The Pacific Hockey League was a short-lived attempt to form an independent, low-budget minor league loop in Arizona, California and Washington state in the late 1970’s. According to Scott Surgent’s Complete Historical and Statistical Reference to the World Hockey Association, the idea for the PHL took root at the 1977 World Hockey Association All-Star Game thanks to serial sports entrepreneur Dennis Murphy (a founder of the WHA, American Basketball Association and Roller Hockey International among other start-ups) and former WHA executive Walt Marlow of the Indianapolis Racers.
The WHA was a big budget league locked in an expensive and losing battle with the NHL for markets and free agents. It was also about to enter a contraction phase, with four clubs dropping out after the 1976-77 season. The PHL concept gained momentum when the San Diego Mariners WHA club dropped out of the league in the spring of 1977, leaving San Diego Sports Arena owner Peter Graham without a winter tenant. Graham agreed to back a revived, low-budget version of the Mariners in the PHL. Dennis Murphy and former Harlem Globetrotters owner Jerry Saperstein (son of Abe) took the San Francisco franchise, which would play at the 12,000-seat Cow Palace. Long Beach, California took a franchise (the Sharks – also reviving an old WHA name and logo). And, less than two weeks before opening night, another WHA casualty – the Phoenix Roadrunners – jumped from the Central Hockey League to the PHL to round out the first season line-up with four clubs.
The Pacific Hockey League debuted on Christmas Day, 1977. There league had no shortage of available players. In addition to the contraction of the WHA, two rough-and-tumble minor leagues – the North American Hockey League and the Southern Hockey League – went out of business in 1977, creating a glut of refugee players.
Murphy & Saperstein’s Shamrocks featured a core of ex-WHA players, led by 35-year old player/head coach Wayne Rivers, a 50-goal scorer for the WHA’s San Diego Mariners three years earlier. Other WHA vets included Bill Evo, Paul Hoganson, Keith Kokkola and Randy Wyrozub. (Evo later became President of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings for a brief time in the mid-1990’s.) The rest of the roster was rounded out primarily by castaways from the defunct North American and Southern leagues.
The Shamrocks won the first (and only) PHL championship during the 1977-78 season. The club wobbled into its sophomore season in November 1978 low on funds. Shamrocks players weren’t paid for much of the second season and Murphy quickly fell behind on rent to the Cow Palace. An attempt to sell the club to David Peterson, owner of the Golden Gaters franchise of World Team Tennis (another Murphy creation) fell through and the Shamrocks folded in mid-season in January 1979.
Chris Collins, who was a 17-year old equipment manager for the Shamrocks during the 1977-78 season, curates a profanely entertaining tribute page to the team on Facebook.