Tuesday, March 19, 2013

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.

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