Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Grand Rapids Blades (USHL, 1976-77)

1977 USHL Playoffs: Blades vs. Milwaukee Admirals
     The Grand Rapids Blades were a minor-pro hockey team in the United States Hockey League (USHL). They played their home games at Stadium Arena (now DeltaPlex Arena), located in Walker, Michigan. The Blades were the first professional hockey team to call Grand Rapids home since the IHL's Rockets relocated to Huntington, West Virginia in 1956. 1976-77 was the franchise's first season.
     Nelson LeClair was Player/Coach for the Blades, and Joe Zalokar was the General Manager. The team's first season was a successful one, to say the least. The Blades ran away with the regular season crown, sporting a 34-11-3 record. Their 71 points were 11 better than second-place Green Bay and 23 ahead of Southern Division champion Milwaukee.
     Grand Rapids led the league in goals scored, with 336. Gary Ford, who spent 9 years with the Muskegon Mohawks, had 37 goals and 105 points to lead the team. Rich Kramp led the team in goals with an even 40, while LeClair (38) and Dave White (34) had over 30 goals on the year.
     On defense, the Blades allowed a mere 213 goals, second only to Green Bay. They used three goaltenders that year. Former Kalamazoo Wing Yvon Pouliot and former Saginaw Gear Sam Clegg played the majority of the games in net (23 and 24 games a piece, respectively). Brian Cousineau saw action in 7 games during the season. Clegg got the nod in the postseason.
     In the playoffs, the Blades faced the Sioux City Musketeers in the semifinals. After falling behind 2-1, Grand Rapids advanced to the finals in five  games (best-of-5 series). They would face the Milwaukee Admirals, the opponent for this program. Looking at hockeydb.com, this is a strange series. The Blades ended up winning the championship in 3 games (best-of-three), but there were three straight ties in this series. This program is from Game 1 of that series, played on April 2, 1977. Grand Rapids defeated Milwaukee, 6-5, at Stadium Arena.
     I found this program at the flea market in Croswell this summer. This is a 20-page program, all black-and-white. Probably quickly put together, since it was a playoff game and not a regular season copy. There are pictures of the players, but the faces are very hard to distinguish. The inside cover has a seating chart for Stadium Arena, and lists ticket prices as $5 for the majority of sections and $4 for the corner sections. No seats in the endzones. Local advertisements include WMAX 1480, Mike and Johnny Brann's Steakhouse, Mulvihill Oldsmobile and Old Kent Bank.

Aftermath: Despite winning the USHL title, the Blades would fold after just one season. Grand Rapids would not be without hockey for long, as the IHL's Dayton Owls would relocate to Stadium Arena halfway through the 1977-78 season.

References:
Grand Rapids Blades statistics: 1976-77 (from hockeydb.com)

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