Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1977-1992 Maine Mariners

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Pelle Lindbergh Maine MarinersAmerican Hockey League (1977-1992)

Born: 1977 – AHL expansion franchise
Moved: May 22, 1992 (Providence Bruins)

Arena: Cumberland County Civic Center

NHL Affiliation:

  • 1977-1983: Philadelphia Flyers
  • 1983-1987: New Jersey Devils
  • 1987-1992: Boston Bruins

Team Colors:

  • 1977-1987:
  • 1987-1992:

Owners:

Calder Cup Champions: 1978, 1979 & 1984

 

The Maine Mariners were a popular minor league hockey club that played for 15 seasons at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center. The Mariners’ glory years came in the late 1970’s and early 80’s as the top farm club of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers. Maine won the American Hockey Leagues’s Calder Cup in each of their first two seasons. Future Flyers stars such as Pelle Lindbergh, Ken Linseman and Pete Peeters developed in Portland.  Maine led the AHL attendance for four straight seasons from 1979 through 1982.

Maine MarinersA special thrill of the Flyers era was the annual December exhibition game against touring Soviet teams. The contests packed in standing room only crowds and (usually) brought out the best in the Mariners. The first Cold War in December 1977 saw the two-month old Mariners shock Moscow Dynamo 1-0. In 1978, the Mariners beat up on Traktor Chelyabinsk 6-3.

On Christmas Eve 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Detente was over and, with it, the annual Soviet hockey tours of America of the 1970’s. But a Russian touring squad known as the Moscow Selects was already in the States on tour. Two days after the invasion, the Selects came to Portland. A franchise record crowd of 7,095 packed the Civic Center. For the first time, the Russians got the best of Maine, pasting the locals 7-2.

In the summer of 1983 the Philadelphia Flyers sold the Mariners to the lowly New Jersey Devils. The Mariners won their third and final Calder Cup in April 1984, capping off their first winter as a New Jersey farm club. But ultimately the sale to the Devils’ organization marked the start of the club’s decline. During the 1986-87 season, the Mariners bottomed out at a franchise-worst 3,361 fans per game. The Devils shifted the money-losing club to Utica, New York in April 1987.

Team President Ed Anderson quickly organized a group of investors to restore hockey to Portland. The AHL approved a new Maine Mariners franchise during the summer of 1987, affiliated with the nearby Boston Bruins. The Mariners retained their traditional Flyers’ colors of orange, black and white even during the Devils’ era. But with the arrival of the new franchise and the Bruins partnership in the winter of 1987, the Mariners shifted to Boston’s black, white and gold color scheme.

The Bruins era failed to recapture the on-ice glory of the Flyers years. The black-and-gold Mariners posted only one winning season (1987-88) in five years. The economic recession of the early 1990’s and Maine exorbitant workers compensation costs squeezed the club financially. The Mariners shut down their Maine operations in April 1992 and moved to Providence, Rhode Island a month later, where they play on today as the Providence Bruins.

 

Maine Mariners Memorabilia

 

Maine Mariners Video

1989 Mariners TV commercial

 

In Memoriam

Goaltender Pelle Lindbergh (Mariners ’80-’82) died on November 11th, 1985 from injuries suffered the previous night while driving drunk. Lindbergh won both AHL Rookie-of-the-Year and Most Valuable Player honors with Maine in 1981. He won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s most outstanding goalkeeper of the 1984-85 season several months prior to his death. He was 26.

E.J. McGuire, the Mariners final head coach (’91-’92) died of cancer on April 7, 2011 at age 58.

 

Links

A major among the minors“, Kathy Blumenstock, Sports Illustrated, February 18, 1980

American Hockey League Media Guides

American Hockey League Programs

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1980-1981 New England Gulls

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New England Gulls ProgramWomen’s Professional Basketball League (1980-1981)

Born: 1980 – WPBL expansion franchise.
Died: January 27, 1981 – The Gulls fold in midseason.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owner: Joseph Reither

 

The New England Gulls were a trainwreck of a women’s basketball franchise that operated for two months in December 1980 and January 1981.  It was no fault of the players, of course.   The Gulls had a couple of pretty good ones, including 6′ 3″ center Althea Gwynn and Canadian National Teamer Chris Critelli.  Former Boston Celtics star “Jungle” Jim Loscutoff was the Head Coach (briefly).

The Gulls’ problems started and ended with owner Joseph Reither, a Massachusetts liquor store owner who was allergic to making payroll and had an antagonistic relationship with the Gulls’ players.

