Lively Tales About Dead Teams

1980 Syracuse Hornets

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Eastern Hockey League (1980)

Born: August 1980 – EHL expansion franchise.
Died: November 11, 1980 – The Hornets fold in midseason.

Arena: State Fairgrounds Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owner: Gaetan Gagne


The Syracuse Hornets were an ill-fated minor league hockey team that lasted just 10 games in the fall of 1980 before going out of business.  The club, owned by local contractor Gaetan Gagne, joined the Eastern Hockey League as an expansion franchise in the summer of 1980.  The Hornets replaced the departing Syracuse Firebirds (1979-1980) of the higher-level American Hockey League.  But the Hornets did not take over the Firebirds’ old lease at the Onondaga County War Memorial, the longtime home of pro hockey in Syracuse.  Instead the Hornets would play at the smaller, cheaper State Fairgrounds Coliseum.

The Hornets were unable to secure a parent club affiliation with an NHL team.  This left Head Coach and General Manager Bill Horton, a former Syracuse Blazers player, to compile an independent roster of castoffs and tryout camp wanna-bes.  Even at the relatively low level of competition in the EHL, the Hornets were desperately outclassed.  They went o-9-1 in the first ten games of the season, yielding an obscene 99 goals.

The Hornets’ financial situation was equally desperate.  The team sold fewer than 100 season tickets and crowds at the Coliseum numbered in the hundreds.  In early November, the team ran out of funds and did not appear for road games in Baltimore and Salem, Virginia.  A last ditch effort to move the Hornets to Utica fell through and the Hornets closed their doors on November 11, 1980.  The team played only 10 of 72 scheduled games and folded without ever celebrating a win.



1979-1981 Richmond Rifles

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Eastern Hockey League (1979-1981)

Born: 1979 – The Cape Cod Freedoms relocate to Richmond, VA.
Died: 1981 – The Rifles cease operations.

Arena: Richmond Coliseum (9,674)

Team Colors: Blue, Red & White

Owner: Sandy Reiss


The Richmond Rifles were a low-level minor league hockey outfit that played for two seasons at the Richmond Coliseum between 1979 and 1981.  The team served as a farm club for both the New York Rangers (1979-1981) and Winnipeg Jets (1980-1981) of the NHL.

The Rifles franchise originated in Concord, New Hampshire in 1978 as the New Hampshire Freedoms, but team owner Sandy Reiss lasted only a month in the Granite State before hauling his club south to the Cape Cod Coliseum.  During the 1979 offseason, Reiss moved again, hoping the third time would be the charm in Richmond.

The Rifles played for the championship of the Eastern Hockey League at the end of their second season in April 1980.  They lost to the Erie Blades in four games.  Both the Rifles and the rest of the EHL would go out of business shortly thereafter.


==Richmond Rifles Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1979-80 11/10/1979  @ Baltimore Clippers  ?? Program


Written by andycrossley

October 4th, 2014 at 7:20 pm

1981-1993 Baltimore Skipjacks

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1983-84 Baltimore Skipjacks ProgramAtlantic Coast Hockey League (1981-1982)
American Hockey League (1982-1993)

Born: September 1981 – Baltimore Clippers re-branded as the Skipjacks.
Died: March 26, 1993 – Skipjacks announce relocation to Portland, ME.

Arena: Baltimore Civic Center

Team Colors:


  • 1981-????: Baltimore Hockey Advocates
  • 1987-1993: Tom Ebright and Baltimore Hockey Advocates.


The Baltimore Skipjacks were a minor league hockey club that served as a farm team to the Boston Bruins (1982-1983), Pittsburgh Penguins (1982-1987) and Washington Capitals (1988-1993).  Prior to the Skipjacks, Baltimore had a long and checkered history with pro hockey.  Going back to the World War II era, all of Baltimore’s various minor league clubs were named the “Clippers”.

The Skipjacks’ finest seasons came during the mid-1980’s when they served as a Penguins’ farm club and were coached by Gene Ubriaco.  In 1983-84, the Skipjacks had the best regular season record in the American Hockey League (46-24-10), thanks in part to Pittsburgh’s conscious effort to tank the NHL season and win the right to select Mario Lemieux in the 1984 NHL draft.  At one point, the 1983-84 Skipjacks set an AHL record by winning 16 games in a row, but they were bounced in the Calder Cup semis by the Rochester Americans.

