Born: 1974 – NAHL expansion franchise.
Died: April 11, 1979 – The Firebirds relocate to Syracuse, NY.
Arena: Philadelphia Civic Center (8,300)
The Philadelphia Firebirds minor league hockey team was owned by Mrs. Paul’s frozen foods magnate Edward Piszek and his son George. During the team’s first season in the winter of 1974-75, Philadelphia Phillies Hall-of-Fame pitcher Robin Roberts was a co-owner, but he left the team after the Firebirds lost $400,000 their first winter.
Philadelphia was hockey mad. The NHL’s Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. The Firebirds enjoyed some of the overflow enthusiasm, playing their games at the old Philadelphia Civic Center. The Firebirds added a championship of their own, winning the North American Hockey League’s Lockhart Cup in 1976 (see team highlight film in the YouTube section below).
Weeks before the 1977-78 was due to begin the NAHL went out of business. The Firebirds scrambled to join the American Hockey League, which was also struggling to stay alive at the time and willing to accept both the Firebirds and the NAHL’s Broome (NY) Dusters on the eve of their season. The Firebirds played two AHL seasons in Philadelphia, but continued to lose money. An affiliation with the NHL’s lowly Colorado Rockies in 1978-79 left the team with weak players and contributed to declining fan interest. In April 1979, the Firebirds relocated to Syracuse, New York, where they played one final season under the Piszek family ownership before folding in the spring of 1980.
The Firebirds player who went on to the greatest success was goaltender Rejean “Reggie” Lemelin. Lemelin joined the Firebirds as a rookie out of junior hockey in 1974 and played for the team during all five of its seasons in Philadelphia. He made his NHL debut in the 1978-79 season and went on to a 15-year career with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames and the Boston Bruins.
1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team hero Mike Eruzione played six games for the Firebirds during their final season in Philly.
==Firebirds Games on Fun While It Lasted==
|1974-75||10/18/1974||vs. Syracuse Blazers||T 3-3||Program|
|1974-75||11/10/1974||vs. Cape Cod Cubs||W 5-4||Program|
|1974-75||12/17/1974||vs. Long Island Cougars||W 8-1||Program|
|1975-76||2/2/1976||@ Broome Dusters||L 5-4||Program|
|1975-76||3/10/1976||@ Broome Dusters||L 6-4||Program|
|1977-78||10/23/1977||@ Maine Mariners||W 6-3||Program|
|1977-78||2/20/1978||@ Maine Mariners||L 6-3||Program|
|1978-79||11/17/1978||vs. Binghamton Dusters||L 8-2||Program|
|1978-79||1/31/1979||@ Maine Mariners||L 12-2||Program|
- Mike Eruzione
- Reggie Lemelin
Firebirds owner Edward Piszek passed away on March 17, 2004 at age 87.
1975-76 NAHL Lockhart Cup champions highlight film:
“Still A Millionaire With Missions” – 1986 Philadelphia Inquirer profile of ex-Firebirds owner Edward Piszek.