Moving into the second month of the 1980-81 season, the Gulls were in disarray.  During the first week of January 1981, Loscutoff was either fired or quit with the team 0-6.  24-year old assistant coach Dana Skinner took over and led the Gulls to a couple of quick wins.  But Skinner’s primary duty seemed to be to negotiate with Reither on behalf of the starving Gulls players, who were unpaid for weeks and couldn’t afford rent, gas or groceries.  During a January 8th, 1981 home game against the Minnesota Fillies, the Gulls placed black patches on their jerseys and walked off the court in protest.  They were coaxed back to play the game after Skinner was able to secure a few hundred dollars from the gate receipts.

One week later, the Gulls were due to play a match at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine.  According to a 2011 Boston Globe retrospective by T.D. Thornton, Reither promised he was going to put some marketing muscle behind the game, the Gulls’ first “home” game away from their usual venue at Merrimack College’s Volpe Athletic Center in North Andover, Massachusetts.  A packed house in the big arena would allow the owner to get current on his salary obligations to the players.  But when Skinner traveled up to Portland a week in advance to look at the building, he found that the Civic Center authorities had no idea what he was talking about.  Reither hadn’t even booked the arena, according to Skinner, let alone organized the promised promotions.

On the night of the Portland match, only about 100 fans drifted around the arena.  For the Gulls it was the last empty promise.  Reither stood on one sideline and the Gulls’ players on the other in a standoff over playing the game.  Finally, Reither relented and offered the team the gate receipts of $500 – with the stipulation they had to pay the game officials out of their own pockets.  That was the last straw for the Gulls, who trudged back to the bus and rode home.  The game was ruled a forfeit in favor of their opponents, the San Francisco Pioneers.

Five days later, Women’s Professional Basketball League Commissioner Sherwin Fischer kicked the Gulls out of the league, a decision that was re-affirmed by an 8-0 vote of the other franchises one week later on January 27, 1981.  The Gulls became the league’s third franchise to fold in midseason in the span of 13 months.

The remaining members of the Women’s Basketball League managed to finish out the 1981 season but  the league went out of business soon afterwards.

 

==1980-81 New England Gulls Results (Partial)==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
12/4/1980 vs. New Orleans Pride L 99-86
12/9/1980 vs. Dallas Diamonds L 102-92
12/18/1980 @ Chicago Hustle L
1/4/1981 @ San Francisco Pioneers W 94-88
1/6/1981 @ San Francisco Pioneers L 92-87
1/8/1981 vs. Minnesota Fillies L 83-80
1/9/1981 @ Nebraska Wranglers W 96-90
1/11/1981 vs. San Francisco Pioneers L 104-102 (OT)
1/15/1981 vs. San Francisco Pioneers L Forfeit Program

 

==Links==

“Disorder On The Court”, T.D. Thornton, The Boston Globe, January 16, 2011

Women’s Professional Basketball Association Media Guides

Women’s Professional Basketball Association Programs

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1978-1983 – Maine Lumberjacks

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Continental Basketball Association (1978-1983)

Born: 1978 – CBA expansion franchise.
Moved: March 1983 (Bay State Bombardiers)

Arenas:

Team Colors: Kelly Green & White

Owners:


The Maine Lumberjacks were a minor league basketball club based out of Bangor, Maine from 1978 to 1983.  The club originated as an expansion franchise in the Continental Basketball Association in the fall of 1978.  The CBA grew out of the old Eastern Basketball Association (1946-1978), which had been a Pennsylvania-based bus league for decades.  The Lumberjacks joined the league as part of a nationwide expansion and re-branding.  During their 5-year run in the CBA the Lumberjacks roamed from coast to coast, traveling as far as Montana, Hawaii, Alaska and Alberta, Canada for games.

The ‘Jacks played most of their games at the Bangor Auditorium but typically played a handful of dates each year at Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center during the team’s first few seasons.  The club’s uniforms were modeled on the design of the Seattle Supersonics jerseys during the same era.

On the court, the Lumberjacks were a perennial loser.  Their best record came in the team’s final season of 1982-83 when the managed to scratch out a .500 record at 22-22.

To the extent the Lumberjacks are remembered today outside the state of Maine, it is for their association with cult basketball legend Billy Ray Bates, pictured above on the cover of the team’s final yearbook from the 1982-83 season.  Bates was the son of sharecroppers from Kosciuko, Mississippi.  A 6’4, 220-pound slam dunk artist, Bates attended Kentucky State University and was selected by the Houston Rockets in the 3rd round of the 1978 draft.  After getting cut in pre-season by the Rockets, Bates landed in Bangor to salvage what remained of his pro career.