Baltimore Skipjacks ProgramThe following season, Ubriaco’s charges went further, advancing to the 1985 Calder Cup finals.  The Skipjacks’ captain that season was Steve Carlson, a minor league warhorse who played one of the Hanson Brothers in Slap Shot.  The 1984-85 team also included notorious tough guys Marty McSorley and Bennett Wolf.  Rookie goaltender Jon Casey, on loan from the Minnesota North Stars, was outstanding with a 30-11-4 mark and a 2.63 GAA.   But in the Calder Cup finals, Baltimore ran into the Sherbooke Canadiens and a young Montreal goaltending prospect named Patrick Roy.  Sherbrooke beat the Skipjacks 4 games to 2 behind Roy’s heroics in net.

During their 12-year run in Baltimore, the Skipjacks played second fiddle to the Baltimore Blast indoor soccer team, the ‘Jacks winter co-tenant at the Civic Center.  The Blast, whose original 1980-1992 run coincided closely with the Skipjacks’ lifespan, consistently outdrew the hockey team on a magnitude of about 3:1.

That meant that the Skipjacks consistently lost six figures a year.  After the 1986-87 season the Pittsburgh Penguins, who funded most of the club’s expenses, lost patience and shifted their top farm club relationship to Muskegon of the IHL.  Businessman Tom Ebright saved the team, buying the club for $250,000 and operating as an independent (without NHL affiliation) for the 1987-88 season.

Starting in 1988, the Skipjacks became the top farm club for the nearby Washington Capitals of the NHL.  With the switch, the Skipjacks dropped their black & yellow palate of the Penguins era in favor of a red, white & blue color scheme.  The Capitals era wasn’t particularly fruitful for Baltimore hockey fans, but the ‘Jacks did help to produce two future NHL goaltending stars for Washington in Byron Dafoe and Olaf Kolzig.

Owner Tom Ebright lost an estimated $2.5 million on the Skipjacks over six years from 1987 to 1993.  In March of 1993 he threw in the towel and signed a deal to move the Skipjacks to Portland, Maine.  The Skipjacks became the Portland Pirates for the 1993-94 AHL season and continue to play under that identity today.


==Baltimore Skipjacks Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1982-83 1/11/1983 @ Fredericton Express L 4-2 Program
1984-85 10/12/1984 vs. Hershey Bears L 7-4 Program Game Notes
1984-85 1/25/1985 vs. St. Catharines Saints W 3-2 Program Game Notes
1988-89 10/7/1988 @ New Haven Nighthawks  L 5-3 Program
1990-91 9/29/1990 vs. Hershey Bears (exh.) W 7-6 Program
1991-92 12/26/1991 vs. Hershey Bears T 4-4 Program


==In Memoriam==

Former Skipjacks owner Tom Ebright passed away in 1997.



American Hockey League Media Guides

American Hockey League Programs


1977-1978 Calgary Cardinals

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Calgary Cardinals ProgramPioneer League (1977-1978)

Born: 1977 – Pioneer League expansion franchise.
Died: September 1978 – The St. Louis Cardinals pull their farm club from Calgary.

Stadium: Foothills Stadium

Team Colors:

Owner: Russ Parker


The Calgary Cardinals were a short-lived farm club of the St. Louis Cardinals that played in the Rookie level Pioneer League in 1977 and 1978.  The Cards entered the Pioneer League in June 1977 as one of two expansion clubs in the 6-team loop, alongside the Medicine Hat A’s.  The ball club was founded by Russ Parker, a local baseball lover who made his money selling photocopiers.

Johnny Lewis, the Cards’ manager in 1977, was the first African-American field manager in the history of the Pioneer League dating back to 1939.

