Sunday, March 24, 2013

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. 

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