led in goal-scoring with an even 50, while Wes Jarvis led in points with 109. Lou Francheschetti, a mid-season acquisition from Saginaw, was next with 103 points.
     While the Flags used four goaltenders, Rick Heinz and Bob Parent did the majority of the work. Heinz went 28-13-5 with five shutouts and a 3.36 GAA. Parent went 8-11-2 with a 3.67 GAA. As a team, the Flags allowed 292 goals, second-lowest in the IHL.
     Despite the strong record, the Flags were upset in Round One of the Turner Cup Playoffs by the Flint Generals. The Generals won in seven games, including a 7-4 victory on McMorran ice in Game Seven. Coach Ullyot would move on to the Fort Worth Texans of the CHL after the season, replaced by ex-Wing Doug Hinton, who coached at Michigan the previous three years.
     The Flags began using a secondary logo around this time. Not sure exactly what the animal is...maybe an eagle? They are also sporting different uniforms by now. For years, the Flags wore Red Wings-like jerseys with the Flags emblem on the front. Now, the jerseys are similar to the Maple Leafs stripes at the time, but still the traditional red and white with the classic Flags logo.

1979-80 Turner Cup Playoffs--Flags vs. Flint
     The Flags opened up their 17th season with a new coach and different uniforms. Doug Hinton, ex-Michigan coach and former Wing, was behind the bench, replacing Ron Ullyot. The Flags added yellow stripes to their jerseys, the first time a color besides red and white was prominent on their uniforms. The Flags "crossed stick" logo was also dropped in favor of a stylized "Flags" script. The team was still affiliated with St. Louis and Washington.
     Despite the changes, the Flags had another solid season. They went 38-26-16 in 1979-80, good enough for third place in the North, seven points behind first place Kalamazoo and fourth overall in the IHL.
     The Flags offense continued to be powerful, as they scored 352 goals, second-best in the league. They were led by eight players who scored at least 20 goals. Denis Houle led the way in goals, lighting the lamp with 49 to go along with 104 points.
     On defense, allowed an even 300 goals, second-best in the league. Paul Skidmore and Bob Parent nearly split the netminding duties, playing 36 and 37 games, respectively.
     In the playoffs, the Flags again drew the Flint Generals in Round One. Port Huron would exact revenge on Flint, defeating the Generals in a tight five-game series (best of 7). In the second round, the Flags would face defending champion Kalamazoo. Three of the games went to overtime, but the Wings would eventually prevail in six games on their way to a second-straight Turner Cup.
     The photo collage on the front of this program will give you an idea of the Flags new look for this season. Not a huge fan of the script logo; I just think that "crossed sticks" logo is a classic. The addition of yellow isn't too bad.

     The Flags would return for the 1980-81 season, their 18th in the IHL. However, the economic downturn of the late 1970s-early 1980s led to declining attendance numbers. With fewer and fewer fans coming to games, McMorran Arena management (who owned the team since the early 1970s) decided to suspend operations after that season. Other than the one-and-done Port Huron Clippers of the AAHL (1987-88), McMorran Arena would not be home to a pro hockey team for fifteen years. Hockey would return in the summer of 1996 when the Detroit Falcons of the Colonial League would relocate to Port Huron.


Flint Hockey: Flint Generals (1993-2010)

Here's the last group of Generals programs.

2002-03 Regular Season--Generals vs. Adirondack
     2003-04 was the Generals' tenth anniversary, a great run filled with many memories. When Skip Probst moved the Bulldogs, he said that Flint could no longer support pro hockey. In their first season, the Generals proved Probst wrong.
     Despite the milestone year, the Generals stumbled to last place in the East, going 32-36-8. A slow start to the year cost Kirk Tomlinson his job. He was replaced by Robbie Nichols for the last 29 games. Crowds dwindled this season, dropping to 2637 per game, another low for the franchise.
     The Gens struggled in net, using four different goaltenders. Former Mallard Martin Villeneuve struggled with the Gens, and was soon released. Paxton Schafer and Sean Weaver played the bulk of the games, but as a team, the Generals allowed 298 goals.
     Offensively, the Generals were again led by the 1-2 punch of Bobby Reynolds (35 goals, 97 points) and Jim Duhart (49 goals, 89 points). However, Tom Perry and Dale Greenwood were the only other players to score over 20. As a team, the Gens scored 257 times.
     This program is from a game against the Adirondack Icehawks. In front of a crowd of 2022, the Generals knocked off the second-place Icehawks, 8-4. Reynolds scored twice and Duhart once. And just like last year's program, this one is printed on recycled paper. Actually a decent-looking program too.