Following the 1978 season, the Montreal Expos replaced the Cardinals as Calgary’s parent club.  The club was known as the Calgary Expos from 1979 until 1984.  After the 1984 season, team owner Russ Parker purchased the Class AAA Salt Lake Gulls of the Pacific Coast League and brought the club north to Foothills Stadium, where it became the Calgary Cannons in 1985.  The Expos and the Pioneer League left town to make way for the higher-level Cannons and moved to Salt Lake, meaning the two cities effectively swapped franchises.



Pioneer League Media Guides

Pioneer League Programs



Written by andycrossley

September 29th, 2014 at 12:40 am

1986-2013 Sacramento Capitals

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Sacramento CapitalsWorld Team Tennis (1986-2013)

Born: 1986 – WTT expansion franchise.
Died: February 4, 2014 – The Capitals relocate to Las Vegas, NV


  • 1986: ARCO Arena
  • 1987-2001: Gold River Racquet Club (2,600)
  • 2002-2006: Sunrise Mall
  • 2007-2010: Westfield Galleria (2,400)
  • 2011-2013: Sunrise Mall (2,500)

Team Colors:

  • 1986: Red & Blue
  • 2012: Red, Blue & Yellow



The Sacramento Capitals were, for many years, the oldest and most successful franchise in Billie Jean King’s long-running World Team Tennis promotion.  The Capitals played a league record 28 seasons and their six championships (1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 & 2007) also remain a league-best.

The Capitals began life in the summer of 1986 at ARCO Arena, home to the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.  During the 1970’s and 80’s, many Team Tennis franchises played in big NHL and NBA arenas, but as the league’s business model scaled down and stabilized in the 1990’s, most clubs shifted to country clubs and resort hotels with bleacher-style seating for a few thousand spectators.  The Caps followed this model too, leaving ARCO after one season for the Gold River Racquet Club in 1987.  After 15 summers at Gold River, the Caps spent most of the 2000’s playing at shopping center parking lots where they would erect and dismantle temporary stadia every July.

World Team Tennis is a co-ed sport and the doubles game factors prominently in the scoring system.  Most WTT players are relatively unknown tour professionals, often doubles specialists.  The league’s marketing plan is reliant on the signing of several “marquee players” each summer who serve as tent pole attractions to fill seats around the league.  Andre Agassi was one such player for the Caps, playing three summers for Sacramento from 2002 to 2004.  Anna Kournikova appeared for Sacramento during their final championship season in 2007.  Michael Chang played for the Caps in 2009 and 2010.  In other years, the Capitals featured no household names, but Northern California tennis fans could look forward to seeing superstars such as Pete Sampras and Venus Williams who came through town with opposing teams.

As stable as the Capitals seemed during their near-three decade residency, the franchise went through numerous ownership changes in its final years as the team’s various financial backers went through legal and financial troubles.  Long-time owner Lonnie Nielson lost control of the team in 2010 after being charged in an embezzling scheme in his real estate business.  He would be sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011.  Nielson’s partner Bob Cook took over the Caps on his own in 2011, but declared bankruptcy at the end of the year after his Le Rivage Hotel development in Sacramento went sour.  The worst, however, was yet to come.

After Cook went bust, a former owner of the team, Ramey Osborne, stepped back into the picture and rescued the team with the help of a man named Deepal Wannakuwatte.  Wannakuwatte presented himself as a successful entrepreneur who built a $100 million medical supply business in Sacramento.  In fact, Wannakuwatte’s surgical glove company was practically worthless and his real source of wealth was a decade-long $150 million Ponzi scheme.  No one was any wiser during the Capitals’ final two seasons under Wannakuwatte’s ownership in 2012 and 2013.

In early February 2014, Wannakuwatte announced that the franchise would move to Las Vegas and become the Las Vegas Neon after 28 years in Sacramento.  Less than two weeks after he held his introductory press conference in Sin City, the feds closed in and arrested him.  World TeamTennis revoked and disbanded the Las Vegas Neon franchise on March 5th, 2014, one month and one day after the club was introduced.  Wannakuwatte plead guilty to fraud charges in May 2014 and is awaiting sentencing, which is expected to be upwards of 20 years in prison.



Sacramento Capitals promotional video for sponsorship sales.  Circa 2011 or 2012.



World TeamTennis Media Guides

World TeamTennis Programs