Friday, May 20, 2016

Indianapolis Checkers (CHL, 1983-84)

1983-84 Regular Season
Checkers vs. U.S. Olympic Team
     The Checkers were riding high by 1983-84. They were the two-time defending Adams Champions and one of the strongest teams off the ice as well.           The CHL, on the other hand, was not as fortunate. The league was running on fumes by then. Having lost several teams the past few seasons, the CHL was down to just five teams. The league was spread all across the country, mostly in the western US. The five teams were as far north as Billings, Montana, as far west as Salt Lake City, Utah, and as far south as Tulsa, Oklahoma. Indianapolis was easily the most easterly team in the circuit.
     Things got worse as the year went on. The owners of the Tulsa Oilers declared bankruptcy and abandoned the team to the CHL, which kept it afloat as a travel team. To balance the schedule, the CHL counted games against the Canadian and American Olympic teams in the schedule. So this program was not from an exhibition game, but one that actually counted in the standings!
     The Checkers slipped in the standings after two dominant years, finishing in fourth place with a subpar 34-36-2 record. Their 70 points were just two behind third-place Salt Lake, but 29 behind first-place Colorado. Only one team missed the postseason that year, and the Checkers were in no danger of doing so. The Montana Magic brought up the rear, with a pathetic 20-52-4.
     Fred Creighton was again Coach/GM that season, and this season was more challenging than the previous two. On offense, the Checkers popped in 308 goals, third-most in the league. Don Laurence again was tops in scoring, with 41 goals and 78 points in 69 games. Indianapolis had a very balanced attack, as seven players had at least 20 goals that year.
     Indy was also in third place on defense, allowing 289 goals. They used four different netminders that year, including future NHLer Kelly Hrudey, then-Toledo Goaldigger Lorne Molleken, Robert Holland and Todd Lumbard. Holland and Lumbard split the time in net during the playoffs.
     Indianapolis opened the playoffs against the first-place Colorado Flames.  The Flames ran away with the top seed that year, but the Checkers upset them in six games to advance to the Finals. There, they faced a Cinderella team: the Tulsa Oilers. After ownership declared bankruptcy, the Oilers then lost the lease to their arena. Instead of allowing the franchise to go under, the CHL and the New York Rangers (the Oilers affiliate) split the costs to keep the team alive as a travel team. Despite not having a home game in well over a month, the Oilers stunned Salt Lake in Round One, then dethroned the Checkers in a four-game sweep to win the Adams Cup title.
     I bought this one in the same lot I got the 1982-83 program and ad. This is a slightly larger program, at 68 pages. Most of the pages are black-and-white, but a few pages are color. The previous season is reviewed in an article titled "Road to Success". Again, Bill Torrey of the Islanders wrote a congratulatory note, included with a picture of the 1983 Islanders. Another article is titled "Around the Central Hockey League on $23.50 a Day". This one talks about the amount of travel CHL teams faced. According to the author, the Checkers had to switch planes to reach all CHL cities except for Denver. Local advertisements include Indiana Bell, Indiana National Bank, WIRE AM 1430 and John Macri's Italian Village

Aftermath: 1983-84 would be the final season for the Central Hockey League. The CHL, already in rough shape due to low attendance and soaring travel costs, would fold after that season. Three teams, the Colorado Flames, the Salt Lake Golden Eagles and the Checkers would be left standing after the CHL collapsed. The Checkers and Golden Eagles would join the IHL for the 1984-85 season, while the Flames would fold. The Islanders would switch primary farm teams, opting for the AHL's Springfield Indians, while making the Checkers a secondary affiliate.


Sources:
Central Hockey League Statistics: 1983-84 (from hockeydb.com)
The Checker Flag: 1983-84 Indianapolis Checkers program

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