Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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1976-1978 Cleveland Barons

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Cleveland Barons NHLNational Hockey League (1976-1978)

Born: July 14, 1976 – The California Golden Seals relocate to Cleveland, OH.
Died: June 14, 1978 – Merger with Minnesota North Stars

Arena: Richfield Coliseum

Team Colors:

Owners: 

Stanley Cup Championships: None

 

Cleveland flirted with the National Hockey League a number times over the years. The city’s minor league club, the Cleveland Barons (1929-1973), were wildly popular in the post War period. The Barons applied unsuccessfully for admission to the NHL during the 1950’s. And believe it or not, the Montreal Canadiens even considered a move to Ohio during the Great Depression.

Major League hockey finally arrived in 1972 with the formation of the World Hockey Association. The WHA sought to challenge the NHL and made an immediate splash by luring away NHL stars such as Bobby Hull, Bernie Parent and Derek Sanderson. Nick Mileti, owner of the Barons and the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, secured a WHA franchise for Cleveland, to be known as the Crusaders. The debut of the Crusaders in the fall of 1972 marked the end of the Barons era after nearly 50 years. Mileti shipped his minor league club out of town to Jacksonville, Florida in January 1973. Mileti also set about development of an 18,000-seat modern arena for his Cavs and the Crusaders franchises – the Richfield Coliseum.

The Coliseum opened in 1974 in a rural area between Cleveland and Akron. The Crusaders failed to catch fire during four seasons in Cleveland, either downtown at the old Cleveland Arena or at the gleaming new Coliseum. By the spring of 1976 the WHA club was on its last legs. New Crusaders owner Jay Moore reportedly held talks to lure the NHL’s troubled Kansas City Scouts to the Richfield Coliseum to replace his WHA club. Cleveland was on the verge of its long-awaited NHL moment. But it wouldn’t involve Moore or his flirtation with the lowly Scouts.

Jack Evans Cleveland BaronsAcross the country, San Francisco hotelier Mel Swig watched an arena deal for his California Golden Seals NHL franchise collapse. Swig’s minority partner in the Seals was George Gund, a scion of Cleveland’s Gund banking family. With hopes for a new arena in the Bay Area dead, Gund persuaded Swig to move the Seals to his native Cleveland. The NHL approved the move on July 14, 1976. The WHA’s Crusaders moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in early August.  Swig and Gund revived the old Barons moniker for their franchise, hoping to re-kindle Cleveland’s hockey glory days. By the time the ink was dry, the Barons had just six weeks to promote the arrival of the NHL in Cleveland before opening night.

Things went sideways immediately. Four of the Barons’ first eight homes games attracted fewer than 4,000 fans to the Richfield Coliseum. The Barons remained in the brutal Adams Division, where the Seals finished in last place the prior two seasons. The Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres were league powers of the era. The Toronto Maple Leafs were competitive. The Barons languished in a distant 4th place.

By January 1977, just six months into the Cleveland experiment, majority owner Mel Swig was financially exhausted. He petitioned his fellow NHL owners for a loan to keep the Barons afloat through the end of the 1976-77 season. Then he proposed his players defer 27.5% of their paychecks for five months. On January 31, 1977, Swig missed the team’s payroll. Just as it appeared the Barons would humiliate the NHL by folding in midseason, NHL Players Association chief Alan Eagleson brokered a last minute deal. The union loaned the club $600,000, matched by $350,000 from Swig and $20,000 from each of the other NHL clubs. The $1.3 million bailout allowed the Barons to finish the season.

The Barons finished the 1976-77 in last place in the Adams Division with a 25-42-13 record. Seals holdover Dennis Maruk led the team in scoring with a 28-50-78 line. In June 1977, Swig sold the Barons to George Gund and his brother Gordon for $5.3 million in cash and promissory notes. The Barons now had committed local ownership and a full offseason to promote the team for the first time. It didn’t matter.

