Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1993-1999 St. Louis Vipers

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Roller Hockey International (1993-1997, 1999)

Born: 1993 – RHI founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1999 – RHI ceases operations.


Team Colors:Red, Black & Yellow Gold

Owners: Bernie Federko, Dale Turvey, et al.


The St. Louis Vipers were one of 12 original franchises in Roller Hockey International, which began play during the summer of 1993.  RHI was an attempt to cash in on the inline skating phenomenon of the early 1990’s and the league did establish a minor footprint in the middle of the decade, securing an ESPN/ESPN2 contract and attracting investment from a few NHL owners, including Dr. Jerry Buss and Howard Baldwin.

Longtime St. Louis Blues star Bernie Federko was the frontman for the Vipers’ ownership group and also served as the team’s Head Coach for the 1993 and 1994 seasons.  Another Blues connection was Perry Turnbull, the #2 overall pick in the 1979 NHL amateur draft, who played two stints with the Blues between 1979 and 1988.  Turnbull finished out his playing career with the Vipers in 1993 and 1994 and then took over head coaching duties from Federko in 1995.

The Vipers played their first two seasons at the old St. Louis Arena, before moving to the brand new Kiel Center in 1995.

Most of the Vipers’  players were ice hockey minor leaguers keeping in shape and pocketing extra money during the offseason.  The Vipers all-time leading scorer was Christian Skoryna (118 goals) was a typical story.  Skoryna came to RHI out of junior hockey after being passed over in the NHL draft.  He played all six seasons that RHI existed and later played six years of pro ice hockey, almost entirely in low-level independent leagues.

RHI was a chronically unstable league, with teams coming and going in large numbers every season.  The Vipers were one of the most stabled franchise.  Along with the Anaheim Bullfrogs, they were one of only two clubs to survive for all six seasons that RHI existed from 1993 to 1999.  But the Vipers weren’t immune to the league’s problems.  According to a December 1996 St. Louis Business Journal profile, the franchise lost $1.5 million over its first four seasons of operation and required a lifeline from the owners of the St. Louis Blues and the Kiel Center to return for a fifth season in 1997.

After the 1997 season, RHI suspended operations and cancelled the 1998 campaign.  The league re-organized under former Major League Baseball executive Bernie Mullin and managed to get a chaotic and under-capitalized 1999 season off the ground.  The Vipers returned from the one-year layoff and won the final Murphy Cup championship in the summer of 1999.  Roller Hockey International died of exhaustion shortly thereafter.



The Vipers host the Buffalo Stampede at Kiel Arena in 1995.



Roller Hockey International Media Guides

Roller Hockey International Programs

St. Louis Vipers All-Time Roster on





1994-1996 Philadelphia Bulldogs

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Roller Hockey International (1994-1996)

Born: 1994 – RHI expansion franchise.
Died: Postseason 1996 – The Bulldogs cease operations.

Arena: The CoreStates Spectrum (17,380)

Team Colors: Teal, Purple, Black & Silver



The Philadelphia Bulldogs were an expansion team for the second season of Roller Hockey International (RHI) during the summer of 1994.  RHI was an attempt to cash in on the inline skating craze of the early 1990’s.  Despite the sport’s grass roots appeal, the league struggled mightily to convert recreational skaters into paying customers willing to head indoors in the middle of the summer and pay to watch anonymous minor league hockey moonlighting for extra cash during their offseason.

Bulldogs owners Ron Salcer and Tony Danza felt this pain acutely.  Salcer was an NHL player agent and a recreational roller hockey player in Southern California where he played with Danza, the erstwhile star of sitcoms “Taxi” and “Who’s The Boss?”  Salcer hired a pair of Philadelphia Flyers stars from the Broad Street Bullies era of the 1970’s to head the front office.  Dave Schultz was Head Coach and General Manager and Bob Kelly handled sales and marketing.  The team sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 900 season tickets.  But after a decent turnout for the Bulldogs’ home debut at the Spectrum on June 30, 1994 (the team announced 10,273, the Philadelphia Inquirer eyeballed it at 6,000), crowds plummeted quickly.  The Bulldogs lost around $700,000 in the first season and half their investor group.

The Bulldogs did manage a winning record of 12-10 under Dave Schultz and advanced to the 1994 RHI playoffs, where they were bounced in the first round by the Montreal Roadrunners.

