Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Grand Rapids Owls (1977-78, IHL)

1977-78 Regular Season: Owls vs. Toledo Goaldiggers
     After six seasons playing in an aging arena in front of dwindling crowds, the Columbus Owls gave up on Columbus, Ohio. Initially planning on relocating to Indianapolis, Indiana, for the 1977-78 season, the Owls instead shifted to Dayton, Ohio, recently vacated by the Dayton Gems. The Owls hoped for an increase in attendance in Hara Arena, despite the steady decline the Gems saw in their last few seasons.
    The move turned out to be a disaster. A declining economy and harsh winter helped keep attendance dangerously low. Owner Al Savill announced that the team was on track to lose over $350,000 and may be forced to fold the franchise. An emergency meeting of the IHL Board of Governors was convened and the Owls were allowed to relocate to Grand Rapids, Michigan, on December 3, 1977.
     The Owls' second home that season was Stadium Arena, a 5,000-seat arena in the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker, Michigan. Grand Rapids was no stranger to the IHL, having been home to the Rockets from 1950-56. The most recent team, the USHL's Blades, played in 1976-77, winning that league's championship before folding.
     The Owls finished in last place in the IHL that season, with a 27-43-10 record. They were just five points behind third place Milwaukee for the final playoff position. During the season, the Owls went through three different coaches: Nick Polano, Moe Bartoli and former Blade Nelson LeClair (who finished out the season). The Owls allowed 332 goals on the season, second-most in the league. Their goaltenders that year were Gary Carr and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Gordie Laxton. Carr and Laxton nearly split the workload in net that season, as Laxton was in goal for 45 games while Carr was in 37.
     Offense was another weak spot for the Owls, as they scored just 290 goals, second-fewest in the IHL (tied with Muskegon). Leading the way for Grand Rapids was Kim Davis, with 28 goals and 71 points. Davis would eventually make it to the NHL with Pittsburgh and Toronto. Henry Taylor led the team in goals with 36. Guido Tenesi Roy Somneer and Stu Younger each had over 20 goals. Lynn Jorgenson had 34 goals splitting the season with Grand Rapids and Saginaw.
     No postseason for the Owls, and maybe that was for the better. The season was chaotic for the franchise to begin with and the team likely didn't have much time to promote themselves in Grand Rapids. The program from the 1978-79 season talked about struggles with Stadium Arena, including ankle-deep water in the concourse and poor ice conditions.
     As for the program, it's a small one at just 9 pages. It's printed on glossy paper, but the ads are all black-and-white. Tickets were similar to what the Blades charged the year before, $3.75 and $4.75. Children got in at $2.50 while high school and college students got $1 off tickets. The Owls were affiliated with Pittsburgh and Boston that season. Makes sense that the Owls were affiliated with the Penguins, since both teams were owned by Al Savill. This program was from a game against the Toledo Goaldiggers, who ended up winning the Turner Cup that year. Both teams' rosters and pictures of the Owls are included. Local advertisements include Rogers Department Store, WCUZ 1230 AM (the radio home of the Owls), Burger Chef, and Arbanas Restaurant and Lounge.

References:

International Hockey League Statistics: 1977-78 (from hockeydb.com)

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