Monday, May 2, 2016

Indianapolis Checkers (1984-85, IHL)

1984-85 Regular Season
Checkers vs. Muskegon Lumberjacks
     The Indianapolis Checkers were born in 1979, to replace the defunct WHA Racers, who folded during the 1978-79 season. The team was the primary affiliate of the New York Islanders and were originally part of the Central Hockey League. The Checkers played their home games at the Indiana Fairgrounds Coliseum, which held 8,421.       The Islanders had a talent-rich farm system and the Checkers greatly benefited, winning two Adams Cups in 1982 and 1983, then lost in the final Adams Cup Finals in 1984.
     The Checkers were a solid franchise in a successful farm system, but the CHL itself was a different matter. Unlike the Great Lakes-based IHL, the CHL was spread throughout the country, mostly west of the Mississippi River. Teams would have to travel as far north as Billings, Montana, as far south as Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, to as far east as Indianapolis. Due to sky-high travel costs and declining attendance, the CHL eventually collapsed after the 1983-84 season. The Checkers, along with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, joined the IHL for 1984-85.
     The Islanders moved their primary farm club from Indianapolis to the AHL's Springfield Indians after the CHL blew apart. They, in turn, swapped their secondary farm rights from Toledo to the Checkers, who were also affiliated with Boston and Minnesota. The Checkers were then sold to Al Savill, who once owned the Columbus/Grand Rapids Owls, former Checkers Coach/GM Fred Creighton. Creighton stayed on as GM and hired former defenseman Darcy Regier as coach.
     The Checkers could not replicate their CHL success in the IHL. In fact, the team slumped to fourth place in the IHL's West Division. Their forgettable 31-47-4 record was the third-worst in the league, just nine points ahead of league-worst Milwaukee.
     Indianapolis iced the weakest offense in the IHL that year, scoring just 264 goals.  They were led by CHL holdover Charlie Skojdt, who had 33 goals and 67 points. The only other 30-goal scorer that year was Neal Coulter, who bagged 31. Bob Lakso and Garth McGuigan were the other Checkers with at least 20 goals.
     While Indy allowed far more goals than they scored (318), that amount was the fourth-lowest in the IHL. Rob Holland, another Checker from the CHL days, was the main netminder in '84-85. Holland played in 57 games, going 23-29-3 with a respectable 3.28 GAA and 4 shutouts. Todd Lumbard, picked up from Flint, and Don Sylvestri were his backups that year. Holland drew the nod for the playoffs.
     Despite their woeful record, the Checkers did make it into the Turner Cup Playoffs, as only Milwaukee was left out. For Round One, Indy drew the Peoria Rivermen, who went 48-25-9 and won the Huber Trophy. The Checkers stretched the Rivermen to the limit, but fell in seven games. Peoria would go on to win the Turner Cup over Muskegon in seven games.
     This program is from the October 30 game against the Muskegon Lumberjacks. The Lumberjacks were owned by former CHL boss Larry Gordon, who purchased the moribund franchise for $1. The revitalized Jacks featured several CHL alums, including sniper Jock Callander. Muskegon would end up winning 50 games, a near 180-degree turnaround from last season, but the Checkers won that night, 2-1. As for the program, it's 68 pages, mostly black-and-white. The usual program essentials are there. There are letters from the Mayor of Indianapolis and the General Managers of each NHL affiliate. Savill, Creighton and Regier each have their own half-page bios early on. There is also an article about the "New Indianapolis Checkers" and about Indy's last IHL team, the Chiefs. Local ads include Lowell's Discount Foods, WIBC 1070 AM, Indianapolis Indians baseball and Jim Murphy's Steakhouse.

Aftermath: The Checkers would play two more seasons in the IHL, then relocate to Denver, Colorado, for the 1987-88 season. After two years there, the renamed Denver Rangers would move south to Phoenix and become the Phoenix Roadrunners. The franchise would fold in 1997. The expansion Indianapolis Ice would replace the Checkers in 1988 and receive a big boost when the Chicago Blackhawks made them their top farm club. Indianapolis is now home to the ECHL's Indy Fuel.

Sources:
International Hockey League Statistics: 1984-85 (from hockeydb.com)
1984-85 Indianapolis Checkers program

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