On the ice, the 1977-78 Barons performed a near replica of the previous winter’s futility. They finished last in the Adams Division with a 22-45-13 record. Dennis Maruk led the team once again with 36 goals and 35 assists. Behind the scenes, the Barons didn’t experience the degree of acute financial peril that they had the previous winter under Swig’s ownership. But attendance remained distressingly low at the Coliseum. The Barons made their final appearance on April 9th, 1978, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of 7,364 in Richfield.  Over the course of two NHL seasons the Barons never once sold out a game.

In June 1978, the NHL allowed a merger of the Barons with another financially distressed club, the Minnesota North Stars. As part of the transaction, the Gund brothers took over ownership of the North Stars and the Barons ceased to be.

The death of the Barons on June 14th, 1978 stands as the last time a franchise in one of the “Big Four” North American sports leagues (NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB) went out of business.

 

Cleveland Barons NHL Shop



Cleveland Barons NHL Logo T-Shirt

Forgotten Glory: The Story of Cleveland Barons Hockey by Gene Kiczek

 

Cleveland Barons NHL Memorabilia

 

Barons Video

1977 Cleveland Barons highlights and interview clip from WJW-TV in Cleveland.

 

In Memoriam

Original club owner Melvin Swig died of cancer on May 14, 1993 at the age of 75. New York Times obituary.

Head Coach Jack Evans died of prostate cancer on November 10, 1996 at age 68.

Barons co-owner George Gund III passed away on January 15, 2013 after a bout with stomach cancer. Gund was 75 years old.

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Written by Drew Crossley

December 14th, 2017 at 2:57 am

1972-1997 New England Whalers / Hartford Whalers

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1976-77 New England Whalers Media GuideWorld Hockey Association (1972-1979)
National Hockey League (1979-1997)

Born: November 1971 – WHA founding franchise
Moved: May 6, 1997 (Carolina Hurricanes)

Arenas:

Team Colors:

Owners:

  • 1972-: Howard Baldwin, John Colburn, Godfrey Wood & William Barnes’
  • 1988-1989: Donald Conrad, Richard Gordon, et al.
  • 1994-1997: Peter Karmanos, Thomas Thewes & Jim Rutherford

WHA Champions: 1973
Stanley Cup Championships: None

 

Text Coming Soon…

 

Whalers Shop

Whalers WHA Road Green Replica Jersey

Whalers WHA Home White Replica Jersey

Hartford Whalers Knit Beanie by Mitchell & Ness


Whalers WHA Logo Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

 

New England Whalers Memorabilia

 

Whalers Video

New England Whalers upset the Soviet Red Army team at the Hartford Civic Center. December 27, 1976.

 

In Memoriam

Defenseman Brad McCrimmon (Whalers ’93-’96) died on September 7, 2011 in the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster in Russia

Left wing Paul Cyr (Whalers ’90-’92) passed away from a heart attack on May 12, 2012 at age 48

 

Links

World Hockey Association Media Guides

World Hockey Association Programs

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1976-1982 Colorado Rockies

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Lanny McDonald Colorado RockiesNational Hockey League (1976-1982)

Born: 1976 – The Kansas City Scouts relocate to Denver, CO.
Moved
: May 27, 1982 (New Jersey Devils)

Arena: McNichols Arena

Team Colors:

Owners:

Stanley Cup Championships: None

 

The Colorado Rockies hockey team was a star-crossed organization that spent most of its six seasons in Denver attempting to move elsewhere.  The Rockies began life in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts, a poorly vetted NHL expansion effort. After two disastrous seasons in K.C., the destitute Scouts were purchased by Colorado oilman Jack Vickers in the summer of 1976.  Vickers immediately moved the team to Denver’s McNichols Arena for the 1976-77 NHL season.

Denver trudged a long, weird path to make it into the National Hockey League.  During the late 1960’s and early 70’s, the city enjoyed the minor league Denver Spurs, who played at the Denver Coliseum.  In 1972, the World Hockey Association formed and fired a shot across the NHL’s bow by signing Chicago Blackhawks star Bobby Hull to an historic $1 million contract.  Further raids on NHL rosters followed and the warring leagues soon began fighting over expansion cities.  Denver was attractive to both leagues, especially with the brand new 16,000-seat McNichols Arena due to open in 1975.

