Lively Tales About Dead Teams

Archive for the ‘The Checkerdome’ tag

1979-1988 St. Louis Steamers

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Carl Rose St. Louis SteamersMajor Indoor Soccer League (1979-1988)

Born: July 31, 1979 – MISL expansion franchise
Folded: June 22, 1988

Arena: The Checkerdome / St. Louis Arena

Team Colors:

Owners:

MISL Championships: None

 

Text coming soon…

 

St. Louis Steamers Shop


Steamers Retro T-Shirt by Throwback Max

 

St. Louis Steamers Memorabilia

 

In Memoriam

Steamers goalkeeper Slobo Ilijevski (1980-1988) died of a ruptured aorta during an amateur soccer game on July 14, 2008. He was 58 years old.

Ian Anderson (Steamers ’82-’83) passed away November 5, 2008 at age 54 in Scotland.

 

St. Louis Steamers Video

1984-85 St. Louis Steamers promo video:

 

1985 St. Louis Slims

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TeamTennis (1985)

Born: 1985 TeamTennis expansion franchise
Folded:
Postseason 1985

Arena: St. Louis Arena

Team Colors:

Owner: Harry Ornest

TeamTennis Championships: None

 

The St. Louis Slims were a One-Year Wonder that played in the Domino’s Pizza TeamTennis league at the St. Louis Arena during the summer of 1985.  (Yes, that was the league’s official name that summer – it would later revert back to World Team Tennis, as a better-publicized predecessor league was known during the 1970’s).

The league in 1985 consisted of eight teams, each with two male and two female players from the pro tour.  Players received no salary, but earned between $2,500 and $60,000 for a month’s work from an incentive package based on wins.  The total prize purse for all 32 players was only $400,000, which meant that no major stars took part in the league during the 1985 season.  The best known star in the league was 36-year Rosie Casals of the Chicago Fire.  (The Miami Beach Breakers also featured a pre-stardom 15-year old Gabriela Sabatini that summer).

The Slims roster was typical of the journeymen nature of the league.  The Slims featured Sandy Collins, John Mattke, Terry Moor and Candy Reynolds.

The Slims played a brief 14-match schedule between July 10 and August 13, 1985.  TeamTennis matches consists of five single sets – one each of men’s and women’s singles and doubles, plus a mixed doubles set.

The Slims were owned by St. Louis Blues owner Harry Ornest.  Ornest’s son Maury owned the league’s San Diego Buds franchise during the same summer.  Neither Ornest returned for the 1986 season, folding both the Slims and the Buds after one summer of operation.

World Team Tennis continues to operate today, opening its 33rd season later this month.

 

==Links==

World Team Tennis Media Guides

World Team Tennis Programs

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Written by AC

July 17th, 2013 at 1:02 am

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.

Arenas:

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.

 

==YouTube==

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

 

==Links==

Roller Hockey International Media Guides

Roller Hockey International Programs

St. Louis Vipers All-Time Roster on HockeyDB.com

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1989-1992 St. Louis Storm

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St. Louis Storm MISLMajor Indoor Soccer League (1989-1990)
Major Soccer League (1990-1992)

Born: July 6, 1989 – MISL expansion franchise.
Folded: July 10th, 1992

Arena: St. Louis Arena (17,931)

Team Colors: Blue, Yellow & Red

Owner: Milan Mandaric

MISL Championships: None

 

St. Louis, Missouri was a hotbed of indoor soccer in the early 1980’s.  The city’s St. Louis Steamers of the Major Indoor Soccer League claimed higher average attendances than the NHL’s St. Louis Blues for five straight years from 1980 to 1984.  The club had local celebrity ownership in minority partner Stan Musial.  At their third season peak in the winter of 1981-82, the Steamers averaged more than 17,000 fans per game and played for the MISL championship for the second straight year.

The Steamers began a sad decline in the mid-1980’s, accelerating when original owner Ben Kerner sold the club in July 1984.  By the spring of 1988, the club was insolvent – reportedly $1 million in debt and unable to meet payroll.   Just 4,839 turned out at St. Louis Arena to watch the Steamer’s final match on April 15th, 1988.  A white knight investor group led by San Jose, California businessman Milan Mandaric poked at the carcass, but ultimately passed.  The MISL formally terminated the rudderless Steamers on June 22nd, 1988.  Mandaric’s interest hadn’t entirely cooled, however.

From 1979 to 1984, the MISL engaged in aggressive expansion throughout the United States.  But the league’s fortunes peaked around the same time as the Steamers.  From 1985 to 1988, the league added just one expansion franchise and that club, the New York Express, imploded midway through its debut season, causing national embarassment for the league.  During the same period, the MISL lost eight franchises, including the Steamers and the profitable and popular Cleveland Force, whose owner Bert Wolstein pulled out of the league in July 1988 in sheer frustration.

