Saturday, March 28, 2015

Muskegon Lumberjacks (IHL, 1989-90)

1989-90 Regular Season--Lumberjacks vs. Flint Spirits
     The Muskegon Lumberjacks were coming off their second Turner Cup championship of the 1980s. Ever since Larry Gordon purchased the franchise in 1984, the Lumberjacks were at or near the top of the league standings, winning 50+ games every year but on in that stretch. The Lumberjacks were the primary affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
     1989-90 was no different, as Blair MacDonald's team once again won the Huber Trophy as regular season champions. Their 55-21-6 record was four points behind second place Kalamazoo and just two ahead of West Division champ Indianapolis.
     Muskegon was tied for the league lead in goal-scoring, pumping in 389 goals (tied with Kalamazoo). Dave Michayluk led the team with 51 goals and 102 points. Two players had 40+ goals (Scott Gruhl and Perry Ganchar) and three others had at least 25.
     The Lumberjacks allowed the second-fewest goals in the league that season, as only 304 pucks crossed the goal line. Blair MacDonald used three different goaltenders: Bruce Racine, Chris Clifford and Frank Pietrangelo. Racine was the #1 goalie on the team, going 29-15-4 with a 3.75 GAA in 49 games. Racine and Clifford alternated starts in the playoffs.
     Muskegon made quick work of the Fort Wayne Komets, sweeping them aside in four straight. In the second round, the Lumberjacks were taken to the limit by their archrivals, the Kalamazoo Wings, before advancing to their second straight Turner Cup Finals. Once there, they ran into a red-hot Indianapolis Ice. The Ice were the primary affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, and just missed the top record in the IHL. In the Finals, the Ice swept aside the defending champs in four straight to win their only Turner Cup title.
     Another great-looking program, 104 pages loaded with advertisements and articles. There is also a roster sheet featuring up-to-date stats for the Lumberjacks and that night's opponent, the Flint Spirits. The program also has that night's ticket stub and a season schedule glued to a blank lineup sheet in the program. According to the writing on the program, the Lumberjacks blew out the Spirits, 10-3, which clinched the Huber Trophy. Local Ads include Viking Foods and Shur-Fine Groceries (Very colorful, very 1980s Viking Foods logo), Maxis' Restaurant and Nite Spot and Betten Chevrolet-Geo.

International Hockey League Standings: 1989-90 (from
Muskegon Lumberjacks Statistics: 1989-90 (from

Saginaw Gears (IHL, 1981-82)

1981-82 Regular Season--Gears vs. Toledo Goaldiggers
     The Saginaw Gears were in their 10th season of IHL hockey in 1981-82. They were coming off the franchise's second Turner Cup championship thanks to a talent-loaded roster. However, they also had to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection due to declining attendance and revenue. Longtime owner Wren Blair was out, and Ken MacDonald (of MacDonald Broadcasting) took over the team. The Gears were still a secondary affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings.
     There was major roster turnover, as most of the players from the 1980-81 squad were promoted to New Haven of the AHL. The Gears also had a new coach, as Don Perry was promoted as well. To replace Perry, the Gears simply hired star forward Marcel Comeau as player/coach.
     If there was anyone that could be considered "Mr. Everything" for the Saginaw Gears, it's Marcel Comeau. He was one of the original Gears players, he played his entire pro career in Saginaw (except for a few AHL playoff games in Maine in 1982-83), was captain, won the IHL MVP in 1981, and served as player/coach/GM in the final two years of the franchise. Marcel was also the only player in Saginaw hockey history to win both Turner Cup titles. His number 17 was also briefly retired by the UHL's Saginaw Lumber Kings in 1998.
     The IHL was struggling mightily in the early 1980s, due to the recession that hit the Midwest especially hard. After the Port Huron Flags folded in 1981, the league was down to seven teams and dropped it's divisional format. Comeau's Gears got off to a slow start, and were in last place by February 7th (the night this program is from). They rebounded late in the season to finish in fifth place with a mediocre 36-38-8, just one point behind fourth place Fort Wayne, but 31 behind league-best Toledo.
     Saginaw had no problem scoring goals that year, as they lit the red light 401 times, second-best in the IHL. Gordie Brooks led the team in points, on the strength of 49 goals and 113 points. JP Dubois was the team's 50-goal scorer, with 57 on the year. Steve Salvucci just missed 50 goals, scoring 49 in only 67 games. Three other players had over 30 goals, and two others had over 25. Even player/coach Comeau managed to score 33 goals and 101 points in 67 games!
Player/Coach/GM Marcel Comeau

