Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘IHL’ tag

1994-2013 Houston Aeros

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International Hockey League (1994-2001)
American Hockey League (2001-2013)

Born: 1994 – IHL expansion franchise.
Died: April 18, 2013 – The Aeros announce they will move to Des Moines, IA.

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Houston Aeros were formed as an International Hockey League expansion team in 1994 by Chuck Watson, CEO of Houston energy trading firm Dynegy.  The Aeros were a brand revival of the popular World Hockey Association club of the 1970′s, who famously featured ageless Hall-of-Famer Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty.

The modern day Aeros played their early seasons in the IHL, and ambitious but unsustainable minor league that featured big budgets, cross-continental air travel and occasional cross-border raids to sign NHL stars to short-term deals during contract holdouts.  The Aeros were a box office hit upon their arrival in the mid-1990′s, averaging over 10,000 fans per game at the old Houston Summit during their first two seasons.  Attendance declined year-over-year for all seven seasons that the Aeros played in the IHL, but those who stuck around were rewarded with an outstanding team and perennial title contender.  From 1997 to 2005, the Aeros made the playoffs for nine straight seasons.

The Aeros won their first and only Turner Cup championship of the IHL in the spring of 1999.  After posting a league-best record of 54-15-13 in the regular season, the Aeros outlasted the Orlando Solar Bears 4 games to 3 in the best-of-seven Turner Cup finals. Brian Wiseman led the IHL in scoring that season (109 pts.) and was named MVP of the league.

The IHL collapsed under its own weight and went out of business in May of 2001.  The Aeros were one of six IHL survivors that were admitted to the American Hockey League for the 2001-2002 season.  At the same time that the Aeros entered the AHL, they signed an affiliation deal to become the top farm club of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.  In 2003, stocked with Wild prospects, the Aeros defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs to capture the AHL’s Calder Cup championship.

Even more so than the transition from IHL to the AHL in 2001, the summer of 2003 following the Aeros’ Calder Cup victory brought massive change to the Aeros franchise.  The old Summit/Compaq Center finally shut down after years of political wrangling.  The Aeros and the NBA’s Houston Rockets would both move into the brand new $235 million Toyota Center in the autumn of 2003.  Perhaps it wasn’t a coincidence that team founder Chuck Watson decided to sell the Aeros to Minnesota Sports & Entertainment, parent company of the NHL’s Wild, at this time.

During the late 1990′s Watson controlled the Compaq Center and Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander was his tenant.  Alexander pushed for a new downtown arena and pushed to break his lease at Watson’s building, which ran through 2003.  Watson refused to release the Rockets from their lease and led political opposition to the new arena project, helping to deal a shocking referendum defeat to the project in late 1999.  (Watson and Alexander’s arena feud also played a role in sinking Houston’s NHL expansion bid in the late 1990′s.)  But after the NBA threatened Houston with the loss of pro basketball if a new arena was not in the city’s plans, the project got back on track.  The Toyota Center would open in 2003 and this time the roles would be reversed: Alexander would control the building and Watson would be the tenant.  Watson sold out to the Wild two months before the Toyota Center opened, retaining only a small minority stake in the Aeros.

The Aeros made one more championship run in the spring of 2011, advancing to the Calder Cup finals before losing there to the Binghamton Senators.

At the end of the 2012-13 season the Aeros 10-year lease expired at Toyota Center.  Although the team remained one of the stronger box office draws in the AHL (6,793 per game, good for 7th among the AHL’s 30 clubs), Minnesota Sports & Entertainment could not come to terms on a new lease with Toyota Center.  On April 18, 2013, the Wild announced that the Aeros would relocate to Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa for the 2013-14 season and be known henceforth as the Iowa Wild.  A few weeks later, the Aeros were eliminated by the Grand Rapids Griffins (another IHL refugee) in the Calder Cup Playoffs, bringing the Aeros era to an end after 19 seasons.

 

==YouTube==

The Aeros’ IHL debut on October 7, 1994 goes to a shootout against the Atlanta Knights at a sold-out Summit.

The Aeros defeat the Hamilton Bulldogs in Game 7 to win the 2003 Calder Cup.

 

==Links==

The 3rd Intermission - Andrew Ferraro’s Aeros Blog 

International Hockey League Media Guides

International Hockey League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

January 25th, 2014 at 2:13 pm

1982-1984 Peoria Prancers

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International  Hockey League (1982-1984)

Born: 1982 – IHL expansion franchise.
Died: Summer 1984 - Re-branded as Peoria Rivermen.

Arena: Peoria Civic Center

Team Colors:

Owner: Ken Wilson

 

The Peoria Prancers were a short-lived farm club of the New York Rangers notable mainly for having perhaps the least intimidating name in the history of pro hockey.  The club was owned by a long-time itinerant minor league hockey executive Ken Wilson.  Wilson ran out of money in 1984 after two losing seasons and handed the keys to the franchise back to the International Hockey League.  The money-losing Peoria Civic Center, faced with the loss of 40 booked dates at the building in the winter of 1984-85, agreed to buy the team, but quickly changed the name to the infinitely manlier Peoria Rivermen prior to the 1984-85 IHL season.