Bates won the CBA’s Rookie-of-the-Year award with the ‘Jacks in 1979 and also conquered the league’s slam dunk contest at the 1979 All-Star Game, played in the middle of a blizzard in Rochester, New York.  Rochester was also the site of a classic Bates moment a month earlier, during a match against the Rochester Zeniths.  Incensed over a traveling call, Bates whipped the basketball at the head of the referee, knocking the man briefly unconscious.  In today’s world, sending an official to dreamland would likely earn a season-long suspension.  CBA Commissioner Jim Drucker suspended Bates for one game.

Midway through a second spectacular season in Maine, Bates got a call-up to the  Portland Trail Blazers in February 1980.  Bates was one of the first CBA players to earn a 10-day contract to the NBA and certainly the first to make an impact.  During the 1980’s and 1990’s the 10-day short term contract would become the Holy Grail to the ballplayers grinding it out in the CBA, dealing with the terrible pay, endless bus trips, crummy facilities and empty stands.  Bates made the most of his.

Expected to be no more than a lawn ornament on the Trail Blazers bench under Head Coach Jack Ramsay, Bates instead pushed his way into the lineup and then carried the Blazers on his back into the 1980 NBA playoffs.  In Portland’s first round series loss to the Seattle Supersonics, the minor league import averaged an astonishing 25.0 points per game.  (The next year he was even better, averaging 28.3 in the postseason).   A cult hero was born.  Nike posters soon followed.  In 2012, Seattle Times writer Steve Kelley compared the mania surrounding Bates to the Lin-sanity phenomenon surrounding Jeremy Lin’s similar rise from obscurity with the New York Knicks.

Bates couldn’t make it last.  Most accounts of Bates’ NBA years portray him as a hard-partying but wide-eyed rural bumpkin who quickly succumbed to the moral hazards of sudden fame.  Bates was an alcoholic and a cocaine user, vices which drove him out of the NBA by 1983.

Bates moved on to the Philipines in 1983, where he became the legend known as “Black Superman”, dominating the Philippine Basketball Association and living like the Sultan of Brunei for most of the 1980’s.  You can read the whole crazy tragic saga of Bates in the Philippines on Deadspin here.  He later played in Switzerland, Mexico and Uruguay before returning the America in the 1990’s.

By the late 1990’s, Bates was destitute and living in New Jersey.  He robbed a service station at knife point in 1998 served five years in prison.  In 2011, Bates returned to the Philippines, where he is still an icon, for induction into the PBA Hall of Fame.  He briefly leveraged the attention to get a front office position with a club and a sneaker endorsement deal, but resumed drinking and lost his job and money again.  In December 2012, Bates appeared on a popular talk show in the Philippines to plead for financial assistance.  I thought about linking the video here, but really it is too sad and voyeuristic.  You can find it with a Google search if your looking for a grim experience.

One last note about that Lumberjacks Yearbook pictured at the top of the post.  The young man who wrote the cover story on Billy Ray Bates was Jay Ramsdell.  Ramsdell was a ninth grader who attached himself to the Lumberjacks when they came to town in 1978, running game stats and other chores.  At the time he wrote this article, he had just graduated high school.  Ramsdell loved the CBA and became attached to the league office around this time (1982/83).  Incredibly, he became Commissioner of the league in 1988 at the age of 24 – the youngest Commissioner in American pro sports history for any half-reputable league.

Tragically, Ramsdell lost his life one year later in the crash of United Airlines Flight 232 in Sioux City, Iowa.  Ramsdell and Deputy Commissioner Jerry Schemmel were en route to the CBA’s annual draft.  Schemmel survived the crash.  Ramsdell was among the 112 who perished.  The CBA”s championship trophy was re-named in Ramsdell’s honor in 1989.

After five seasons of play, the Lumberjacks left Bangor for Brockton, Massachusetts in March 1983.  The club was re-named the Bay State Bombardiers (1983-1986).

The Lumberjacks cheerleading squad was known as the “Lumberjills”.

 

==Slideshow==

 

==Maine Lumberjacks Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Year Date Opponent Score Program Other

1981-82

1981-82 12/26/1981 @ Rochester Zeniths ?? Program Game Notes

1982-83

1982-83 12/1/1982 vs. Albany Patroons L 132-116 Program
1982-83 12/10/1982 vs. Rochester Zeniths ?? Program
1982-83 12/12/1982 vs. Rochester Zeniths L 128-118 Program
1982-83 1/7/1983 vs. Lancaster Lightning ?? Program

 

==Key Players==

  • Billy Ray Bates

 

==Downloads==

1982-83 Continental Basketball Association Magazine (Program Insert)

 

==Links==

Continental Basketball Association Media Guides

Continental Basketball Association Programs

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1994 New England Stingers

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New England Stingers

Roller Hockey International (1994)

Born: March 2, 1994 – RHI expansion franchise
Folded: March 1995

Arena: Cumberland County Civic Center

Team Colors: Jade, Royal Blue, Black & White

Owner: Tom Ebright & Godfrey Wood

Murphy Cup Championships: None

 

Roller Hockey International (RHI) was the brainchild of serial sports entrepeneur Dennis Murphy.  Murphy helped found the American Basketball Association, the World Hockey Association and World Team Tennis in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  After a quiet decade in the 1980’s, Murphy re-emerged with RHI in 1993, co-founded with his former World Team Tennis partner Larry King.