     It was on defense that the Gears struggled mightily. Saginaw allowed 402 goals--only the woeful Muskegon Mohawks allowed more that year. Four different goalies were between the pipes that year, with Mike Blake and Paul Pageau played the majority of the games. Both split the duties during the playoffs.
     Saginaw qualified for the Turner Cup Playoffs for the ninth straight season, as only last-place Muskegon was the only team left out in the cold. The Gears opened the playoffs against the Milwaukee Admirals. The Admirals finished in second place that year, 11 points ahead of Saginaw, but the Gears won the best-of-seven series in five games. Round Two was a strange format: a round robin between the Gears, Toledo Goaldiggers and Fort Wayne Komets. Each team would play four games, and the two teams with the best records would advance to the Turner Cup Finals. Saginaw would go 3-1 in the round robin, the best mark of the three teams, and faced the Goaldiggers in the Finals.
     The Gears and Goaldiggers had faced each other two previous times in the Finals, and both series went the limit, each team winning the Turner Cup. The rubber match was not as close. The Gears hung tough against the powerful Goaldiggers, and two games went to overtime. But, in the end, Saginaw relinquished the Turner Cup in five games, losing 6-1 in Game Five in Toledo.
     This is one of the smallest Gears programs I own, and the second one I found online. It's only 30 pages, all black-and-white. Page 19 has a team photo of the 1980-81 Champs. There are a few orange pages with an article about the Toledo Goaldiggers (that night's opponent), an IHL directory, and a profile on goalie Mike Blake. The insert has up-to-date stats, with a bingo card on the back. Local advertisements include Peet Packing Company (Farmer Peet's Hot Dogs), the Casa del Rey Mexican Restaurant and WSAM 1400 AM (The radio home of the Gears).

Aftermath: 1981-82 was the last playoff appearance for the Saginaw Gears. The team slumped to last place in 1982-83 with a 29-44-9 record, 11 points back of third place Flint. Attendance continued to slump, and the franchise folded after the season. Hockey would not return to Saginaw until 1985, when the Flint Generals moved to town for the 1985-86 season.

International Hockey League Statistics: 1981-82 (from
1981-82 Saginaw Gears Souvenir Program

Friday, March 27, 2015

White Whale: Another Program I Want

Forgot to add one more program I'm looking for

1978-79 Saginaw Gears: This is the only season that I don't have. I have a yearbook from that year and trading cards, but haven't seen a program online yet.

No luck yet on the other white whales. There are a couple Grand Rapids Owls programs, but they're way out of my price range. I have several Fort Wayne Komets programs I have listed on eBay, so if you're interested, take a look.

Kalamazoo Wings (ECHL, 2010-11)