 

==Links==

International Hockey League Guides

International Hockey League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

January 24th, 2014 at 2:56 am

1974-75 Lansing Lancers

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International Hockey League (1974-1975)

Born: May 10, 1974 - The Toledo Hornets relocate to Lansing, MI.
Died: January 15, 1975 – The Lancers cease operations in midseason.

Arena: Metro Ice Arena (900)

Team Colors:

Owner: Paul Bright

 

In May of 1974, Toledo Hornets (1970-1974) owner Paul Bright gave up on the city of Toledo and moved his International Hockey League franchise to Lansing, Michigan.  Renamed the Lansing Lancers, the club’s new home would be Lansing’s brand new Metro Ice Arena.  But financial issues left the Arena unfinished and the seating capacity was curtailed to just 900 seats.

The Lancers wouldn’t even need that many.  By midseason, the Lancers were in deep distress, playing before a near-empty stands and contemplating a midseason move to Grand Rapids.  When Bright’s fellow IHL owners refused to approve the midseason shift to Grand Rapids, the club folded on January 15, 1975, having played just 41 games out of a planned 75-game regular season.  The Lancers’ final record was 12-28-1.

The Lancers were the first IHL in 20 years to fail to complete a season.  Pro hockey has never returned to Lansing.

No Lansing players ever skated in the NHL.  Two Lancers, John Gravel and Terry Ryan, played one season each in the major league World Hockey Association.

 

==Links==

International Hockey League Media Guides

International Hockey League Programs

Lansing Lancers All-Time Roster on HockeyDB.com

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Written by andycrossley

December 14th, 2013 at 2:30 pm

1993-1999 Las Vegas Thunder

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International Hockey League (1993-1999)

Born: 1993 – IHL expansion franchise.
Died: April 18, 1999 – The Thunder cease operations.

Arena: Thomas & Mack Center (12,347)

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

The Las Vegas Thunder were a six-year entry in the International Hockey League during that organization’s gold rush era of nationwide expansion in the mid-1990′s.   Minor league baseball investors Hank Stickney and his son Ken, who also owned the Las Vegas Stars Class AAA baseball team, paid a $2.0 million expansion fee for the Thunder in 1993.

The Thunder employed a fascinating menagerie of players during their six-year existence, including female goaltender Manon Rheaume, who played two games for Las Vegas in 1994, and Wayne Gretzky’s younger brother Brent Gretzky.  But what the Thunder were really known for was providing paychecks for erstwhile NHL superstars caught up in the the NHL’s labor wars of the 1990′s.

First to arrive was Alexei Yashin, the 20-year old rising star of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, in 1994.  Although the IHL publicly discouraged its clubs from signing players under NHL contract during that league’s 1994-95 lockout, the league didn’t prevent the Stickneys from signing Yashin to a reported $200,000 one-year deal, which Yashin could void at any time when the lockout ended.  The Russian centerman tore up the IHL for 24 games (15 goals and 20 assists) before the NHL re-opened for business and Yashin returned to Ottawa.

NHL All-Star goaltender Curtis Joseph arrived the following year during a holdout with the St. Louis Blues.  Like Yashin, Joseph toyed with IHL competition (12-2-1, 1.99 GAA) for a few weeks before a trade to Edmonton resolved his NHL contract woes.

The Thunder also had a knack for importing young Eastern European stars.  Thunder GM Bob Strumm brought over both 17-year old Radek Bonk of the Czech Republic and 20-year old Belarussian Ruslan Salei to begin their North American careers in the IHL.  Both quickly between Top 10 overall draft picks in the NHL after showcasing in Las Vegas.

Despite the glitzy signings and two divisional titles, the Thunder still bled through a reported $6 million during their first three seasons in Sin City.  The IHL’s business model proved to be hugely flawed.  Unlike the Stickney’s minor league baseball holdings, where player costs were covered by Major League affiliations, IHL teams functioned primarily as independents.  Starting in 1996 the Thunder had a partial affiliation with the NHL’s Phoenix Roadrunners, but Phoenix only supplied a couple of players a year.  The Stickney’s were on the hook for virtually all of the IHL’s $1.3 million annual salary cap, plus the attendant medical and insurance costs.  By the mid-1990′s it was clear that the IHL needed NHL support to survive, but IHL leaders angered the senior circuit by expanding into NHL cities like Chicago and Detroit.  The NHL preferred to work with the more docile American Hockey League and didn’t truly need the IHL.

