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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:


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.


Written by Drew Crossley

December 14th, 2017 at 2:57 am

2002-2005 Cleveland Force

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Cleveland Force ProgramMajor Indoor Soccer League (2002-2005)

Born: August 2002 – Re-branded from Cleveland Crunch.
Folded: Postseason 2005

Arena: CSU Convocation Center

Team Colors:

Owners: Richard Dietrich, Michael Gibbons & Paul Garofalo


Cleveland was long a hotbed of professional indoor soccer.  The city’s original Cleveland Force (1978-1988) was the model franchise of the Major Indoor Soccer League (MISL), attracting huge crowds to the Richfield Coliseum in the mid-80’s.  The Force folded in 1988, but were quickly replaced by the Cleveland Crunch (1989-2002) indoor squad.

By the early 2000’s, the fortunes indoor game were in sharp decline.  The premier indoor league at the time was the National Professional Soccer League, whose membership included the Crunch.  In 2001, the NPSL re-branded itself as the Major Indoor Soccer League, in the hopes of scaring up some nostalgia for the long-defunct indoor brand of the 1980’s.

Crunch management followed suit in August 2002. The franchise dropped the Crunch identity after 13 seasons in favor of reviving the Force name and colors. Team President Paul Garofalo, a former executive with the original Force franchise of the 80’s, predicted the name change alone would increase team revenues by one million dollars annually.

Garofalo’s optimism was misplaced.  Force attendance muddled along at the 4,000 – 5,000 per game level – basically unchanged from the later years of the Crunch.  Majority owner Richard Dietrich gave up hope during the third season of the Force re-boot, announcing the club was for sale in March 2005.  With no takers, the team folded following the 2004-05 MISL season.

As far as the team on the carpet, Force 2.0 were decent.  Indoor soccer’s all-time leading scorer, Hector Marinaro, played for the Force from 2002-2004.  Marinaro was a holdover from the great Crunch indoor teams that won three championships during the 1990’s. But the Force let Marinaro go in the MISL expansion draft in the summer of 2004.

The Force made the MISL playoffs in each of their three seasons.  The final Force team made it to the 2005 MISL Championship Series where they lost in a two-game sweep to the Milwaukee Wave.  The club never played another game.



The Force in their retro Reflex Blue & Yellow unis, on the road against the Chicago Storm. March 19th, 2005



2001-Present Indoor Soccer Media Guides

2001-Present Indoor Soccer Programs


1975-1982 Cleveland Cobras

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Cleveland Cobras ProgramAmerican Soccer League (1975-1981)
Independent (1982)

Born: 1975 – Cleveland Stars re-branded as Cleveland Cobras.
Moved: January/February 1982 (Georgia Generals)

Stadium: Finnie Stadium

Team Colors:



The Cleveland Cobras were a lower-division American pro soccer club, active through the mid-70’s and into the early 1980’s.  The team started out as the Cleveland Stars (1972-1974) before changing to the Cobras name in 1975.  The Cobras played their home matches on the campus of Baldwin-Wallace University in suburban Berea.  Cobras matches typically drew crowds in the low thousands.

The franchise was sold and relocated to new ownership in suburban Atlanta in early 1982, where it became known as the Georgia Generals.  The Generals played only a single year before folding.

With the original Cobras departed, a new team organized under the Cobras name and announced plans to play a short exhibition schedule against American Soccer League opponents in 1982.  The idea was to re-organize the team and apply for reinstatement to the ASL in 1983, but that never came to pass.  At least one of these exhibition matches was held in the spring of 1982, but the team faded away quietly later that year, never to be heard from again.


Cleveland Cobras Shop

Cobras Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

The History of Soccer in Greater Cleveland From 1906 Until 1981


Cleveland Cobras Memorabilia



1978 American Soccer League Attendance Report



American Soccer League Media Guides

American Soccer League Programs


Written by AC

April 8th, 2015 at 2:21 am

1992-1994 Cleveland Thunderbolts

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Cleveland ThunderboltsArena Football League (1992-1994)

Born: 1992 – The Columbus Thunderbolts relocate to Cleveland, OH
Folded: Postseason 1994

Arena: Richfield Coliseum (17,606)

Team Colors: Black, Silver & Purple


Arena Bowl Championships: None


The Cleveland Thunderbolts were a bottom-dwelling Arena Football League franchise that played for three seasons at the suburban Richfield Coliseum from 1992 to 1994.  The Thunderbolts originated an expansion team in Columbus, Ohio in 1991.  After a winless (0-10) campaign playing in small agriculture fairgrounds arena in Columbus, the team was sold to Ohio insurance salesman John Kuczek in late 1991 and he moved the T-Bolts to Cleveland.

