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Flashback March 8, 1968: Photos of the EHL's Long Island Ducks hosting the New Haven Blades

Flashback March 8, 1968: Photos of the EHL's Long Island Ducks hosting the New Haven Blades

In the old Eastern Hockey League (EHL), New Haven and Long Island were two rough and tumble teams. Not only that but after playing in the same division for many years, they had become fierce rivals. The prime example is from the 1965-66 season, when the Ducks and Blades played all of 90 seconds before a bench clearing fight erupted that took 25-minutes to sort out. This was likely a hold over of anger from fights from the team's previous game. After things finally calmed, New Haven player-coach Jackie LeClair pulled his team off the ice. So that gives you an idea of what this league, and specifically these teams, was like on its craziest day. 

Two years after that bench clearing brawl, a pair of feisty Ducks defenders who had been central pieces in the 1966 chaos weren't on the ice anymore. John Brophy, who was the basis for Reg Dunlop in Slapshot, was now the Ducks' coach. For New Haven, ex-Duck Don Perry had taken over as head coach. The two teams were, as usual, in the playoff hunt. In this campaign, New Haven finished second in the division with 93 points, Long Island fourth with 65. In the six team division, the top four would make the playoffs. 

It's at this point we are able to pick up the story that was captured in photographs by Look magazine. Available from the Library of Congress, a few dozen rolls of film shot by Jim Hansen capture the Ducks throughout the final three games of their 1965-66 campaign in the Eastern Hockey League. The magazine itself was a Life Magazine sort of publication that ran from 1937 through 1971. It's not clear what sort of story these photos were meant for. I've tried looking through some online archives of the magazine but wasn't able to ascertain if these were ever published.

What is clear from the photos is that they were dated from March 1968, and capture a three-game stretch for the Ducks that saw them host New Haven and the Clinton Comets at home in the final two regular season games before going to Clinton for their first playoff game. Based on some newspaper research for background, I'm very certain these are the games that these photos cover, as the Ducks played those three games in a five day span and were finished for the season by March 15.

This set of photos covers the first game of the trio between the Ducks and New Haven at Long Island Arena in Commack. This game ended in a 5-5 tie, with the teams playing pretty evenly as New Haven had a 38-35 edge in shots. One interesting story, New Haven's trainer Gunner Garrett was pressed into action in goal. Their regular netminder, Roger Wilson, took a puck to the elbow during warmups and was unable to play, so New Haven turned to their trainer. This wasn't even the first time he had stepped in, playing two previous games during the season. 

I'll post two more sets of photos later on as I am able to go through them (there's a lot and the scans from the LoC are so big they drag my computer to a complete stop). For anyone interested these are available to anyone by making a request through the Library of Congress. I believe I paid about $50 for contact sheets of all the rolls to be made. Individual copies of photos are pretty pricey, they cost about that much per photo.  

If you're able to help identify anyone in these shots, please send me a note on Twitter @vintageicehky or an email at Kevin@vintageicehockey.com. I've tried to not definitively name anyone I'm not sure about and most of what I speculate below is according to HockeyDB's rosters. Even tougher, multiple players wore the same number for during this season, so it's tough to identify many players by number. 

Note: These photos have been lightly edited to improve color contrast and highlights. 

1. In the above photo, Ducks owner Al Baron sits a top a desk with coach John Brophy sitting in the lighter tan coat. Presumably this is somewhere inside the Long Island Arena at the team offices. 

2. Ducks coach John Brophy (right) has a conversation with an unidentified person. 

3. Coach Brophy sizing up a stick. 

4. Above, action between the Ducks and Blades. The Ducks are wearing their home white jerseys that say 'Long Island' across the front. New Haven is wearing what I presume are blue jerseys (their main color) with a script 'New Haven' across the front. #4 is likely Don Newman, although Ken Liebel also wore the same number during this season. The man in the middle is #5 (determined from other photos) who is either Tom Burgess or Bob Taylor. 

5. A fracas breaks out involving all ten skaters on the ice. Note that there isn't any glass at Long Island Arena, above the boards is chicken wire that separates the fans from the players. 