2003-04 Regular Season--Generals vs. Columbus
      Nichols returned for the 2003-04 season, and the Generals rebounded from their lackluster 2002-03 campaign. They battled the Columbus Stars for first place for the first part of the season until the Stars folded (yes, they folded while in first place!), then eventually settled for second place, with a solid 39-27-10 record. Attendance jumped back over the 3000 mark, as the team averaged 3020 per game.
     Nichols shored up the Generals issues in net, bringing in Dan McIntyre, who started 51 games with a 26-16-8 record. Jan Chovan filled in as backup, going 8-11-2 with a 3.45 GAA and one shutout.  Goals-against for the team dropped from 298 to 244, fifth best in the league.
     On offense, the combo of Reynolds and Duhart again led the way for the Generals. Reynolds led the team with 116 points, while Duhart chipped in 56 goals. The Gens also welcomed back Kevin Kerr. While Kerr didn't score 50 goals again this year, he did score a respectable 22 in 53 games. As a team, the Gens scored 253.
     Much like 2001-02, the Generals were a formidable team for most of the season, but injuries began to pile up. A key injury to McIntyre and Jonathan Forest's ineligibility for the postseason forced the Gens to use Chovan in net for the playoffs. The Generals drew Port Huron in Round One and were promptly swept by the Beacons in three straight. Game 3 was an especially tough loss, as the Gens squandered two 3-goal leads and fell, 6-5, in overtime.
     This is one of the best programs the Generals had in the later years. Very colorful, and a nice design. The Generals lost this game, 5-4, to Columbus in the last minutes of regulation. I got this autographed during a post-game "Skate with the Generals". Kevin Kerr was one of the players that signed.

2004-05 Regular Season--Generals vs. Port Huron
     The Generals followed up a strong 2003-04 season by missing the playoffs in 2004-05. Notice a trend? Good seasons followed by mediocre seasons. The Generals fell back to fourth place, going 33-33-14, 31 points behind first-place Muskegon. Attendance remained about the same as last year, as the Generals average 3099 per game. This was the final season the Generals averaged over 3000 per game.
     On offense, the Generals were led by (surprise!) Bobby Reynolds, who scored 31 goals and 103 points. Newcomers Mike Kinnie and Rob Valicevic joined Reynolds in the 30-goal club. Jim Duhart would have been there as well, but was allowed to be claimed by Danbury on waivers in an embarrassing move. As a team, the Generals scored 237 goals.
     In previous years, weak defense did in the Generals. This wasn't the case in 2005, as the Generals allowed only 236. Dan McIntyre and Marco Emond each played over 30 games in net, each getting three shutouts. However, a lack of goals for hurt the team in the long run.
     The highlight of the year was Kevin Kerr's chase of the all-time goal-scoring mark for minor league hockey. He was featured in The Hockey News as "Hockey's Bull Durham". However, shortly after breaking the record, the Generals dropped him. He finished his career with the Kalamazoo Wings, who won the Colonial Cup.
     Robbie Nichols resigned for the last time after the season, replaced by the retiring Bobby Reynolds.
     IMO, this was the sloppiest program the Generals issued. The pictures are scanned in (often very pixelated), the cover design ends about an inch before the end of the page, and there were some errors. The cover pays tribute to not only Kerr's milestone, but also Flint's 35 years of Pro Hockey. In that night's game, the Generals faced Port Huron. The Beacons came into that night's game on an eleven-game losing streak, but naturally defeated the Generals, 3-2.