“(The MISL) was on a roller coaster downhill,” Wolstein told The Los Angeles Times in November 1988.  “I don’t think it will survive, No.1, and if it does survive, I don’t think it will be of any quality.”

St. Louis Storm MSLThe MISL, beset by union bickering, declining fan & broadcast interest and red ink, had little going for it by the end of the 1980’s.  But it did have the siren song of nostalgia in cities like St. Louis and Cleveland, tempting investors to try and recapture the brief moments when the Steamers and the Force had been the hottest ticket in town.  Re-enter Milan Mandaric.

The Serbian-born Mandaric built separate fortunes in socialist Yugoslavia (auto parts) and later as a naturalized citizen in Silicon Valley, California (circuit boards).  Always a soccer lover, he first invested in the outdoor North American Soccer League, as owner of two Bay Area clubs in the 1970’s – the San Jose Earthquakes (1974-1978) and the Oakland Stompers (1978), both of which he later sold.  Mandaric quickly lost interest in the Steamers’ mess in 1988, but soon turned his attention to an expansion team in the city.  A clean slate.  On July 6th, 1989 the MISL approved Mandaric’s expansion bid and indoor soccer returned to the Gateway City after a one-year absence in the form of the St. Louis Storm.

Mandaric hired Don Popovic as the Storm’s Head Coach.  Popovic, a fellow Serb, had built the MISL’s first dynasty as Head Coach of the New York Arrows from 1978 to 1983.  Popovic’s Arrows were built around a core of fellow Yugoslav and Hungarian emigres such as Steve Zungul, Branko Segota, Fred Grgurev, Juli Veee and Zoltan Toth.  The Arrows won the MISL’s first four titles from 1979-1982, defeating the Steamers in the championship series in both 1981 and 1982.  The years since had been leaner for Popovic.  Gigs with the MISL’s Las Vegas Americans (1984-85) and Pittsburgh Spirit (1985-86) ended after a single season when those clubs folded.  He lasted only a single game as Head Coach of the New York Express in 1987.

The 1989-90 Storm team, assembled on three month’s notice, was short on Slavs by Popovic standards (only three).  The core of the team was built on players from the former Los Angeles Lazers franchise, which folded two weeks before St. Louis joined the league.  To stock the team, the Storm were awarded the first five picks in the Lazers dispersal draft.  Daryl Doran, a long-time Steamer favorite (1982-1988), returned to St. Louis by way of the Lazers draft.  Also returning from the Steamers’ glory years was poopular goalkeeper Slobodan Ilijevski, known to local fans simply as “Slobo”, who played eight seasons with the Steamers from 1980-1988.

The Storm finished 24-28 in their debut season, posting the weakest record of any postseason qualifier.  The eventual champion San Diego Sockers eliminated the Storm in the first round of playoffs.  Off the field, the Storm lost a reported $1.5 million during the 1989-90 season, which Mandaric had to absorb himself as the sole owner.  This led Mandaric to publicly speculate about folding the club after a single season.  But in July 1990, Mandaric secured ten local limited partners and agreed to continue, possibly saving the MISL as a whole, as the Sockers had threatened to follow suit if the Storm shut down.  The league lived on for a thirteenth season under a new name – the Major Soccer League (MSL).

With the team’s future settled for now, Popovic added some Slavic firepower, signing the 1989 MISL MVP Preki (Predrag Radosavljevic) in August 1990.  The Yugoslav midfielder was in his prime at the age of 27, having led the league in cumulative scoring over the past five years.  He became available to the Storm as a free agent due to a salary dump by his former team, the perenially low budget Tacoma Stars.

“Preki is the Michael Jordan of the MISL, he’s that good,” said Storm VP & General Manager Dan Counce announced at the time.

St. Louis StormDuring the 1990-91 season, the Storm surged ahead on the field, posting a 32-20 record, second best in eight-team MSL.  Preki lived up to the hype, scoring 68 goals and adding 53 assists, many of those dished out to Thompson Usiyan who added 64 goals.  Hungarian Zoltan Toth – a Popovic holdover from the New York Arrows dynasty of the early 80’s – handled the bulk of the goalkeeping duties, posting a 25-10 record.

During the season, the Storm travelled to Switzerland and won the FIFA-sanctioned Zurich International indoor soccer tournament.  In the spring, St. Louis defeated the Tacoma Stars in the playoff quarterfinals before falling again to the arch-rival Sockers in the MSL semis.

