Saturday, October 10, 2015

Port Huron Flags (IHL, 1977-78)

1977-78 Regular Season: Flags vs. Fort Wayne Komets
      The Port Huron Flags were in their fifteenth season of IHL hockey during the 1977-78 season. They were a secondary farm club of the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals that season. The Flags played their home games at McMorran Arena, which had a capacity of 3,582.
     The Flags were coming off a disastrous 1976-77 campaign, a mess both on and off the ice. The Flags slumped to a league-worst 27-43-8 record, nine points behind the next worst team, Columbus. Off the ice, attendance slumped to dangerously low levels. A last-minute cash donation of about $50,000 kept the team afloat for the following season.
     Morris Snider returned as General Manager (he was also GM of McMorran Arena), and the team had a new face behind the bench: former Komets center Ron Ullyot. This was Ullyot's rookie year as a head coach, and he helped pull the Flags out of the cellar. Port Huron finished the season with a 33-32-15 record, good enough for fourth place in the Northern Division. The Flags' 81 points were just three behind second-place Kalamazoo and 11 behind first-place Saginaw.
     Ullyot's Flags scored the fourth-most goals in the IHL that season, pumping in 322 on the year. Left winger Larry Gould led the attack, with 36 goals and 105 points. Paul Nicholson and Dave Faulkner were the other thirty-goal scorers in Port Huron that season. Five other players lit the lamp at least 20 times.
     Port Huron struggled a bit on defense, as they surrendered 331 goals, third highest in the league. Rollie Boutin was the main netminder that season, making it into 58 games with a 3.85 GAA. Dale Ridout was his backup, playing 15 games with a 4.57 GAA. Ted Tucker was loaned to the Flags during the season from Toledo.
     The 1977-78 Flags iced a physical team, to say the least. The team racked up 2,232 penalty minutes in the rough-and-tumble IHL that year. Leading the march to the "sin bin" was right winger and league superpest Archie Henderson. Henderson, who was 6'6" and 220 pounds, piled up a team-best 419 PIM, also a career high. Left winger Gary Rissling was next with 341 minutes, followed by Brent Tremblay (281), Jim Gustafson (202), Reid Bailey (162) and Les Auge (104).
1977-78 Regular Season: Flags vs. Kalamazoo Wings
     Port Huron opened up the Turner Cup Playoffs against the defending champion Saginaw Gears. Most were expecting Saginaw to make quick work of the Flags, but the opposite happened. Port Huron crushed the Gears in five games (best-of-seven), outscoring Saginaw 31-19 in the process. In the semifinals, the Flags faced second-place Kalamazoo. After dropping Game 1 in Kalamazoo, Port Huron rattled off three straight wins to advance to their second Turner Cup Finals in three years.
     The Flags would face the Toledo Goaldiggers in the 1978 Turner Cup Finals, who had lost the previous year. The series was a back-and-forth classic. Port Huron had a 2-1 series lead, then fell behind 3-2 after getting smoked 11-2 in Game 5. They rebounded on McMorran ice, 6-3, to square the series at 3, but fell in Game 7 at Toledo, 4-3.
     Though no Flags won any individual trophies, two players made the postseason all-star teams. Larry Gould made the first team all-star roster on left wing, while Jim Bannatyne was named to the second team on defense.
     I bought both of these programs on eBay recently, and they just arrived. Both are from early in the 1977-78 season. Not sure about the results of each
1977-78 Flags Team Photo and Roster insert

game, though. They are 48 pages full of the usual ads, articles and stats. All the pictures are black-and-white. There are messages from GM Morris Snider and Head Coach Ron Ullyot in both, and the green program includes a brief article about former Capitals goaltender (and then scout) Roger Crozier. Both still have the inserts: the green program's insert is a picture of right winger Mike McDougal and the orange program's insert is of center Jim Gustafson. Local advertisements include WHLS 1450 AM, Bob's Hairstyling for Men, Ruiz Taco Hut, Sperry's Department Store and London's Dairy. There's also a team photo of the 1976-77 Flags, featuring future NHL on NBC announcer Mike Emrick, who was the Flags' announcer and PR Director.
     I added two pictures of Flags artifacts that I got a few years before. I think the first picture was an insert from a program, or may have been a giveaway. Dad got this for me at the Croswell Flea Market (I think). The second picture is a set of souvenirs Dad bought for me at the Croswell Flea Market. It includes a plastic cup, several pins, some keyrings (there are four, one is hanging in my room), a hockey stick pencil (still has lead!) and a '77-78 team photo patch. 

Port Huron Flags souvenirs
Aftermath: 1977-78 was the final time the Flags would reach the Turner Cup Finals. Port Huron was the smallest city in the IHL at the time, and the Flags would continue to struggle to draw decent crowds to McMorran Arena. Operating losses hovered around $150,000 per year. The crippling recession of the early 1980s would do even more damage to the Flags (and most of the league, for that matter). Their two home games in the 1981 Playoffs averaged under 900 per game, causing Snider and the McMorran Authority to fold the franchise shortly after.
    

References:
  International Hockey League Statistics: 1977-78 (from hockeydb.com)
1978-79 International Hockey League Yearbook. Matt Dennis, Editor, 1978.  

1 comment:

  1. Please email me, I have questions regarding this. Thanks!

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