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1971-1974 Boston Braves

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Boston Braves AHLAmerican Hockey League (1971-1974)

Founded: 1971 – AHL expansion franchise
Ceased Operations: 1974

Arenas: 

Team Colors:

Owners:

  • 1971-1973: Weston Adams
  • 1973-1974: Storer Broadcasting Company

Calder Cup Championships: None

 

My recent post on the Boston Bruins-New England Whalers hockey rivalry of the 1970’s inspired a couple of nostalgic comments about the third team in Boston’s hockey universe back in the early 1970’s: the Boston Braves.

Pro hockey grew so popular in Boston during the Big Bad Bruins era of the early 1970’s that the demand for tickets greatly exceeded what the Boston Garden could hold for NHL hockey.  Meanwhile, the B’s top farm club was half a country away at Oklahoma City in the Central Hockey League.  The Bruins’ ownership decided to kill two birds with one stone and applied for an expansion team in the East Coast-based American Hockey League.  The Boston Braves debuted in the autumn of 1971.

Massachusetts immediately went crazy for the Baby Bruins.  The Braves sold 6,500 season tickets.  The team broke the single game attendance record in the 35-year old AHL twice in their first eight home games.

“They’re a young crowd, the Braves’ fans,” Bruins and Braves publicity director Herb Ralby told The Nashua (NH) Telegraph in November 1971.  “They’re people who couldn’t get Bruins tickets.  They’re the Bruins fans of tomorrow…this is a hockey town.”

It helped that the Braves had a terrific team.  Seasoned NHL veterans Garry Peters and Doug Roberts both scored over 30 goals, as did prospect Don Tannahill.  Netminder Dan Bouchard was outstanding – the next fall he would join the expansion Atlanta Flames as their starting goaltender and go on to play 15 seasons in the NHL.

The Braves prospect who would go on to have the biggest impact in Boston was right winger Terry O’Reilly, the Bruins first round pick in the 1971 NHL amateur draft.  (O’Reilly is pictured on the cover of the December 1971 Braves program above).  O’Reilly played 60 games for the Braves in 1971-72 and then never played another game in the minor leagues.  From 1972 to 1985 he was one of Boston’s most popular athletes in a career spent entirely with the Bruins.  He later coach the Bruins from 1986 to 1989.

The Braves 41-21-14 record in 1971-72 was tied for best in the AHL, although they would lose in the 2nd round of the Calder Cup playoffs.  At the box office, the Braves averaged a remarkable 11,208 fans per game at the Boston Garden according to The Internet Hockey Database – nearly double the league’s second most popular team, the Hershey Bears.

And that, pretty much, was that.  One wonderful winter of hockey in Boston when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup and the Braves were nearly as popular.  We have a “One-Year Wonders” category here on FWiL.  Technically, it’s only for teams that exist for just a single season, so the Braves don’t meet the criteria.  But spiritually, this is where they belong.

The next fall, the big budget World Hockey Association began play, raiding the NHL (and the AHL, for that matter) for talent.  The New England Whalers set up shop at the Garden in October 1972 and now the city had three pro hockey teams.  The Braves were squeezed out of the Garden, eventually moving to Boston Arena (now known as Matthews Arena on the campus on Northeastern University).  During the 1972-73 season, Braves attendance crashed to 4,392 per game.  In 1973-74, the Braves’ final season, attendance fell all the way to 1,328 per game.  In just 24 months, the Braves went from selling the most tickets in the history of the AHL to having the worst attendance in the 12-team league.

The Braves went dormant in 1974, although the Bruins reportedly kept paying the AHL a small annual fee to keep their rights to revive the franchise well into the 1980’s.  They never did.

 

Boston Braves Memorabilia

 

Links

American Hockey League Media Guides

American Hockey League Programs

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Written by AC

November 11th, 2012 at 2:44 am

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