In the front office, the news was even better.  Announced attendance rose from 6,400 to a league-high 7,772 fans per game.  Running on a $2.5 million annual expense budget, the Storm projected to lose $350,000 for the year, a 70% reduction from the staggering first year loss.  For the first (and only) summer in Storm history, Mandaric did not threaten to fold the team.

Heading into the 1991-92 campaign, Popovic added another high-scoring Yugoslav to his stable.  Like Toth, Branko Segota was a key member of Popovic’s early 80’s championship teams in New York.  To pry him away from the San Diego Sockers, the Storm had to part ways Thompson Usiyan and his 64 goals.

It turned out to be a poor trade.  Viewed as a top contender, the 1991-92 season quickly went sideways for St. Louis.  Beset by injuries, goalkeeper Toth unexpectedly retired two games in to the season.  In early March, with the club mired in last place at 12-20, management fired Don Popovic. Defender Fernando Clavijo finished out the season as player-coach.  In April 1992, the Storm’s third season, which had begun with sky high expectations, ended in a 7th place (dead last) finish with a 17-23 record.  Remarkably, despite the on-field disaster and lame duck ownership, the Storm led the MSL in attendance with an announced average of 10,748 at St. Louis Arena, up 25% from 1990-91.

By early 1992, Mandaric was reportedly more interested in the $162 million new arena planned for his adopted home city of San Jose than in continuing with the Storm in St. Louis.  He placed his 80% stake in the team up for sale early in the 1991-92 season.  Throughout the season’s second half, negotiations lurched along for a group led by limited partner Dr. Abraham Hamatweh to purchase the Storm.  Hamatweh, a former Steamers and Storm season ticket holder, acquired a minority stake in the club in the summer of 1990, when Mandaric first considered folding the team.  The negotiations stalled throughout the spring as Hamatweh’s group continually failed to generate enough capital to conclude the transaction.

The St. Louis negotations took on more urgency once the eternally shaky Tacoma Stars gasped their death wheeze on June 5th, 1992. Two weeks later, a potential savior expansion franchise in Buffalo declined to join the MSL in favor of its lower-cost, non-union rival, the National Professional Soccer League.  That left the Storm as the MSL’s sixth franchise and several owners went on record saying they wouldn’t continue with only five teams.

The five remaining franchises of the MSL voted unanimously to fold on July 10th, 1992 after Hawatmeh’s group gave up trying to raise the necessary funds to continute as the league’s sixth franchise.  The group reportedly raised $850,000 – more than enough to post the league’s required $350,000 letter of credit for the 1992-93 season – but felt it didn’t have enough to continue in the MSL, despite the league’s continual cost cutting over the previous four years.

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One month after the MSL folded in July 1992, Storm minority owner Dr. Abraham Hawatmeh and his group purchased the Tulsa Ambush of the lower-budget National Professional Soccer League.  The NPSL’s lower cost model allowed Hawatmeh’s group to move forward with the financial commitment they deemed insufficient for the MSL just a few weeks earlier.  The St. Louis Ambush played at St. Louis Arena for eight more seasons before folding in 2000.

Milan Mandaric took two more cracks at indoor soccer.  In 1994 and 1995, Mandaric operated the San Jose Grizzlies of the Continental Indoor Soccer League in his adopted hometown.  In San Jose, Mandaric reunited with Preki, who earned CISL MVP honors for the Grizzlies in 1995.  The Grizzlies folded in 1995 after two seasons.   Mandaric entered the expansion Florida Thundercats in the National Professional Soccer League in the fall of 1998.  Former Storm defender Fernando Clavijo coached the Thundercats.  The club folded after one season of dismal attendance at the National Car Rental Center in Sunrise, Florida.  Mandaric has sinced turned his attention back to Europe, where he has owned Portsmouth, Leicester City and Sheffield Wednesday in England.

Preki became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1996.  He debuted for the U.S. National Team the same year, earning 28 caps between 1996 and 2001 and representing his adopted country in the 1998 World Cup.  Preki also played for the Kansas City Wizards and Miami Fusion of Major League Soccer from 1996 to 2005, winning MVP honors in 1997 and 2003.  He retired at age 42 in 2005 and later served as Head Coach of both Chivas USA (2007-2009) and Toronto FC (2010) of MLS.

 

St. Louis Storm Memorabilia

 

 

Storm Video

Storm vs. the San Diego Sockers at St. Louis Arena.  November 22, 1991.

In Memoriam

Long-time St. Louis Steamers & Storm goalkeeper Slobo Ilijevski passed away on July 14th, 2008 at age 58.

 

Links

Major Indoor Soccer League Media Guides

Major Indoor Soccer League Programs

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Written by AC

October 13th, 2011 at 1:22 pm

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