North American Hockey League (1975-1976)
Born: 1975 – NAHL expanson franchise.
Folded: June 1976
Arena: Tonowanda Sports Center
The Buffalo Norsemen were a one-year wonder in the obscure North American Hockey League of the 1970’s. This program is from a March 12, 1976 match up against the Erie Blades as the NAHL entered the final week of its regular season.
The Norsemen entered the NAHL playoffs two weeks later despite a losing record for the season. They faced the Johnstown Jets in the quarterfinal round. During an early game in the series in Buffalo, a black player on the Jets roster was subjected to racist taunts and signs by the Norsemen fans. When the series moved to Johnstown, Jets players retaliated by instigating a full-fledged brawl during the pre-game skate around. The melee sent Norsemen players Greg Neeld and Charlie Labelle off to the hospital. After the fight subsided, the Norsemen retreated to their locker room at the Cambria County War Memorial and refused to come back on the ice. NAHL officials handed the Jets a victory by forfeit…which also gave them the series victory and eliminated the Norsemen from the playoffs! The incident inspired a pre-game brawl scene in the classic hockey movie Slap Shot, released the following year and based largely on the Johnstown Jets.
“Naturally we took the team off the ice,” Norsemen General Manager Willie Marshall told the press at the time. “We had two players who couldn’t play. They beat up a couple of our stars…Hockey is secondary in this league. I hate to say I’m a part of this league. The people running the league have lost all touch with reality. We’re here to develop young hockey players, not goons.”
The Norsemen never played another game. The club folded following the season. The Jets went on to win the league championship.