6. Action in front of the Ducks' goal. Number 10 for New Haven is Murray Klein, per hockeydb. The goalie is likely Wayne Doll, who played 60 of the Ducks' games during this season and would play the next game against Clinton. But it could possibly be Jim Knox who wore the same number and played net for Long Island.  

7. The Ducks' goalie lays out in net. And no, he wasn't wearing a mask. 

8. Another kick save from the Ducks goalie. #9 in the dark jersey is likely Michel Rouleau for New Haven. In the background, the fans have hung a sign welcoming back Ben LeBlanc who played for both teams during this season. LeBlanc may have been wearing #14. 

9. A New Haven player looks for options in the offensive zone.

10. The aftermath of a fight, one of the Ducks players has lost his jersey and is being restrained by a teammate while referees try to calm him. Note the fans climbing up the boards for a better view. 

11. Continued aftermath, as the referees try to sort things out. #2 with hands on hips for Long Island is likely Hal Willis. #8 is likely Dwight Winters, who led the Ducks in scoring with 123 points. 

12. The Ducks and fans celebrate one of their five goals on the night. 

13. Another fight breaks out. 

14. It's not clear what this meeting is, but possibly a league meeting or a Ducks board meeting. Ducks owner Al Baron is pictured on the right side of the table. 

15. Another shot of the meeting, with Al Baron facing the camera on the right. 

We'll have more from this collection of photos in the coming weeks... 

 

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25 Facts About the Albany Choppers, Who Played 55 IHL Games

25 Facts About the Albany Choppers, Who Played 55 IHL Games

The Albany Choppers have to be one of the worst business decisions a minor league franchise has ever made. From 1952-1990 the Choppers were the Fort Wayne Komets in Indiana, a team that is an institution in Fort Wayne to this day. But in 1990, owner David Welker decided to move the franchise east to the New York State capital of Albany and turn them into the Albany Choppers

The move to Albany didn't go well. 

As part of the agreement to let them move east -- further east than the IHL had ever been -- they had to pick up the travel tab for some of the teams coming to visit them. They also faced competition from local college and AHL teams in the area, and played to small crowds in a 15,000 seat arena. Given all this financial pressure, the Choppers would fold after only 55 games in Albany.

To remember the legacy of the Choppers, here are 25 fun facts about them... 