Salcer described the Bulldogs debut season as his “worst nightmare” toThe Philadelphia Daily News in 1995 and considered disbanding the team.  Instead, he hung in for another year but downsized the team’s operations, firing Schultz and Kelly, and relying on stadium staff from the Corestates Spectrum to market and operate the team.  Only 2,369 turned out for the 1994 home opener.  The team went 12-10-2 and made it to the second round of the RHI playoffs before running into their old nemesis the Montreal Roadrunners, who eliminated them for the second straight year.

In 1996, the Bulldogs posted their best record (16-9-3) but with a slimmed down playoff format, this wasn’t good enough to qualify for postseason play.  The Bulldogs disbanded after the 1996 season.

Philadelphia also had a minor league football team called the Philadelphia Bulldogs in the Continental Football League in 1965 and 1966.



The Bulldogs host the Chicago Cheetahs at the Spectrum on July 11, 1994.


Philadelphia  Bulldogs Article Sources


Roller Hockey International Media Guides

Roller Hockey International Programs


1993-1996 San Diego Barracudas

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Roller Hockey International (1993-1996)

Born: 1993 – RHI founding franchise.
Died: Postseason 1996 – The Barracudas cease operations.

Arena: San Diego Sports Arena (13,000)

Team Colors: Purple, Teal, Light Teal, Yellow & Fuschia



Rare program from one of the final home games for the San Diego Barracudas (1993-1996) of Roller Hockey International (1993-1999).  The Barracudas were owned by Dennis Murphy, a serial sports entrepreneur who helped to create the American Basketball Association (1967-1976), the World Hockey Association (1972-1979) and World Team Tennis (1974-1978) among various other leagues.  Murphy also created Roller Hockey International  – which sought to capitalize on the inline skating boom of the early 1990’s.  The league’s championship trophy, the Murphy Cup, was named for him.

At its peak in 1995, RHI had 19 franchises across North America.  But by 1996 the league was sputtering and Murphy’s Barracudas club was one of the trouble spots.  Murphy acknowledged to The Associated Press that his club lost $700,000 over the 1995 and 1996 seasons.  The end of the 1996 season took on a distinct This Is Spinal Tap flavor as the team’s finances fell apart.

In August Murphy pulled the Barracudas out of San Diego, claiming arena management damaged the team’s roll-on playing surface with grease and skid marks while loading-in for a rock concert and a circus.  There were two home dates remaining on the Barracudas regular-season schedule.  The first scheduled match was against the Los Angeles Blades.  It was moved north to the Blades’ home, the Great Western Forum.  To save money, the game was held at 12 PM on a Monday afternoon and was promoted only to Barracudas season ticket holders in the mood for a long-ass road trip.  75 people showed up.  The Barracudas’ final home game against the Sacramento River Rats was held at youth inline skating rink called Stuart’s Roller World in Orange, California on August 15, 1996.

The Barracudas disbanded after the 1996 season.





Roller Hockey International Media Guides

Roller Hockey International Programs

San Diego Barracudas All-Time Roster at



Written by andycrossley

December 24th, 2012 at 2:29 pm

June 28, 1995 – Orlando Rollergators vs. Detroit Motor City Mustangs

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Orlando Rollergators vs. Detroit Motor City Mustangs
June 28, 1995
Orlando Arena
Roller Hockey International Programs

Kooky sport.  Bad market.  Dumb name.  Late start.  Out of state owners.  Check, check, check, check and…check.  The Orlando Rollergators of Roller Hockey International reside securely in our One-Year Wonders file of ill-conceived and unlamented minor league teams.

RHI was an effort to capitalize on the 1990’s in-line skating craze.  RHI played in big arenas during the summer time, with rosters primarily composed of minor league ice hockey players moonlighting during their off season.  Former Montreal Canadiens star Ralph Backstrom was the league’s front man and helped convince well-heeled NBA investors like Jerry Buss and Howard Baldwin to purchase franchises.  Other clubs were run more like mom-and-pops as was the case with the Orlando Rollergators, who were owned by the New Jersey Devils’ team orthopedist, Dr. Richard Commentucci.  Devils star and future Hockey Hall-of-Famer Slava Fetisov also held a minority stake in the Rollergators.