2005-06 Season--Generals vs. Motor City
     This was Bobby Reynolds' first year behind the Generals bench, and it wasn't pretty. Flint remained in fourth place in the Central Division with a 31-35-10 mark, 14 points behind third place Motor City and 39 behind first place Kalamazoo. The team once again missed the playoffs, and attendance slumped to a new low of 2422 per game.
     Offensively, the Gens were led by Terry Marchant (31 goals, 85 points) and Leo Thomas (34 goals, 71 points). Mike Kinnie, Jason Selleke and Matt Elich were the other Generals to reach 20 goals on the season. As a team, goals sunk to 227.
     Former Jr. Red Wing Jason Saal was between the pipes for the Generals for 56 games, going 21-24-6 with a 3.56 GAA and one shutout. Peter Brady was his main backup, getting into 26 games with a 6-10-2 record and 4.15 GAA. Eric Marvin, playing in only seven games, had the strongest numbers (4-1-2, 3.30 GAA). As a team, the Gens allowed 294 goals.
     This program is actually a scorecard, including the rosters of both teams, a scoresheet, a few ads and UHL stats. The Generals played the Motor City Mechanics that night, winning 4-3. They also retired Kevin Kerr's #20 before the game.

2006-07 Colonial Cup Playoffs--Generals vs. Kalamazoo

     Kevin Kerr was brought back to the club as head coach for the 2006-07 season, his first coaching stint in the pros, as Bobby Reynolds ended his retirement to return to the ice. The season was more of the same for the Gens, as they finished 33-34-9, third place in the East, 29 points behind first place Muskegon. Attendance continued to drop, as a mere 2228 per game bothered to show up.
    Jeff Zehr led the team in scoring, with 30 goals and 65 points. Bobby Reynolds was right behind him with 23 goals and 60 points. Mike Kinnie and Jason Selleke again scored over 20 goals, and as a team, the Generals lit the lamp 245 times.
     Former NHLer Jason Muzzatti took over in goal for the Generals this season. He played in 41 games, and went 18-15-6 with a 3.34 GAA. Bryan Worosz was in net for 39 games with a 15-19-3 mark and 3.70 GAA. As a team, the Gens allowed 286 goals.
     The Generals made the playoffs after a three-year absence, but drew defending champion Kalamazoo in Round One. Despite the last three games going to overtime, the Generals fell to the Wings in six.
     This program is from Game 6 of the series. At 7:10 of overtime, Kory Karlander ended the Generals season and sent the Wings onto the next round. After the season, Dr. Shukairy sold the Generals to a group led by local hockey legend Bob Perani. While Shukairy was a good owner for the first seven years of the franchise, the last several years were a different story. Shukairy was also owner of the Saginaw Gears in 1998-99, and that mess may have played a role in his desire to spend less and less on the Generals. For one season, the Generals didn't even have their own trainer, and Shukairy had to be ordered by the league to spend more than the absolute minimum. As a result of the lack of funds, the Generals went into steep decline, and fans booed him on a regular basis.
      The team went back to programs this season, and despite the struggles of the past few years, it still has a lot of ad space sold. It's pretty sharp too.

2007-08 Regular Season--Generals vs. Muskegon
     The Generals, like the UHL, were really starting to take on water by the 2007-08 season. The league, after seeing nearly a dozen teams fold in two years, reorganized as the six-team International Hockey League. League representatives voted to drop all ties to the UHL and pick up the history, records and trophies of the IHL (which folded in 2001). However, the name change did little to boost the league, as five out of the six teams lost money (rumored to be in the millions).
     Kerr returned as head coach, and the Generals actually got off to a strong start. They were in first place for part of the season before Fort Wayne went on a roll and ran away with the league title. Kerr had the Generals at a 27-20-11 mark before being fired in favor of assistant Peter South, a very unpopular move with Generals fans. While GM Ron Sanko claimed South was "the right man for the job", Generals fans viewed it as a local legend being kicked to the curb in favor of a coach with an abysmal record who got the job simply because he was buddies with the GM.
     At any rate, the Generals went 34-28-5-9, their first above .500 record since 2003-04. They finished in third place, six points behind second place Port Huron and 38 behind league-leading Fort Wayne. Attendance dipped yet again, as 2217 per game showed up, another franchise low.
     Offensively, the Generals were actually pretty solid, as their 271 goals was second only to Fort Wayne. They were led by Michel Beausoleil, who pumped in 36 goals and 82 points. Five other players joined Beausoliel in the 20+ goal club: Jason Cirone, Jordan Fox, John DiPace, Mike Kinnie and Josef Fojtik. A notable moment that season was the signing of ex-Red Wing Darren McCarty. McCarty, after battling alcohol abuse, signed with the Gens in an attempt to work his way back to the NHL. He played 11 games in Flint before moving on to Grand Rapids and, eventually, his fourth Stanley Cup with the Red Wings.
     Defensively, the Gens struggled again, allowing a league-worst 276 goals. They went through four different goaltenders, with Eric Marvin playing the majority of the season. Marvin started 54 games, and went 21-20-12 with a 3.51 GAA. Ex-MSU netminder Chad Alban played 14 games, going 9-3-2 with a sparkling 2.48 GAA, earning the nod as the starting goalie for the playoffs.
     The Generals made the playoffs for the second straight season, but, like last year, didn't last long. They drew the second place Port Huron Icehawks, an expansion team that finished the year on a strong note. Two games went to overtime, but the Icehawks polished off the Generals in five games.
     Another slick-looking program, plenty of ads and the phrase "Rebuilding the Tradition" found on numerous pages. The Perani Group attempted to "rebuild the tradition" in their first season, but may have done inestimable damage to the franchise in the long run.

