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1997-1999 Raleigh Cougars

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1997 Raleigh Cougars Pocket ScheduleUnited States Basketball League (1997-1999)

Born: 1997
Folded: June 7, 1999

Arena: Dorton Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: Clyde Austin

USBL Championships: None

 

The Raleigh Cougars low-level minor league basketball outfit founded by former N.C. State star and Harlem Globetrotter Clyde “The Glide” Austin. The team’s name recalled the old Carolina Cougars club that played in the American Basketball Association in the early 1970’s. The original ABA Cougars played in various arenas around North Carolina, including Raleigh’s Dorton Arena, where Austin’s team set up shop a quarter century later.

The Cougars’ biggest name was Lorenzo Charles, who famously slammed home a buzzer-beating dunk to life N.C. State to the 1983 NCAA championship over the University of Houston.

As the Cougars prepared for their third season in the United States Basketball League in 1999, it was clear that something wasn’t right. The team held no training camp. Clyde Austin no-showed a league owner’s meeting and bounced his payroll. The Raleigh Cougars managed to play 13 games, posting a 5-8 record, before USBL Commissioner Daniel Meisenheimer euthanized the club on June 7th, 1999 with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

It later emerged the Clyde Austin was running a multi-state pyramid scheme during the time he was involved in the USBL. Serving as a pastor in churches from North Carolina to Nevada, Austin swindled parishioners out of an estimated $16 million between 1996 and 2000. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 2004.

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Written by Drew Crossley

May 29th, 2017 at 7:36 pm

April 3, 1970 – Carolina Cougars vs. Pittsburgh Pipers

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Carolina Cougars vs. Pittsburgh Pipers
April 3, 1970
Dorton Arena
Attendance: 6,142

American Basketball Association Programs
52 pages

 

The Carolina Cougars and Pittsburgh Pipers in late season American Basketball Association action from the 1969-70 season.  The Cougars were a regional club that split home games between Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh.  This game was played at Raleigh’s Dorton Arena.  The Cougars pulled away late with a 22-7 run to demolish the lowly Pipers, who would finish the season 29-55.

That’s the late Calvin Fowler (#24) out of Saint Francis University on the cover.  Fowler had an accomplished but unconventional basketball career.   Fowler graduated Saint Francis in 1962 and then joined the United States Army.  He spent most of the rest his twenties playing amateur AAU basketball for the Akron Goodyear Wingfoots and he attracted the attention of the U.S. Olympic Team.  Fowler represented the United States at the 1967 World Championships and the Pan-American games and then was named co-Captain of the 1968 U.S. Olympic Team, which won the gold medal at Mexico City.

Fowler was a 29-year old rookie with the Cougars during the 1969-70 season and, although he would appear in 78 of Carolina’s 84 games, those turned out to be the only professional games he would ever play.  The Cougars cut Fowler in training camp in 1970 and that marked the end of his brief and unusual career.   Calvin Fowler passed away on March 5, 2013 at age 73.

There was at least one other cult player in this game.  The Pipers’ leading scorer on the night was a 6′ 5″ rookie out of the University of Toledo named John Brisker. Talented and volatile, Brisker was considered one of the most intimidating players in the ABA.  Three years after his basketball career ended, Brisker travelled to Uganda under murky circumstances, possible as a mercenary, during the waning days of the Idi Amin regime.   He vanished in the spring of 1978 and was never heard from again.  Brisker was declared legally dead in 1985.

==Links==

Calvin Fowler Obituary 

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Written by AC

July 1st, 2013 at 8:37 pm

1991-1998 Raleigh IceCaps

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East Coast Hockey League (1991-1998)

Born: 1991 – ECHL expansion franchise.
Died: 1998 – The IceCaps relocate to Augusta, GA

Arena: Dorton Arena (5,700)

Team Colors: Royal Blue, Black & Silver

Owners:

 

By the mid-1980s, lower-level minor-league hockey was nearly extinct, buried by shoddy management and a reputation for bloody, fight-filled games.  By contrast, minor-league baseball had been jump-started by improved business practices and better promotional efforts. A handful of successful baseball operators found that their ideas translated well to hockey, and sunnier days were on the horizon for the sport. An outgrowth of this was the East Coast Hockey League, which got its start in 1988-89 with just five teams, but grew to 11 teams just two years later.