The Rollergators set up shop in Orlando in late March 1995, barely two months the start of the RHI season.  Central Florida is a notorious graveyard for goofy start-up sports leagues.  One notable exception was the Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League, a wildly popular club during the 1990’s which routinely sold out the Orlando Arena.  Orlando wasn’t big enough for two made-for-cable Frankensports and the fans voted with their pocketbooks: they preferred the Preds.  So did the managers of the Orlando Arena, who sensibly gave the Predators the prime weekend dates and gave the Rollergators the leftover garbage: a bunch of Monday and Wednesday nights.  Commentucci and Fetisov neglecting to spend any money introducing their unfamiliar product didn’t help.

Long-time NHL winger Walt Poddubny was the Rollergators coach and, at age 35, occasionally strapped on the in-line skates as well.

This June 28th game was a typically lonely night of pro roller hockey at the O-Rena.  The ‘Gators played the Detroit Motor City Mustangs, another of RHI’s one-season-and-done entries.  1,121 lonely souls (announced) showed up on a Wednesday night.  In ten home games in 1995, the Rollergators never cracked 2,000 fans in the 13,000-seat building.  The Rollergators beat the Mustangs 7-3 on this evening, but that was a rarity.  The club finished the season dead last in the Eastern Confernece at 7-16.

Commentucci, Fetisov and fellow partner Igor Maller flew in for a late season match at the O-Rena in July.  Peering out at the announced crowd of 1,082, Fetisov gave an upbeat assessment to The Orlando Sentinel:

“We’ve come to stay,” said Fetisov.  “We’re not coming for one season and then run away.  We’re ready for this.”

The Rollergators played their final game two weeks later.


The Rollergators were gone but RHI, improbably, returned to Orlando the following summer.  New owner Norton Herrick had real money, unlike the ‘Gator guys.  The real estate mogul previously tried to bring Major League Baseball to Orlando and was a rumored suitor for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers at one point in the 1990’s.  In addition to launching the Orlando Jackals franchise in 1996, Herrick bought 25% of RHI itself.  He sunk millions into the promotion of the roller hockey and the Jackals and won the league’s Murphy Cup championship in his first season of 1996.  The sport was still a loser on the balance sheet, however.  For his passion and largesse, Herrick lost a reported $4 million on the Jackals over two seasons from 1996 to 1997.

RHI itself shutdown at the end of 1997, returned briefly (and invisibly) in 1999, and was gone for good by the turn of the century.

Most of the principals of the Rollergators have now passed away. Owner Richard Commentucci passed at age 71 in 2011.  Head Coach Walt Poddubny died suddenly of a heart attack in 2009.  He was only 49.


Orlando Rollergators sources


Written by andycrossley

August 30th, 2012 at 2:16 am

July 21, 1995 – San Jose Rhinos vs. Vancouver Voodoo

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San Jose Rhinos vs. Vancouver Voodoo
July 21, 1995
San Jose Arena

Roller Hockey International Programs
58 pages


An attractive program from an obscure league.  This is from the San Jose Rhinos (1994-1997, 1999) of Roller Hockey International, a mid-1990’s effort to capitalize on the in-line skating craze in the United States.  While the games drew well in a few cities (the Anaheim Bullfrogs sometimes had crowds in excess of 10,000), RHI’s lack of an organic fan base and the tremendous expense of travelling by air and playing in major league arenas doomed the league after six seasons.

This program is from the third season of RHI in the summer of 1995.  The Rhinos won the Murphy Cup championship this season.  The league’s trophy was named after Dennis Murphy, one of the league’s founders and a serial sports promoter who also helped to launch the American Basketball Association, World Hockey Association and World Team Tennis in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

The compact RHI season played out over three months from June to August.  The Rhinos commissioned an illustration class in the art department at San Jose State University to design the cover art for 1995.  They chose three winning designs and created a different program cover for each month of the season.  This program is the July 1995 edition.

Rhinos Head Coach Roy Sommer coached the ice hockey Richmond (VA) Renegades of the East Coast Hockey League during the winter.  Most of the Rhinos players on this 1995 league championship team were vacationing Renegades players who followed Sommer to California to earn a summer time paycheck.



San Jose Rhinos Home Page


Written by andycrossley

April 2nd, 2012 at 3:33 pm