Midway through the Thunder’s fourth season in 1996-97, the Stickney family partnered with former Sony Pictures Chairman Peter Guber and his Mandalay Sports Entertainment on all of their baseball and hockey properties.  The partnership made the already well-heeled Thunder ownership even more formidable, but to some extent the Thunder had already taken their best shot at Las Vegas by the time Mandalay entered the picture.

Rumors began to circulate that the Thunder would leave Las Vegas for a new Mandalay-run arena under consideration in Ontario, California.  When Ottawa Senators star and former NHL Rookie-of-the-Year Daniel Alfredsson held out in 1997, his agent naturally placed a call to the Thunder.  But GM Bob Strumm rebuffed Alfredsson’s agent with a low offer, later telling The Las Vegas Sun’s Steve Carp “We’re not a Club Med for unsigned NHL players. We’re not doing that anymore.”

But the Thunder did do it one more time.  Late in the 1997-98 season, the Thunder signed Pittsburgh Penguins holdout scoring star Petr Nedved, one of the elite centers in the world, hoping we would spark the team on a Turner Cup playoff run.  Nedved was different than Yashin and Joseph, the story went, because he wasn’t an early season rental.  However, the IHL ruled Nedved ineligible to join the team so late in the season and he appeared in only 3 regular season games for Las Vegas.  Nedved’s contract dispute with Pittsburgh dragged on and he re-joined the Thunder in the fall of 1998 as a rental for 13 games before a trade to the New York Rangers cleared up his contract fight.  He was the last world class player to wear a Thunder jersey.

The Thunder’s lease at Thomas & Mack Arena ended in the spring of 1999 and the Thunder closed for business that April, a few days after the conclusion of the team’s sixths season.   The rest of the IHL folded two years later in May 2001.

 

==In Memoriam==

Ex-Thunder defenseman Ruslan Salei died on September 7, 2011 in a plane crash in Yaroslavl, Russia which killed the entire roster of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team.  Salei was 36 years old.

 

==Thunder Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1994-95 3/11/1995 @ Phoenix Roadrunners W 5-2 Program
1998-99 12/9/1998 @ Detroit Vipers L 2-1 Program Game Notes

 

==Links==

International Hockey League Media Guides

International Hockey League Programs

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Written by andycrossley

November 30th, 2013 at 3:13 am

1995-1996 Los Angeles Ice Dogs

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International Hockey League (1995-1996)

Born: 1995 – The San Diego Gulls relocate to Los Angeles.
Died: 1996 – The Ice Dogs relocate to Long Beach, CA.

Arena: Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena (14,587)

Team Colors:

Owners:

 

Los Angeles was a one-year port of call for the nomadic Gulls/Ice Dogs minor league franchise that drifted around Southern California for the better part of two decades.

The franchise originated in 1990 as the expansion San Diego Gulls of the International Hockey League.  By early 1995, Gulls attendance in San Diego had dipped to 16th in the 17-team IHL.  Midway through the 1994-95 season, team owner Fred Comrie announced that his team would move to the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena for the 1995-96 season and would leave the “Gulls” identity behind in San Diego, where the name had historic hockey roots.

Comrie’s club re-branded as the Los Angeles Ice Dogs after the move north.  But despite the new identity, Comrie was still stuck with an outdated building in L.A., just as he had been in San Diego.  And now he had to compete head-to-head for fans and attention with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings in a city that had always been lukewarm on hockey in the first place.  Attendance fell even further after the move to Los Angeles and after just two months of play, Comrie was ready to throw in the towel.

In December 1995, TV producer Barry Kemp (“Coach”, among other sitcom hits) bought the Ice Dogs from Fred Comrie for a rumored $5 million.  Kemp immediately announced plans to move the club to nearby Long Beach for the 1996-97, but the Ice Dogs would play out the 1995-96 IHL campaign as lame ducks in L.A.  (Kemp ultimately lost an estimated $15 million on Ice Dogs hockey over ten seasons, according to The Long Beach Press-Telegram).

On the ice, the 1995-96 season didn’t go any better for the Ice Dogs.  Although reasonably competitive under Head Coach John Van Boxmeer at 32-36-14, the Dogs finished last in the South Division and thus were left out of the IHL’s absurdly inclusive postseason format, which saw 16 out of 19 clubs make the playoffs.  John Byce led the team in scoring with 39 goals and Dan Lambert was the overall scoring leader with 87 points.

The Ice Dogs averaged 3,310 fans per game during their only season in Los Angeles.  After the move to Long Beach in 1996, the Ice Dogs survived eleven more seasons before going out of business in April 2007.

 

==Ice Dogs Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1995-96 12/15/1995 vs. San Francisco Spiders W 5-4 Program Game Notes

 

 

==Links==

International Hockey League Media Guides

International Hockey League Programs

Los Angeles Ice Dogs All-Time Roster on HockeyDB.com

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Written by andycrossley

November 16th, 2013 at 2:21 pm