  1. The team was owner in part by the supermarket chain, Price Chopper, and acquired their red and blue color scheme from the company. This might be the first and only example of a supermarket centric hockey team.
  2. In July 1990, the Choppers hired former Stanley Cup winner with the New York Islanders and Olympic Gold Medalist Ken Morrow to be their General Manager. Maybe Ken knew what was to come, because by August 1st he parted ways with the Choppers.
  3. Right around the same time the Choppers announced their move to Albany, the AHL announced they were placing a team in nearby Troy, NY, the Capital District Islanders. Unlike the Choppers, the Islanders had an NHL affiliation (I’ll let you figure out with which team), which helped defray their salary costs. Although due to playing in the AHL, the Islanders did have to pay territorial rights fees to the nearby Adirondack Red Wings of the AHL.
  4. The Choppers almost didn’t move to Albany in the first place. Something called the Global Hockey League had planned to play in the Choppers’ arena, the Knickerbocker Arena, and play in a trans-continental league with teams as far as Miami and Berlin. It won’t surprise you to learn that idea fell through and thus, the Choppers had a home in Albany.
  5. The Choppers were the only team in the IHL located east of Michigan with opponents as far away as San Diego, Salt Lake City, and Phoenix. The IHL agreed to let the Choppers move to New York on the condition they picked up travel costs for some of these teams.
  6. Owner David Welker was confident his minor league team could play the part in an NHL size 15,000 seat arena. “We’re going to do things you couldn’t even think about doing in a small building,” he told The Post-Star before the season started.
  7. October 6, 1990 the Choppers open their season at home against Kalamazoo, losing 6-2. The Choppers draw only 3,011 fans. In Troy, the Capital District Islanders don’t do much better with 3,355 but it probably feels better as they play in a college sized arena at RPI.
  8. That’s probably the high point of the year. The Choppers draw only 1,892 against Muskegon the next night and later in October the local paper opines that barely 1,000 fans showed up for a game. This video shows just how dang empty the arena was
  9. OK, one more highlight. On October 15th Michel Couvrett records a hat trick for the Choppers, with Dale Henry putting together a five point night. Albany beats Milwaukee 6-3.
  10. By November, the Choppers are on a seven game losing streak. Making their bad attendance problem worse must be the scheduling, with multiple games coming on Monday nights.
  11. Desperate to boost attendance, the Choppers are trying anything. On November 14th they host Frat Night, which… Yeah. They do draw 3,229 fans. They also host a “Closest to the Keg” competition as frat members shoot pucks at a keg during intermission. One of the competitors moons the crowd.
  12. November 22 – success! The Choppers break a seven-game home losing streak with a 4-2 win over Kansas City.
  13. The Choppers share Knickerbocker Arena with a number of teams, one of them is the New York Kick indoor soccer team. Arena officials aren’t having a great season, either. They forget to put down insulation between the soccer turf and the ice, and turn off the air conditioning. The Kick play a very soggy game a few days before Christmas.
  14. In January, things really start to unravel for the Choppers. They are sued by a travel agency for $21,500 in unpaid bills. It’s always a sign that the end is near when the lawsuits start coming.
  15. On the ice, they’re 15-26-3 with the second worst record in the IHL and a -42 goal differential. The Choppers are averaging 2,380 fans the lowest of the three area hockey teams.
  16. OK, now the financial situation is getting dire. The non-NHL affiliated Choppers players don’t receive their January 28, 1991 paychecks. The players vote on January 31 to play their game in spite of this missing money. Ironically, the game is against the new franchise in Fort Wayne that started up with the Choppers left last summer.
  17. In desperation mode, owner David Welker puts his star player and team captain, Dale Henry, on waivers. Hoping that no one claims him and he goes free to potentially AHL teams, he does this at 1 AM. Nonetheless, Milwaukee claims Henry in the morning and by this point Choppers coach Dave Allison is trying to convince his owner not to give away their best player. They come to an agreement where the Choppers trade their own player for their own player. They give Milwaukee Alain Lemieux in exchange for Henry.
  18. Lemieux, the brother of Mario, ends up being the Choppers’ leading point scorer with 41 in 33 games. He had taken the prior season off from hockey.
  19. On February 1, Welker announces that there is a group of local buyers for the team. “I’ve been on this pretty heavy all week” he told the Post-Star. “The nice thing, for the Albany area, is that it looks like the team will be there for several years.” He goes on to say that if the deal falls through, there is another group interested in taking the team to Dallas.
  20. Two weeks later on February 14 the Choppers fold as Welker is unable to secure a deal with any buyers. Coach Dave Allison reacts by saying “I’ll probably have to go home and find a real job.” Allison wouldn’t go home; he would go on to coach the Richmond Renegades of the ECHL for the rest of the season. He was still coaching as of 2018.
  21. The IHL declined to step in and save the Choppers, letting them fold instead. It is the first time an IHL team has folded mid-season in nearly 30 years. The Choppers final record is 22-30-3 with 191 goals for and 212 against in 55 games.
  22. “I knew as early as September it was going to be a disaster” Welker said to the Post –Star. “They told me the building would be lined with people trying to purchase season tickets. That first day we sold two. I knew we were in big trouble.”
  23. Adirondack coach Barry Melrose, now of ESPN fame, called the folding ‘poetic justice’. “We’re in a rival league so as far as that is concerned, I’m glad. They shouldn’t have come into our area. But as a player, I hate to see any players – any people – out of work.”
  24. The Capital District Islanders decide to honor Choppers season tickets. They reportedly received about 200 of them.
  25. Lots of Choppers had or would gain NHL experience over the years. Among the most successful was Paul Laus who would play for the Florida Panthers for a decade, and Torrie Robertson who played 442 NHL games, and Mike Blaisdell who played 343 NHL games.

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12 Eastern Hockey League Barns That Still Exist Today

12 Eastern Hockey League Barns That Still Exist Today

The Eastern Hockey League (EHL) existed from 1933-1973, and was a truly classic time in American hockey outside of the NHL. Many of the teams and players in the league served as inspirations -- or even extras -- for the movie Slapshot, the league existed in small cities, and towns where the teams were truly a part of the fabric of the locale, and featured a rough and tumble old school style of play. While the league itself is long gone, some of the arenas still exist and host hockey to this day.

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