2009-10 Regular Season--Generals vs. Quad City
     The 2008-09 season pretty much drove the franchise straight into the ground. The Perani Group, after purchasing the franchise from Dr. Shukairy, were unable to "rebuild the tradition" of the franchise in 2007-08. The following year was a disaster, on and off the ice. On the ice, the Generals had their worst season ever, going a miserable 22-47-2-5, dead last in the IHL by 14 points. Coach Peter South was brought back after the 2008 season, and he and GM Ron Sanko put together a weak lineup that went through eight goaltenders and allowed 359 goals. Attendance plummented to an all-time low 1613 per game.
     Off the ice, things were even worse. The Perani Group failed to pay their vendors, employees, advertisers and players. At midseason, the apartment complex that housed the players threatened the team with evictions due to unpaid bills. One of the players sued for unpaid hospital bills because The Perani Group didn't supply the players with workman's compensation.
     After that nightmare of a season, The Perani Group dissolved, and the franchise was pretty much taken over by the Franke family, Fort Wayne's owners. South remained on as GM while ex-goalie Jason Muzzatti became head coach. Muzzatti and South rebuilt the roster, signing former Stanley Cup winner Pascal Rheaume longtime minor league netminder JF Labbe.
    The Generals started off slow in 2009-10, and rumors of the franchise folding at midseason were prevalent. Eventually, the roster started to jell. The Gens added longtime NHLer Bryan Smolinski, who contributed 24 goals and 49 points in 48 games. They backed into the playoffs with a 33-36-3-4 record. Their 73 points tied them with Bloomington for fourth place, but the Generals earned the playoff berth due to total wins.
     In the playoffs, the Generals faced the first place Muskegon Lumberjacks. The Jacks jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, but the Gens fought back to take the series in seven, outscoring Muskegon 15-6 in the last three games. In the Turner Cup Finals, the Generals faced two-time champion Fort Wayne. The Generals lost to the Komets in five games, but four of the five games were decided by one goal. Game 3, the last Generals game I went to, was a back and forth thriller that the Gens won in overtime, 7-6. It was also the final win in franchise history.
     This is not even really a program, more like a roster sheet with a list of sponsors on the back. Nothing much else to say about it.

     Towards the end of the season, Perani Arena was taken over by Firland Management. The new owners immediately began looking for a new tenant for the arena, and reached a deal with the NAHL's Marquette Iron Rangers, who would be called the Michigan Warriors in Flint. The Warriors owners made sure to make their presence felt while the Generals were still around, even classlessly holding their introductory press conference the eve of a do-or-die playoff game in Flint. Despite the thrilling finish to the season and rumors of new ownership, Firland Management immediately gave a five-year exclusive lease to the Warriors, forcing the Generals to fold. Attendance, while falling to under 2000 per game in the final two years of the Generals, almost fell in half for the new Warriors, who only now are just getting back to over 1000 per game.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Flint Hockey: Flint Generals (1993-2010)

     Here's the next four seasons of Generals programs I have.