Seeing the success of these clubs (Norfolk, Va., averaged over 6,000 fans per game in 1990-91; Greensboro N.C., over 5,000), longtime minor-league baseball operators Miles Wolff and Pete Bock secured an ECHL expansion franchise for Raleigh, N.C., to begin play in 1991-92.

Christened the IceCaps, an allusion to Raleigh’s longtime minor-league baseball club, the Capitals (Caps), the team played at Dorton Arena, a 5,700-seat facility at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.

“<Dorton> was a livestock hall built in the 1950s, and we weren’t going to dig up the concrete floor to install pipes and whatever else you need for a proper ice system,” Wolff recalled in 2011.  “Instead, we went out and purchased this system of mats that made really bad ice…we had some of the worst ice in the league.”

Success for the IceCaps was far from a guarantee, as Raleigh had never had professional hockey before, and the market was dominated by ACC basketball.  But the uncertainty disappeared quickly, as the IceCaps had a superb first season at the gate, averaging 4,773 fans per game. The team overcame a slow start to finish a respectable 25-33-6 and earn a playoff berth.

“The local media was completely ignorant of hockey, and expected us to fail,” said Wolff.  “Pete <Bock> went to the local newspaper’s office to bring a puck to the sports editor – he had never seen one up close. The paper assigned their golf writer to cover the team because they wanted him to quit.

Pete and I didn’t know much about the sport, either. One day, a few weeks before the season started, he came to me slightly panicked, and said that we needed to buy paint for the ice right away. ‘What do you mean, paint for the ice?’ Apparently, in hockey, the ice gets painted…we had no idea.”

The optimism from the previous campaign carried into the 1992 season opener, one of the most memorable nights in Raleigh hockey lore.  Facing traditional ECHL powerhouse Greensboro, the upstart IceCaps embarrassed their opponents, 7-2, in a game that saw the imploding Monarchs start several brawls and register 170 penalty minutes, still one of the highest totals in league history some twenty years later.  The game helped to bring the IceCaps into the mainstream of the area’s sports scene and kicked off a splendid 37-22-5 season, good for third place and a victory over defending champion Hampton Roads in the first round of the playoffs.

1993-94 was the franchise’s high water mark, as the IceCaps went an impressive 41-20-7.  The team made a spirited playoff run, winning the first three rounds before losing to defending champion Toledo in the Riley Cup finals.

Hockey in Raleigh was booming.  Dorton Arena rocked with fans clamoring for the new sport, as the IceCaps averaged 4,954 fans in 1993-94.  Suddenly, in a region known for its basketball prowess, a minor-league hockey team had become the hottest ticket in the Triangle.  And while sports heroes in North Carolina were typically seven feet tall and came from a familiar Tobacco Road burg, the face of the IceCaps was a 5’11” left winger, the unforgettably-named Lyle Wildgoose, who scored 40 goals on the year and became perhaps the first local celebrity to hail from Sudbury, Ontario.

Raleigh wasn’t alone in its success: the league averaged 4,931 fans per game in 1993-94.  Unlike in minor-league baseball, developing players for higher levels was somewhat of an afterthought in the early ECHL.  With promotions to the AHL or IHL relatively rare, clubs could keep their best players for several seasons. Teams made it their sole focus to win immediately, and fans took to the rough style of play and the heated on-ice rivalries that developed.

“The ECHL was essentially independent hockey – you’d have a couple of players assigned by NHL clubs, but mostly, you found your own guys,” says Wolff.  “It was one of the factors that gave the push to start independent baseball <in 1993>…’if we can do this and make money in hockey, why not baseball?’  A lot of the player rules still in effect in independent baseball today – a limited number of veterans, rookie requirements, limited service requirements – come from the ECHL.”

For the 1994-95 season, hopes were high after the success of the previous campaign, but the team struggled for most of the year, and a dreadful 3-18-1 season-ending tailspin put the IceCaps in last place at 23-39-6.  Raleigh was one of only two teams in the 18-team league to miss the playoffs.  The frustrations on the ice didn’t matter much at the gate, though, as attendance rose to 5,021 per game.