2010-11 Regular Season--Wings vs. Gwinnett Gladiators
      The Kalamazoo Wings are members of the ECHL. This version of the K-Wings actually began in 1999-2000 as the Madison Kodiaks in the United Hockey League. After the IHL's Kalamazoo Wings franchise suspended operations, the Kodiaks were quickly purchased and relocated to Wings Stadium. They assumed the K-Wings nickname and brought back the original color scheme upon their arrival. After nine years in the UHL, the K-Wings switched to the ECHL, where they've been ever since.
     In 2010-11, the K-Wings were the secondary affiliate of the New York Islanders. Nick Bootland, a former K-Wing himself, was back behind the bench. Paul Pickard, former commissioner of the IHL, was team president.
     Kalamazoo had a fine season in 2010-11, capturing the North Division crown. Their 40-24-2-6 record was seven points better than second place Wheeling, but nine points behind league-best Alaska. They had the third best offense that year, scoring 255 goals. The K-Wings were led by longtime minor league veteran Kory Karlander. Karlander had 34 goals to go with 80 points. Two other players had over 30 goals, Trent Daavettila and Andrew Fournier. Patrick Taylor and Justin Asselin were the other players who scored at least 20 goals.
    The K-Wings were okay on defense, allowing 225 goals, 11th-best in the league (pretty defensive-minded league!). Ryan Nie was the #1 netminder in Kalamazoo that year, going 30-16-5 with a 2.80 GAA and 2 shutouts. His main backup was Riley Gill, who went 10-7-3 with a 3.05 GAA and two shutouts. Garrett Zemlak was the other netminder used that year.
     Kalamazoo got on a hot streak in the Kelly Cup Playoffs that year. After disposing of the Florida Everblades in four games (best-of-five) in Round One, they swept aside Reading in four straight in Round 2. In the semifinals, Kalamazoo faced the Wheeling Nailers (coached by ex-Icehawks coach Stan Drulia). After falling behind 2-1 in the series, the K-Wings ripped off three straight wins to advance to the Kelly Cup Finals for the first time ever. Their luck ran out, as they faced an even hotter team, the Alaska Aces. Alaska took both games in Anchorage, and except for a Game 3 loss in Kalamazoo, zipped by the K-Wings in five games to win the Kelly Cup title.    
     The program is small, about 35 pages and compact. On the other hand, it's all in color. Plenty of advertisements and articles about the K-Wings and the ECHL. Advertisements include Celebration Cinemas, Auto Owners Insurance and WWMT TV3, a local CBS affiliate. The roster booklet is about four pages and includes stats and pictures of the K-Wings roster. Both came with a roster sheet with up-to-date statistics and standings.
The roster booklet from the same game
     Both the program above and the roster booklet are from the game against the Gwinnett Gladiators on January 29, 2011. This was the first K-Wings game I ever went to. I lost both the Port Huron Icehawks and Flint Generals, and wasn't interested in going to Michigan Warriors games, so I decided to go on a few "road trips" to places I haven't been before, like Kalamazoo and Fort Wayne.
     As you can see on the booklet, that night's game was the annual "Golden Ice Night", in which the ice was dyed yellow and proceeds went to the Ronald McDonald House Children's Charities. (PS: Spare me your yellow snow jokes, lol). Pretty fun night of hockey, I really enjoyed Wings Stadium. It's been kept up nicely, but also has that "old school" charm to it. Not a bad seat in the house either.
     Later on, I remember saying that we might go to another K-Wings game if they had a long playoff run. Sure enough, they reached the Finals. When the series was guaranteed to go to at least five games, I bought tickets for that game. While I wanted Kalamazoo to win, I got to see Alaska win the Kelly Cup. First time I saw a team win a championship live, and I've been going to hockey games since 1988. Pretty cool, and I took a lot of pictures. Here's a video of the Kelly Cup presentation:


ECHL Statistics: 2010-11 (from
Kalamazoo Wings Game Night Program, 2010-11 Season

Michigan Warriors (NAHL, 2014-15)

2014-15 Regular Season--Warriors vs. Janesville Jets
Note: I know, I know. I said five years ago that I would "never set foot in Perani Arena again" when the Warriors arrived in town and the Generals were forced to fold. That "boycott" lasted nearly 4 years. I went to a game in 2013-14, and one in 2014-15. I like the NAHL, especially after all those games in Port Huron. Hockey's hockey, I guess. Hell, I even own a Warriors t-shirt and puck now, so they can't be that bad anymore!

     The Michigan Warriors are in their fifth year of existence. They are members of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), a mid-level junior league in the US and Canada. They play their home games in Flint's Perani Arena. Moe Mantha, former head coach of the Saginaw Spirit, is still Coach/GM of the Warriors, the only one they've known.
     The Warriors were coming off a North Division Championship in 2013-14, the second in four years for the team. After getting off to a slow start, the season went into a tailspin due to the rumors of Perani Arena's sale and the uncertain future of the franchise. After IMS Hockey purchased Perani Arena, the Warriors were notified that they would not be welcomed back to the arena for 2015-16 and would be replaced by the OHL's Flint Firebirds. Currently, the Warriors sit three points behind the Johnstown Tomahawks for the last playoff spot in the North.
     I won't go into the stats for this year's team since, well, the season is still going on. This technically isn't a program, more like a roster booklet. There are pictures and stats for each player on the Warriors roster, as well as short bios on Coach Moe Mantha and Assistant Coach Jon Jepson. There's a section that shows the meaning of referee hand signals a column for upcoming promotions. There is an insert giving the updated statistics for both the Warriors and that night's opponent, the Janesville Jets. There are a few advertisements, incluing CN Railroad, Donna's Donuts, Blue Lakes Charter and Tours and Applebees. That's about it. Pretty simple, but way more than the Fighting Falcons ever had.
     Michigan entered that night's contest in last place with a 17-23-9 record. Janesville, on the other hand, was running away with the North Division with a 40-9-1 record. I expected a lopsided game, but the Warriors hung in there, thanks to the play of their netminder, Ryan Wischow. Janesville took a 2-0 lead early in the third and hung on for a 2-1 victory. The announced attendance was 823, a bit higher than my guess of 500.