1997-98 Regular Season--Generals vs. Madison
      After losing the Colonial Cup, the Generals reloaded for the 1997-98 season, their fifth anniversary. Robbie Nichols' squad finished in first place in the East again, but their 46-22-0-6 mark was not good enough to take the regular season crown. Attendance dipped slightly, but was still a solid 3306, third in the league.
     Kevin Kerr continued his streak of 50-goal seasons, chipping in 67 goals to go with 111 points. Brian Sakic, Kerr's linemate, led the team in points with 120, on the strength of 99 assists. Ross Wilson had another excellent season, scoring 50 goals, while Jason Glover added 40. As a team, the Gens scored a league-leading 371.
     In net, starting goaltender Andrei Mezin received the chance of a lifetime when he was named the starting goaltender for Team Belarus at the 1998 Winter Olympics. With Mezin gone for the Winter Games and the World Championships, backup Bryan McMullen and ex-Spirit Ray LeBlanc split the netminding duties, with McMullen getting the nod for the playoffs. As a team,  the Gens allowed 278 goals.
     For the third straight year, the Generals marched back to the Colonial Cup Finals. They demolished Binghamton in five games in Round One, then zipped past Brantford in five to set up a rematch with Quad City. The series was a thriller, going the full seven games, before the Mallards won their second straight Cup in overtime, 3-2.
     This program was from a game against the Madison Monsters, a team that, while not a world-beater, was always a tough opponent. Ray LeBlanc was in net, and despite outshooting the Monsters 41-27, the Generals lost, 4-3, in a shootout. The program commemorates the fifth anniversary of the franchise, and features the team photos of the previous four seasons. It's a lot more condensed than previous years, only 32 pages, but still loaded with ads.

1998-99 Regular Season--Generals vs. Thunder Bay
     The summer of 1998 was an offseason of change for the Generals. During the previous season, Dr. Shukairy purchased the struggling Saginaw Lumber Kings. Robbie Nichols was elevated to VP and Chief Operating Officer of both the Generals and newly-renamed Saginaw Gears. Larry Floyd, who spent the previous three seasons in Huntsville, was picked as his replacement.
     The Generals took a step back, on and off the ice, in 1998-99. Attendance dipped again, to 3037 per game, the lowest it had been since the Bulldogs' final season. Floyd's crew stumbed out to an 11-16-3 mark before he was fired and replaced by Nichols. Nichols guided the Generals back into the playoffs, but the team's 37-32-5 third place finish was the lowest since 1994-95.
     After five straight seasons of 50+ goals, Kevin Kerr was strangely let go, another one of the franchise's biggest blunders. He started the season in Toledo of the ECHL, but soon returned to the UHL with, of all teams, Quad City. Ross Wilson, Jason Glover and Brian Sakic tried to pick up the slack from Kerr's departure, each scoring over 35 goals and 95 points. Late-season addition David-Alexandre Beauregard scored 18 goals in 18 games as well. However, team offense dropped to 318.
     In net, newcomer Rob Laurie was an iron-man in the Generals goal. He played in 66 games, and despite a weaker Generals team, went a respectable 35-27-4 with a 3.82 GAA and 1 shutout. Four other netminders, led by Jean-Yves Dube, played the remainder of the games. As a team, the Gens allowed 299 goals, a slight increase from the previous year.
     The Generals play finished the regular season on a strong note, and faced the BC (Binghamton) Icemen in Round One. The Generals upset the first-place Icemen in five games, then faced a powerful Muskegon Fury squad in Round Two. Despite being underdogs, the Gens battled the Fury to seven games, before falling to the eventual champions. Nichols resigned after the season was over, and a long search for his replacement would take a good portion of the summer.
     This is easily the most artistic program cover the Generals had. All the teams in the UHL at the time are featured. Of course, the Quad City Mallard is getting special attention from General Rally.