Seeing the success of many ECHL markets, the “triple-A” American Hockey League began to explore the possibility of a Southern Division during the 1995 off-season. The circuit courted several ECHL markets, and convinced Greensboro to make the jump in time for the 1995-96 campaign.  While Dorton Arena was too small for the AHL, interest in higher-level hockey in the Triangle had been piqued.

At the same time, plans for a new North Carolina State University basketball arena in Raleigh were gathering steam, and the success of the IceCaps had convinced arena supporters to also design the facility with the “other” winter sport in mind.  But with new opportunity came new competition – an AHL ownership group also coveted the building.

“When N.C. State began developing plans for their new arena, we sat in on a couple of meetings with the architects.  Shortly afterwards, they stopped calling us.  It turned out that the American Hockey League had been in contact with the N.C. State people as well…hockey has no territorial rules, so there wasn’t really anything we could do to prevent them from moving in,” recalled Wolff.  “A lawyer from the proposed Raleigh AHL team’s ownership group called us one day, and basically told us that they would be the ones playing in the new arena…but they would help us move the IceCaps to Fayetteville, N.C., where a new arena was being built.  At that point, I figured it was time to sell.”

Adding to the intrigue, the National Hockey League was considering adding four teams by the year 2000. While the idea of an NHL team in Raleigh would have been considered bizarre just five years earlier, some arena supporters had now set their sights even higher than the AHL.  The future of the IceCaps had become cloudy, and Wolff sold his interest to Ed Broyhill, also the owner of the league’s Wheeling, W.Va., franchise, during the 1995 off-season.

The next two seasons were dreary ones. Going 23-34-13 in 1995-96, Raleigh eked out the 16th and final postseason berth and then lost in the first round.  The following season, the club improved slightly to 30-33-7, but missed the playoffs.  With the novelty of hockey fading and mediocre teams on the ice, IceCaps attendance dropped to just over 3,000 fans per game by 1996-97.

Elsewhere, the now-23-team ECHL was exploding in popularity.  Lafayette, La., led the league with an astonishing 11,433 per game in 1996-97, while clubs in other unlikely markets such as Biloxi, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; and Pensacola, Fla., filled their arenas.  The IceCaps’ on-ice struggles were partly due to the league’s growth: the smaller, older Dorton Arena had become a difficult place to attract talented players, while an increasing number of teams shared the mild Southern climate, another selling point.

The questions about the future of the IceCaps were answered in May 1997, when Hartford Whalers owner Peter Karmanos dropped a bombshell on the state’s hockey landscape. With groundbreaking for the new Raleigh arena scheduled to start two months later, the Whalers announced their move to North Carolina.  In the interim, the newly-christened Carolina Hurricanes would play two seasons at the Greensboro Coliseum (displacing the AHL Monarchs), before moving to the new Entertainment and Sports Arena (now the RBC Center) in October 1999.

IceCaps management saw that any attempt to compete with the Hurricanes was futile.   Prior to the 1997-98 campaign, club officials announced that the team would move to Augusta, Ga., after the season.  With minimal marketing and a bare-bones staff, attendance predictably fell further for the IceCaps’ lame duck season, to 1,913 per game, last in the league. On the ice, the team scraped together its best finish in four seasons, going 32-33-5, but missed the playoffs again.

The IceCaps died a quiet death, but the club’s legacy is an important one.  Arguably, the NHL would never have arrived in North Carolina without the team; their existence, and success, planted the idea that an arena in Raleigh could support more than just N.C. State basketball.  Youth hockey in the Triangle, an throughout the state, skyrocketed in popularity during the team’s tenure (area youth teams were still occasionally named the “Junior IceCaps” through the mid-2000s).  The team’s blue-and-silver jerseys can occasionally be spotted at Hurricanes games, and longtime area hockey supporters speak fondly of nights when Lyle Wildgoose and the IceCaps thrilled fans at sold-out Dorton Arena, still visible from the RBC Center’s parking lot.

 

==Downloads==

2011 Miles Wolff interview

 

==Links==

East Coast Hockey League Media Guides

East Coast Hockey League Programs

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Written by AC

November 27th, 2011 at 11:13 pm

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