Sunday, March 17, 2013

Flint Hockey: Flint Generals (1993-2010)

     After the Bulldogs left, the Colonial League quickly put an expansion franchise in Flint for the 1993-94. The team was named "Flint Generals" after the city's original franchise, and was owned by Dr. Khaled Shukairy. The Generals were the exact opposite of the Bulldogs in every way. They were competitive from the start. They won playoff games and championships. They lasted for 16 years. And they filled the IMA Sports Arena on a regular basis.
     The Generals were my favorite team, so I went to a lot of games over the years. Here are the programs from some of the games I went to.

Since I have so many programs from so many seasons, I'll split the Generals seasons up.

1993-94 Regular Season--Generals vs. Utica
     The Generals arrived in the summer of 1993, shortly after the Bulldogs left for Utica, New York. New owner Khaled Shukairy hired ex-IHL Generals forward Peter Horachek as Head Coach/GM, who immediately began putting a team together. A few holdovers from the Bulldogs (notably Ken Spangler, Stephane Brochu and Mark Gowans) joined new players like Kevin Kerr, Brian Sakic and Bret Strot, to form a potent lineup that could put the puck in the net.
     The Generals jumped out to a 10-1-2 start in their first season before cooling off and finishing 32-23-9, the best record for a first-year team in the league. In the playoffs, the Gens downed rival Detroit, 3-1, then fell to Chatham in a thrilling seven-game semifinal series.
     Player/Assistant Coach Kevin Kerr was named league MVP and a first all-star, scoring 57 goals and 112 points in just 45 games. Off the ice, the Generals were a smash hit, as they average 3579 per game, including 16 sellouts.
     This program is from a game on October 31, 1993, between the Generals and the Utica Bulldogs. This was the Bulldogs first game in Flint after moving, and it drew an overflow crowd of 4471 to the IMA. The Bulldogs scored first, then the Gens pumped in 11 straight goals before Utica could respond. Flint ran away with the game, 11-2, just one part of a memorable first season.
     As you can tell, the Generals didn't use the IHL Generals logo at first, opting instead for a cartoonish General instead. The silhouetted player in the background, I think, is Peter Horachek, hoisting the 1984 Turner Cup.

1994-95 Regular Season--Generals vs. Saginaw

     After a successful first year, big things were expected for the Generals in Year Two. Off the ice, they were as popular as ever, leading the league in attendance with 3454 per game. On the ice, the team seemed to have a sophomore slump. Despite another quick start, the team stumbled to a 34-34-6 record, again bringing up the rear in the East Division.
     Offensively, the Generals were loaded, as they scored a league-leading 350 goals. They were led again by Kevin Kerr, who pumped in 63 goals and 119 points. Four other players had at least 28 goals (Brian Sakic, Todd Humphrey, Jeff Whittle, Kyle Reeves). Defensively, the team struggled, as they allowed 353 goals, worst in the league. The Gens went through six goaltenders, as Joe Bonvie and Vern Geutens finished the season in net. Part of the problem was the amount of penalties the Gens took. Led by Todd Humphrey's 357 PIM, the Generals spent 2275 minutes in the sin bin, highest in the league.
     In the playoffs, the Gens faced the Saginaw Wheels in a rematch of the Colonial Cup Semifinals from the previous year. Once again, the Generals were eliminated by the Wheels, this time in six games. After the season, Peter Horachek would be fired, replaced by Detroit Vipers assistant coach Robbie Nichols.
     This season's program was similar to last year's, with the Generals logo pretty much front-and-center. Most of the pictures are from the previous year, except the second one (which is from 1984). This program is 100 pages, full of ads!

1995-96 Regular Season--Generals vs. Madison
     The Generals became the Colonial League affiliate of the IHL's Detroit Vipers for the 1995-96 season, which saw an influx of talent. New Coach/GM Robbie Nichols solved the team's dilemma in net, bringing in future Olympian Andrei Mezin to tag-team with Vipers property Chris Gordon.
     1995-96 was not only one of the best seasons in Generals history, but one of the best in Flint's long pro hockey history. After a 1-3 start, the Generals soared to first overall in the Colonial League, with a 51-18-5 record, a city record. The fans continued to pour into the IMA, as the Generals averaged 3673 per game.
     Kerr continued to score goals with ease, and was joined in the 50-goal club by newcomer Robin Bouchard, who led the team with 56 goals and 107 points. As a team, the Gens scored 347 goals, tops in the league.
     Defensively, the Generals improved by leaps and bounds. Mezin and Gordon played the majority of the games, with female netminder Erin Whitten getting in four games. As a team, the Gens allowed 248 goals, tied with Muskegon for the lowest in the league.
     The Generals were the favorites going into the playoffs, and didn't disappoint. After brooming Quad City in Round 1, they crushed Detroit in the semi-finals in five games to advance to the Colonial Cup Finals for the first time. The Generals faced the Thunder Bay Senators, who had won three of the past four Colonial Cups.
     After losing Game One, the Generals took a 3-1 series lead before dropping Game 5 in Thunder Bay. At home for Game Six, a sellout crowd watched the Generals crush the Senators, 9-0, to win the franchise's first Colonial Cup. It was Flint's first pro hockey championship since the 1984 Generals, and truly an incredible season.
     This cover is more artistic than the previous two, with "TOP SECRET" replacing "Showtime" as the title. Also, the General is no longer standing at attention. Again, it's another 100-page monster, loaded with ads from around Genesee County. This program is from early in the season, a 2-1 loss to the expansion Madison Monsters that dropped the Gens' record to 1-3 on the year. Of all the games I picked to go to that year, I saw one of the rare losses!

1996-97 Regular Season--Generals vs. Dayton
     Flying high after their first Colonial Cup, the Generals actually improved on their record-setting season, again finishing first overall with a 55-18-1 record. Attendance reached it's highest average in team history, as 3737 per game poured into the IMA to watch the defending champs.
      Kevin Kerr set a city record when he scored 72 goals to go along with 125 points in 68 games. Newcomer Ross Wilson joined him in the 50-goal club with 53. A mid-season trade that sent Robin Bouchard to rival Muskegon would go down as one of the franchise's biggest blunders.
     With Chris Gordon heading to El Paso of the WPHL, the Vipers sent down rookie Igor Galkin to replace him. Mezin returned and, despite callups to Rochester (AHL) and Las Vegas (IHL), managed to play in 25 games, with Galkin in goal for 46. Fellow rookie Matt Weder played in 13, and as a team, the Generals allowed a league-low 232 goals.
     The Gens stormed back to the Colonial Cup Finals, smashing the Utica Blizzard in three straight in Round One and Brantford in five in Round Two. In the Finals, they ran into a team that was just as strong: the Quad City Mallards. The Mallards would dethrone the Generals in six games, winning the Cup at the IMA in Game Six. This series would set off the hottest rivalry the league would know
     This program is from a game against the lowly Dayton Ice Bandits. The Bandits were actually the St. Thomas Wildcats, who took the 1995-96 season off after their lone year in London, Ontario. The Bandits were on their way to a disastrous 13-53-8 record, and were no match for the defending champs. The Generals fired a league-record 70 shots on goal and won 11-2. Forward Sean Ortiz scored 5 goals on his former team, easily winning the #1 Star of the Game.

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