Aftermath: As I wrote earlier, the Warriors face an uncertain future. After five years in Flint, the team was successful on the ice, winning two North Division titles and coming within a goal of winning the Robertson Cup in 2010-11. Off the ice (at least attendance-wise), the team has struggled mightily. In each of their five seasons, the Warriors have been in the bottom third of the NAHL in attendance, only once averaging over 1000 per game in a season. Upon their purchase of Perani Arena, IMS Hockey notified the Warriors that they would not be welcomed back for the upcoming season, being replaced by the OHL's Flint Firebirds. As of now, the latest rumor about the Warriors is that the team will be sold and relocated to Brooklyn, New York, for the 2015-16 season.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Muskegon Lumberjacks (IHL, 1985-86)

1985-86 Season--Opponent Unknown
     By the mid-1980s, pro hockey in Muskegon had nearly collapsed. The Mohawks franchise had bottomed out, drawing few fans and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past decade. After a miserable 19-55-8 season in 1983-84, the franchise was purchased by Larry Gordon for $1."I put a $1.00 bill on the table and they refused the offer. I told them I'd be at the Holiday Inn...a short time later, I received a call and they accepted the offer," Gordon recalled years later.
     Gordon's cheap purchase was a godsend for Muskegon hockey. The team was renamed "Musekgon Lumberjacks" and the roster was overhauled, as only three Mohawks remained. Gordon also hired Rick Ley as Head Coach/President of Hockey Operations. The new Lumberjacks did a 180-degree turnaround in 1984-85, going 50-29-3 and reaching the Turner Cup Finals.
     The Lumberjacks were a secondary affiliate of the Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins in 1985-86. Ley returned behind the bench in 1985-86, and his Lumberjacks bettered their record from the previous season. Muskegon's sparkling 50-27-5 mark and 105 points won them their second-straight East Division crown, just seven points behind league-best Fort Wayne.
     Muskegon topped the IHL in goals scored that year, pumping in 376 goals. Leading the way was Jock Callander, a holdover from the previous season who followed Gordon from the CHL's Montana Magic. Callander scored 39 goals and 111 points in 1985-86. Ley had a pair of 50-goal scorers as well, as former Mohawk Scott Gruhl scored 59 goals and newcomer Dave Michayluk notched 52. Ex-Detroit Red Wing Dennis Polonich had 32 goals and 68 points in his first season in Muskegon. Three more players scored at least 20 goals.
     The Lumberjacks had the third-best defense in the IHL, surrendering 290 goals. Michel Dufour was the top netminder that year, playing in 52 games and going 29-14-0 with a 3.09 GAA. Bruce Gillies and Brian Ford were the backups that season. Ford drew the nod for the majority of the playoffs.
     Muskegon rolled through the 1985-86 Turner Cup Playoffs. They drew Indianapolis in Round One, and shoved aside the Checkers in five games (best-of-seven). The semifinals brought on  tough Saginaw Generals squad, who finished 41-33-8 and won the Turner Cup just two years earlier. Despite a close-fought series (including an overtime Game 1), the Lumberjacks eliminated Saginaw in five games to reach the Turner Cup Finals for the second straight year.
     The Lumberjacks opponent for the Finals was the Fort Wayne Komets, regular season champions with a 52-22-8 record. Despite the tough opponent, Muskegon crushed the Komets in four straight, outscoring Fort Wayne 23-11 in the process. Game Four, a 6-2 Lumberjacks win at LC Walker Arena, clinched the franchise's first Turner Cup Championship since 1967-68. Jock Callander, who scored 12 goals and 23 points in just 14 games, was named MVP of the Turner Cup Playoffs. Captain Scott Gruhl accepted the Turner Cup from Commissioner Bud Poile and the celebration was on!
     Very nice program for that season. It's 90 pages loaded with ads, article and pictures. The poster insert features Lumberjacks star forward Jock Callander. Looks like the original owner of the program was a winner too, as there's a stamp on the insert. Great articles about each IHL team and a recap of the 1984-85 season. Local ads include WGHN 1370 AM/93 FM ("The Rhythm of the Lakeshore"), House of Chan Chinese Restaurant and McDonalds of Muskegon (featuring the infamous McDLT!).