Murphy and King sought to capitalize on the surge of interest in inline skating – often known at the time by the brandnomer Rollerblading – with a summertime league stocked with moonlighting minor league hockey players.  RHI rules varied somewhat from ice hockey. Games were divided into four 12-minute quarters rather than three 20-minute periods.  Teams played five-v-five with only one defenseman on a Sport Court (concrete) surface.  Fighting was prohibited, punishable by a one-game suspension.  The various rule changes all supported a higher-scoring, more fluid game.  During the league’s inaugural season, RHI games averaged nearly 17 goals per game.

RHI debuted with twelve franchises in 1993, mostly in major NHL and NBA markets such as Los Angeles, St. Louis and Miami.  Murphy and King attracted several major investors, including Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss, another World Team Tennis veteran.  In 1994, the league expanded rapidly, adding six new franchises, primarily in big league cities such as Minneapolis, Pittsburgh (held by NHL Penguins owner Howard Baldwin), Philadelphia and Montreal.  One exception in the 1994 expansion class was the archetypal minor league hockey market of Portland, Maine.

The New England Stingers were introduced to Portland at a news conference on March 2nd, 1994.  Experienced hockey operators Tom Ebright and Godfrey Wood owned the club, which they envisioned as a summertime extension of their Portland Pirates American Hockey League franchise.  The duo were riding a wave of enthusiasm in the city.  Ebright and Wood first came together one year earlier, partnering to move Ebright’s struggling Baltimore Skipjacks AHL club to Portland’s Cumberland County Civic Center.  When the Stingers were announced in early March, the Pirates were nearing the completion of a storybook first season in the city, one which saw the club win the Calder Cup championship.

Portland Pirates Head Coach Barry Trotz served as Head Coach and brought along his AHL assistant, Paul Gardner.   The Stingers roster included several veterans with NHL experience, including Len Hachborn and Kevin Kaminski.  University of Maine rookie Cal Ingraham signed on and would lead the Stingers in scoring with 30 goals and 32 assists.

New England Stingers

Photo courtesy of Gary Griffaw

The Stingers struggled to adapt to the hybrid game, dropping the first seven matches of RHI’s 22-game season.  In the front office, the challenges were just as daunting.  Stingers management faced severe pressures both on the revenue and expense sides of the business, in stark contrast to RHI co-founder Larry King’s 1993 boast to Sports Illustrated that “In this league coaches need more skill than owners need money.”

“We had no idea how difficult it would be to convince Mainers that they should watch an indoor sport when they have waited so long for summer, boating, golf and beaches!  Frankly, even giving away tickets – that got used – was hard,” recalled Godfrey Wood in 2011.  “It was extremely expensive to travel the team, particularly given summer airfares.  Sponsorship was moderate, and I was concerned we were cannibalizing the (ice) hockey team’s sponsors.”

The Stingers announced several larger crowds at the Cumberland County Civic Center as the season wound down, including successive attendace highs of 4,677 and 4,691 at the club’s final two home games in August 1994.  Nevertheless, the Stingers finished the season with an estimated $300,000 operating loss and with average announced attendance of 2,850, 5th worst in the 18-team league.  Adding insult to injury, the Stingers finished in last place with a record of 5-17.

Ebright and Wood formally withdrew from Roller Hockey International in March of 1995, under the guise of a one-year hiatus.

“This may be the fastest growing sport in the country, but maybe it’s a participatory sport, not a viewer’s sport,” Wood told The Portland Press Herald in announcing the shutdown.

##

The Nashville Predators chose Barry Trotz as their head coach when the expansion club debuted in 1998.  He has held the position for the last thirteen seasons.

Stingers co-owner Godfrey Wood continues to live and work in Portland, where he has served as CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce since 1998.

Roller Hockey International continued to play through the end of the 1997 season.  Reduced to only three teams, the league took a year off in 1998 to re-organize, then returned to play one final season in the summer of 1999.  The league folded permanently after the 1999 season.

 

==In Memoriam==

Former Stingers owner Tom Ebright passed away in 1997.

==Downloads==

2011 Interview with Stingers Owner Godfrey Wood

New England Stingers Sources

 

==Links==

Roller Hockey International Media Guides

Roller Hockey International Programs

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