Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Flint Hockey: Flint Spirits (1985-90)

     Needless to say, the 1980s were not kind to Flint, Michigan. Plant closings...soaring unemployment...high crime rates...Six Flags was a rough decade for residents. On the bright side, the city continued to be represented in the International Hockey League. After the Generals bolted for Saginaw in the 1985 offseason, the league awarded an expansion franchise, the Flint Spirits, to Laraine Lamb. During a horrific first season, Lamb was bought out by a group of investors that included local hockey legend Bob Perani.
     The Spirits lasted five years in a difficult era in the city. For the majority of their existence, they had loose affiliations with several NHL clubs. In 1989-90, they teamed up with the New York Rangers.
     Spirits programs have been hard to find, but here are the two I have.

1986-87 Regular Season--Spirits vs. Indianapolis
     The Spirits bombed in their first season in the IHL, going 16-60-6 in 1985-86. Wholesale changes were made in the organization, including a mid-season change in ownership. For the 1986-87 season, the Spirits hired future NHL Coach and GM Rick Dudley, who won the previous two ACHL championships with the Carolina Thunderbirds.
      With Dudley's leadership and the scoring of Jim Egerton (52 goals, 99 pts.), the Spirits made a huge turnaround in their sophomore season, going 42-33-0-7. That record was good enough for third place in the East Division, eight points behind first place (and defending champion) Muskegon. Goaltending and defense improved dramatically, as goals against dropped from 495 in 1985-86 to 361 in 1986-87.
     Despite the major turnaround, the Spirits were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs by the Saginaw Generals in six games.
     The Spirits' "Buick Hawk" logo is one of my all-time favorite logos in hockey. I like the color scheme too. Green isn't used enough in hockey, in my opinion.

1989-90 Regular Season

     After making it to the 1987-88 Turner Cup Finals, the Spirits promptly collapsed to last place in the IHL, going 22-54-0-6 in 1988-89. The following year, as you can tell by the cover to your right, the Spirits became the primary affiliate of the New York Rangers. After years of being an affiliate of several teams, the Spirits would get young prospects directly from one NHL team.
     Don Waddell remained as GM, but the Rangers installed former junior coach Paul Theriault as head coach. His assistant was former "Miracle on Ice" defenseman and 4-time Stanley Cup winner Ken Morrow.
     The Spirits had four 30+ goal scorers on the roster, including future NHLer Rob Zamuner. Jayson More, Paul Broten, Kevin Miller and Mike Richter also spent time in Flint before moving on to the NHL. Future NHL coach Peter Laviolette played 62 games with the Spirits this season.
     The 1989-90 Spirits finished with a respectable 40-36-0-6 record, good enough for third place in the East, though 30 points behind first place Muskegon. In the playoffs, the Spirits would be blown away by the Kalamazoo Wings in four straight, outscored 26-9 in the process.
     After the 1989-90 season, the Rangers made the AHL's Binghamton Rangers their primary affiliate. Declining attendance, no primary affiliate and the rising costs of running an IHL franchise meant the end of the Flint Spirits franchise. After the original Fort Wayne Komets moved to Albany, New York, the Franke family purchased the Spirits and relocated them to Fort Wayne, assuming the Komets' name and history. The Spirits were considered a separate and defunct franchise. 1990-91 would be the first season that pro hockey would not be played in Flint since the arrival of the Generals franchise.
     Not a fan of that Spirits logo. After that sharp-looking "Buick Hawk" design and the green and blue colors, the Rangers look just seemed uninspired. Pairing up with New York probably kept the franchise afloat for one more year, but the overall look was still a downgrade, in my opinion.

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