Cleveland ThunderboltsThe T-Bolts were one of the weakest entries in the Arena League in the mid-1990’s, posting an 8-26 record during their three seasons in Cleveland, including back-to-back 2-10 campaigns in 1993 and 1993.  During their brief run, the team signed two big names from the world of college football.  Quarterback Major Harris, a holdover from the 1991 Columbus team, played for the T-Bolts in 1992 and 1994.  Harris was a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist (1988 & 1989) at West Virginia.   He never played in the NFL and his Arena Football career was not ultimately that distinguished.  He was one of the league’s premier rushers as a scrambling QB, but the ground attack was not a major factor in the indoor game.

The other big name, at least locally, was head coach Earle Bruce, formerly of Ohio State University.  Bruce was hired to turn around the team in 1994, but ultimately produced an identical 2-10 last place finished as his predecessor Dave Whinham did in 1993.  Bruce resigned shortly after the 1994 season.

The Thunderbolts were run as a family business. Team owner John Kuczek was an insurance broker from Boardman, Ohio.  His son Jeff was the team’s General Manager.  Early in the T-Bolts short existence in Cleveland, John Kuczek was implicated in a federal securities fraud case in Florida.  Prior to the team’s second season in 1993, the elder Kuczek divested himself of ownership in the club and placed it in a trust for his grandchildren.  Son Jeff continued as the front office leader of the organization.  Kuczek was ultimately convicted on one count of the indictment.  The day before he was due to begin serving his sentence in February 1995, he committed suicide in a Salem, Ohio hotel room.

The Cleveland Thunderbolts did not return for the 1995 season.  Arena Football returned to Cleveland in 2008 with the arrival of the Cleveland Gladiators, a transplanted franchise from Las Vegas.  The Gladiators continue to play today under the ownership of Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.


Cleveland Thunderbolts Memorabilia


Thunderbolts Video

One of the final Thunderbolts games – on the road against the Milwaukee Mustangs on July 22, 1994.




1992 Cleveland Thunderbolts Season Ticket Brochure

1993 Cleveland Thunderbolts Season Ticket Brochure




Arena Football League Media Guides

Arena Football League Programs


Written by AC

May 4th, 2014 at 12:01 am

2001-2006 Cleveland Barons

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Cleveland BaronsAmerican Hockey League (2001-2006)

Born: 2001 – The Kentucky Thoroughblades relocate to Cleveland, OH.
Moved: January 9, 2006 – The AHL approves the Barons move to Worcester, MA.

Arena: Gund Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: San Jose Sharks

Calder Cup Championships: None


The 2001-2006 Cleveland Barons of the American Hockey League represented the second revival of the classic “Barons” hockey brand in Cleveland.  The original Barons played in the AHL from 1937 to 1973.  When the NHL’s woeful California Golden Seals franchise moved to Ohio to play in the old Richfield Coliseum in 1976, they reclaimed the historic Barons name.  But the club was a disaster and lasted just two seasons before financial insolvency forced the team to merge with the Minnesota North Stars in June 1978.  To this day, the NHL Cleveland Barons remain the last franchise from North American Big Four professional sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL) to go out of business.

Pro hockey returned to Cleveland in 1992 with the arrival of the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the minor International Hockey League.  The ‘Jacks enjoyed some good crowds in the mid-1990’s. But by the end of the decade the IHL was on the verge of collapse. Cleveland became one of the league’s trouble spots, drawing fewer than 3,000 fans per night at Gund Arena by the end of the decade.

After the IHL and the Lumberjacks folded in the spring of 2001, the San Jose Sharks moved their Lexington, Kentucky AHL farm club to Gund Arena for the 2001-02 season.  The Sharks brought back the old Barons identity, but the farm club used San Jose’s modern colors of teal and black.

Perhaps the Lumberjacks’ struggles soured the market on minor league hockey or maybe northeast Ohio fans just couldn’t get excited about the far away San Jose Sharks.  The Barons also played very poorly, failing to make the Calder Cup playoffs in four of their five seasons.  Whatever the problem, the modern day Barons failed to spark much interest in Cleveland.  Through the club’s first four-and-a-half seasons at Gund Arena, attendance averaged only 3,716 per game according to The Silicon Valley Business Journal.   The Sharks reportedly lost several million dollars on the Barons over the years.  Midway through the 2005-06 season, San Jose management applied to the AHL to move the team to Worcester, Massachusetts for the 2006-07 season.  The move was approved on January 9, 2006 and the Barons finished out the season as a lame duck team.  The franchise lives on today as the Worcester Sharks San Jose Barracuda.


Cleveland Barons Memorabilia




American Hockey League Media Guides

American Hockey League Programs



Written by AC

April 4th, 2014 at 3:32 am


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