1999-2000 Regular Season--Generals vs. Ohio

     1999-2000 was the thirtieth season of professional hockey in Flint, and it was a memorable one. The team went retro for the season, bringing back the IHL Generals' logo and jerseys for the occasion. Nichols was replaced by former Red Wing Doug Shedden, who had previously coached in Louisiana of the ECHL.
     Shedden built possibly one of the greatest minor league teams in recent memory. From Louisiana, Shedden brought along Don Parsons (future all-time scoring champion), Nick Stadjuhar and Gary Roach. Several players on this season's team had extensive experience in the ECHL and AHL, a few even making it to the NHL.
     The Generals lived up to expectations, jumping out to a 10-2 start and rolling to a 51-14-9 record, tied with Quad City for first overall and 11 points better than second place Port Huron. Attendance increased slightly, reaching 3150 per game.
     The Generals offense was back on top of the league, with 379 goals scored. There were no 50-goal scorers, but it was a balanced attack, with nine 20+ goal scorers. The Gens were led by Parsons' 46 goals and 103 points. Ross Wilson was right behind him with 42 goals and 101 points. Captain Nick Stadjuhar contributed 22 goals and 71 points.
     The Generals were solid in net, led by Mark Richards. In his first season in blue and gold, Richards went 32-7-5 with a 2.91 GAA and 3 shutouts. Backup Alan Hitchen was solid in relief, going 12-5-2 with a 3.82 GAA. As a team, the Gens allowed 250 goals.
     After an excellent season, the Generals received a first round bye. In the second round, they eliminated a pesky Madison Kodiaks squad in 6 games, then dethroned Muskegon in 5 to return to the Finals. For the third time in four years, the Generals faced Quad City for the Colonial Cup. This time, the Generals came out on top, sweeping the Mallards in four straight to earn their second Cup. Richards allowed only 10 goals in the four-game sweep, the first Finals sweep in league history. After the season, Shedden moved on to Memphis of the CHL, and was replaced by assistant Billy Thurlow.
     This program is from a game against the Ohio Gears, who recently moved midseason from Saginaw. Despite outshooting the Gears 52-32, Gears goalie Mike Brusseau kept it close, earning the #1 Star of the Game. The Generals won, 2-0, as Richards stopped all 31 shots he faced. This program contains a few pages from programs from each team that played in Flint, including the first season of the UHL Generals.

2001-02 Regular Season--Generals vs. Quad City
     The Generals slumped badly after the 2000 Colonial Cup, falling to 30-34-10 and missing the playoffs in 2000-01, the first time a Colonial Cup champion did so. This was also the first time the Gens failed to reach the Colonial Cup Playoffs. Changes were made after that disappointing year, as Robb King was rehired as General Manager. King hired Kirk Tomlinson as Head Coach, who had previously coached in Colorado of the WCHL.
     Flint rebounded from 2000-01, finishing with a solid 42-26-6 record, good enough for fourth place in the West Division, just one point behind third place Missouri. Attendance was similar to the previous year, around 2964 per game, the second straight year it was under 3000.
     The Generals offense was led by two players: Bobby Reynolds and Jim Duhart. Duhart, a holdover from last year, led the team in goal scoring with 52 goals, while Reynolds was tops in points with 104. Martin Woods, Scott Hollis and Dale Greenwood also scored at least 23 goals. As a team, the offense registered 294 goals.
     The defense greatly improved from 2000-01. The Generals used four goaltenders that season, led by Stu Dunn. Dunn played in 38 games, and went 19-13-2 with 2 shutouts and a 3.02 GAA after a midseason trade from Port Huron. Tom McKinnon played 26 games for the Generals, going a sparkling 14-4-1 in relief with a 3.46 GAA and 1 shutout. As a team, the Generals allowed 245 goals, a drop of 54 goals from the previous year.
     The Generals were a strong team for most of the year, but injuries began to decimate the roster. After eking past Fort Wayne for the final playoff berth, Flint faced Quad City for the final time in the playoffs. With a roster riddled with injuries, the Generals fell to the Mallards in five games (best of five series).
     The program for this season was much different than other seasons. First of all, it's significantly smaller, only 52 pages. Secondly, it's made out of recycled paper. That logo is a classic, btw.
     I went to about six Generals games that year, taking full advantage of their $6 student prices (didn't go to any 2000-01 games, too busy with my first year of college). This particular program is from a game against the Mallards, who won 5-3.