National Professional Soccer League (1992-2001)
Born: 1992 – NPSL expansion franchise.
Died: August 15, 2001 – The Blizzard cease operations.
The Buffalo Blizzard were a long-running indoor soccer franchise that enjoyed a degree of popularity in Western New York during the early 1990′s. The team started in 1992 with a strong managerial pedigree. The original owners included brothers Seymour & Northrup Knox, then owners of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, as well as Bob and Melinda Rich, the owners of the city’s wildly popular minor league baseball club, the Buffalo Bisons.
The Knox/Rich soccer group became the subject of a heated competition between America’s two indoor leagues, the Major Indoor Soccer League and the National Professional Soccer League. The MISL was older, played in bigger cities and had better talent. Buffalo also had a previous history with the MISL – the city’s previous indoor club, the Buffalo Stallions, played in the league from 1979 to 1983. But by the early 1990′s the MISL was frail, shrinking and wracked by labor unrest. The upstart NPSL, formed in 1984, was expanding into a nationwide air travel league after spending much of the 1980′s as a Midwestern bus circuit. The Blizzard ultimately chose to join the NPSL, a decision that hastened the demise of the 14-year old MISL in July of 1992.
The Blizzard’s finest season came during the expansion year of 1992-93. The team posted an all-time best mark of 23-17 under Head Coach Trevor Dawkins, but lost in the quarterfinals of the NPSL playoffs to the Cleveland Crunch. Just about every Blizzard season to follow more or less followed the same plot. The team had only two losing seasons in nine years, but never won a playoff series. The Crunch eliminated them in the first round four consecutive years from 1993 to 1996.
Key players for the Blizz included local brothers Randy Pikuzinski and Rudy Pikuzinski. Randy was the only Blizzard player to play all nine seasons for the club. Rudy played eight years, missing only the club’s final season in the winter of 2000-01. U.S. National Team goalkeeper and captain Tony Meola, one of the best known soccer players in the country at the time, appeared in a dozen games for the Blizzard during the 1994-95 season. But Meola would leave the team before the playoffs after getting cast in an off-Broadway play.
The Blizzard played at The Aud for their first four seasons until that building closed in 1996. Then they moved into the brand new Marine Midland Arena in 1996. The move into the new arena coincided with a sale of the team in August 1996. Team President John Bellanti, a long-time local soccer booster who also served as a top exec for the MISL’s Stallions in the early 80′s, purchased the club from the Knox family.
Bellanti kept the Stallions going for another five seasons. But interest in the team waned as the population of Buffalo shrank and the sport of indoor soccer ceded ground to a resurgence of the outdoor game nationwide. The city’s crowded sports landscape was another challenge, as the Blizzard faced competition from both the Sabres and the Buffalo Bandits box lacrosse team for ticket sales and sponsorships.
The National Professional Soccer League re-organized and re-branded itself in the summer of 2001, adopting the now-nostalgic “Major Indoor Soccer League” name. During this time, Bellanti acknowledged that the team had lost money for nine straight years and decided to fold the club in August 2001.
==Buffalo Blizzard Matches on Fun While It Lasted==
Blizzard co-founder Seymour Knox passed away after a bout with cancer on May 22, 1996 at age 70.
Carlos Salguero, a former Buffalo Stallions player who served as Head Coach of the Blizzard during the 1997-98 season, died on cancer in December 2006 at the age of 51.
Paul Kitson, the Blizzard’s final Head Coach from 1999-2001, died of a heart attack on August 25, 2005 at age 49.
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