Barry Beck Colorado RockiesIn 1974, Spurs owner Ivan Mullenix landed conditional approval for an NHL expansion club to begin play in the fall of 1976.  But with McNichols Arena ready for 1975, Mullenix pushed to get into the NHL a year earlier.  The plan called for Mullenix to acquire one of the NHL’s basket case franchises of the era – either the California Golden Seals or the Pittsburgh Penguins.  But those maneuvers collapsed in early 1975 and with the Spurs’ future in the NHL looking shaky, Mullenix abruptly joined the rival World Hockey Association instead that spring.  Denver fans, promised NHL for more than a year, were displeased with the bait and switch.  They stayed away in droves and the Spurs only lasted three months in the WHA before bolting town midway through the 1975-76 season.

This was the landscape that Vickers inherited when NHL hockey finally arrived in Denver in the autumn of 1976.  “Rocky Hockey” could have been a coronation after years of struggle.  Instead, it was just Act II of the perverse soap opera that was Colorado hockey during the Me Decade.  For starters, the Rockies were consistently terrible.  The team had seven head coaches in six seasons and in their best season finished 23 games below .500.  The Rockies never won a playoff game in their brief lifespan.

By the spring of 1978, Vickers had lost somewhere between $4.5 and $6 million on the Rockies and was fed up with the lease at McNichols Arena.  The Rockies nearly move to Houston in June 1978, but instead Vickers sold the team later that summer to New Jersey trucking baron Arthur Imperatore.  Imperatore was clear about his ambition to move the Rockies to New Jersey to play in the new Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford but the new building wouldn’t be ready until 1981.  The Rockies would stay in Denver another four years, but they always had the feel of short-timers.

Don Cherry Colorado RockiesDuring the second year of Imperatore’s ownership, in 1979-80, the Rockies made their two biggest acquisitions.  First, they hired the colorful former Boston Bruins chieftain Don Cherry and made him the highest paid coach in the National Hockey League.  And midway through the season, they traded one of their top players, Wilf Paiement, to the miserly Toronto Maple Leafs for future Hall-of-Famer Lanny McDonald.  Cherry was a fan favorite in Colorado and McDonald quickly established himself as the Rockies’ top scoring threat.

But as usual the club’s chronic instability rapidly undermined any sense of excitement or momentum.  The Rockies finished in last place (19-48-13) under Cherry, while the coach clashed all season long with General Manager Ray Miron.  Cherry was fired at the end of the season (no Rockies coach ever lasted longer than one season).  McDonald was traded to Calgary in 1981 after playing just one full season for Colorado.  And Imperatore gave up on the NHL and sold the club to Buffalo cable TV entrepreneur Peter Gilbert in late 1980, the team’s third owner in four years.

By the spring of 1982, the Brendan Byrne Arena was open for business in the swamps of northern New Jersey.  Peter Gilbert sold the team yet again, this time to Houston Astros owner John McMullen.  McMullen pulled off the complex maneuver that had eluded Arthur Imperatore, paying off the New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers to gain the NHL’s blessing to move to New Jersey in May 1982.

Postscript: Don Cherry never coached again in the NHL after being dismissed by the Rockies in the spring of 1980.  But he became a Canadian icon as the between-periods host of “Coaches Corner” on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada NHL broadcasts.  In 2004, Cherry was voted the “7th Greatest Canadian” in a CBC poll.

The NHL returned to Denver in 1995 when the Quebec Nordiques relocated to the Mile High City and became the Colorado Avalanche.

 

Colorado Rockies Shop


Rockies Men’s Lacer Heavyweight Hoodie by Old Time Hockey

Rockies Vintage T-Shirt by Original Retro Brand

In Memoriam

Peter Gilbert, the final owner of the Rockies, died of cancer on March 26, 1989 at age 62.  New York Times obit.

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