VandeVoorde, Jay. Muskegon's Hockey History and Heroes. Author House, Bloomington, 2006.
Goal! Muskegon Lumberjacks Official Magazine, 1985-86 season.
International Hockey League Statistics: 1985-86 (from
"Muskegon Lumberjacks Win 1986 IHL Turner Cup Championship", Youtube, from hockeychief1.
"Lumberjacks Defeat Darren Pang and Saginaw in OT-1986 Turner Cup Playoffs", Youtube, from hockeychief1

Detroit Vipers (IHL, 1994-95)

1994-95 Home Opener: Vipers vs. Cleveland Lumberjacks
     The Detroit Vipers joined the International Hockey League in the summer of 1994. Palace Sports and Entertainment purchased the Salt Lake Golden Eagles franchise and relocated it to Michigan. The team played their home games at the Palace of Auburn Hills, and was an independent franchise for the majority of their existence. For the 1994-95 season, they were the parent club of the Colonial League's Detroit Falcons.
     Former Buffalo Sabres coach Rick Dudley was named the Head Coach/General Manager of the Vipers. Dudley had a successful run in the IHL, having led the 1987-88 Flint Spirits to the Turner Cup Finals and the 1992-93 San Diego Gulls to a league-record 62-12-8 and Finals berth. He was joined on the bench by future Flint Generals coach Robbie Nichols and player/assistant Mark Hardy.   
     Dudley built a strong team with a mix of talented veterans and talented prospects. Vets like Hardy, Lonnie Loach and Rick Knickle were joined by future NHLers Miroslav Satan and Petr Sykora.
     Dudley's Vipers had an outstanding inaugural season, both on and off the ice. On the ice, they finished in first place in the Northern Division with a 48-27-6. Their 102 points were just two ahead of second place Kalamazoo and 18 points back of league-best Denver. Off the ice, the Vipers were an even bigger success. A combination of the NHL lockout, strong promotion and a lot of free tickets, helped the Vipers rewrite the attendance record books in the IHL. Detroit averaged a league-best 14,263 fans per game, often filling the 20,500-seat Palace. The team also had numerous games broadcast on Channel 38 in Detroit.
     Detroit had no problems lighting the lamp in '94-95, scoring 311 goals, fifth-best in the league. They were led on offense by Peter Ciavaglia, who scored 22 goals and 81 points. Ciavaglia would spend the remainder of his career with the Vipers. Daniel Shank, a mid-season acquisition from Minnesota, would lead the team with 44 goals. Lonnie Loach, acquired from San Diego, popped in 32 goals and 75 points. Jay Mazur was the other player with over 20 goals (23). Four others scored at least 15.
     The Vipers were also fifth-best on defense, allowing only 273 goals, only 37 behind league-best Denver. Dudley's main goaltender that year was Rick Knickle. Knickle played in 49 games, going 24-15-5 with a 2.99 GAA and 3 shutouts. Three other goaltenders were used that year: Norm Foster, David Goverde, Darren Madeley and Maxim Michailovsky.
     The Vipers drew the Kansas City Blades in Round One of the Turner Cup Finals. Kansas City finished in last place in the Central Division (35-40-6), but got hot at the right time. Detroit took a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-five series, but fell in five games to the Blades, including a 4-3 loss in Game Five at The Palace.
     I went to a lot of Vipers games over the years and have a ton of programs from that team. This program, from the inaugural game against Cleveland, is the only one I've bought on eBay. I have one from the last-ever Vipers game, so I figured I should have one from their first game. Other than the cover, it's pretty much the standard design for Vipers programs from that year. It's 88 pages, mostly black-and-white, but there are quite a few color ads. All the players from that year's team have their own bio, and there are stats for the 1993-94 IHL season and directories for each IHL franchise. Plenty of articles too, covering subjects such as that night's opponent to "The Trainer's Table". Very nicely-done program. I'll be putting Vipers programs from other seasons later.

International Hockey League Statistics: 1994-95 (from
Detroit Vipers Inaugural Game Program, 1994-95.