Tuesday, July 31, 2012

2004-05 London Racers Adam Dobson Jersey

July by the Numbers concludes with a trip to the United Kingdom for jersey #31.

With the 2012 Summer Olympics in London now in full swing, it seems like an appropriate time to conclude our July tour of the world of hockey with a look at the recent history of club hockey in the United Kingdom, which rose to a national level in 1982 when three regional leagues, one in southern England, one in the north of England and one in Scotland, were replaced by a single entity known as the British Hockey League.

The 12 team Premier Division of the BHL lasted 14 seasons and was run in the promotion/relegation system of European soccer. 22 different teams participated over the course of the league's run. Only two teams were able to remain in the Premier Division for every one of it's seasons, the Durham Wasps and the Nottingham Panthers, with the Wasps winning the championship on five occasions, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1991 and 1992, the most of any club.

Durham Wasps, Durham Wasps
The Durham Wasps

Other BHL champions were the Dundee Rockets in 1983 and 1984, the Murrayfield Racers in 1987 and 1988, the Cardiff Devils from Wales in 1993 and 1994 and the Sheffield Steelers in 1995 and 1996, keeping alive the tradition of teams winning back to back titles, which occurred six times in just 14 seasons!

There was also a Division One below the Premier Division, which on occasion was divided into North and South conferences. 36 teams participated in Division One during it's time, with only the Devils earning the promotion from Division One and rising to the Premier Division championship.

In 1996-97, the Ice Hockey Superleague replaced the Premier Division, with the new British National League acting as the new Division One, although the promotion/relegation system was not used. The IHSL was comprised of just eight teams it's first season but clubs came and went and went and went over the seven seasons of operation. 13 different teams played in the IHSL, including three from Newcastle alone.

ISL logo, ISL logo

At the same time, a third level of hockey came into being, the English Premier Ice Hockey League, the EPIHL.

The Steelers won the IHSL championship in 1997, followed by the Ayr Scottish Eagles in 1998, the Devils in 1999, the London Knights in 2000, the Steelers in 2001 and 2002 with the Belfast Giants winning the final title in 2003.

Sheffiled 01-02, Sheffiled 01-02
The Sheffield Steelers celebrate their championship in 2002

The league dropped to seven clubs in 2001, lost two more early in 2002-03 and two of those five were unlikely to return for 2003-04, which forced the league to fold after the 2002-03 season concluded, as only Belfast, Nottingham and Sheffield remained, with much of the criticism leveled at the high number of foreign players (only four British players participated league-wide in 2002-03) and the salary cap, which was viewed as being set too high to allow teams with smaller arenas to compete.

The lower British National League lasted through 2004-05 and saw 23 teams compete in the league which had 12 teams at it's peak. the Fife Flyers won 3 titles, the Guildford Flames 2 and five other clubs one each.

The next phase of British ice hockey arrived in 2003-04 with the creation of the Elite Ice Hockey League, the replacement for the IHSL.

The three surviving teams from the IHSL formed a new league with a lower salary cap and a better commitment to British players with a rule that allowed only 12 foreign players, which attracted three teams from the British National League as well as two newly formed clubs in London and Manchester.

EIHL logo, EIHL logo

After some political wrangling with the BNL and the governing body, Ice Hockey UK, the league got underway in the fall of 2003, a season won by the Sheffield Steelers over the brand new Manchester Phoenix, who suspended operations following the season (after a vote by their fans!) while a new rink of a favorable size was constructed. The 2004-05 season, which saw the arrival of several NHL players due to the season missed due to the lockout, went the way of the Coventry Blaze.

Coventry Blaze 04-05, Coventry Blaze 04-05
The Coventry Blaze - 2005 champions

For the 2005-06 season, the Edinburgh Capitals and Newcastle Vipers left the lower ranked BHL to join the EIHL, which along with the departure of the Bracknell Bees, led to the demise of the BNL, which elevated the EPIHL to second tier status.

Nine teams now began the EIHL season, only to see the London Racers fold in November following a lot of difficulty in fielding a competitive team and finding an appropriate home rink, which included several safety related incidents with the boards and glass of the tiny area, which seated less than 1,000 fans. Meanwhile, the Vipers had a dream season, capturing the championship in it's first season of play.

With a new arena on the way, which paved the way for a return of the Manchester Phoenix, and the Hull Stingrays being elected to join the league, the total number of clubs was raised for the first time to 10 in 2006-07, which also saw the adaptation of the new, "by the book" standards put into effect by the NHL concerning holding, hooking and interference, which raised the level of play to a higher speed and attracted more fans. Nottingham would take the championship at the conclusion of the season.

Sheffield won the title in 2007-08 and repeated the feat again in 2008-09, their third overall.

Sheffield Steelers 2007-08, Sheffield Steelers 2007-08
The back to back champion Sheffield Steelers

Following the 2008-09 season, Manchester announced it's intentions to drop down to the EPIHL, as did the Basingstoke Bison. The Braehead Clan were and Dundee Stars were then elected to replace the two departing clubs which allowed the league to again remain at 10 teams. The Belfast Giants were the champions in 2009-10, their first title since 2003.

The Nottingham Panthers were crowned the champions in 2010-11 and for the 2011-12 season, Fife in Scotland replaced Newcastle in order to again maintain the current level of clubs at ten despite the seemingly constant changes in franchises, which are uniquely distributed among the four countries of the United Kingdom, with 4 now in Scotland, 1 in Northern Ireland, 4 in England and 1 in Wales. Nottingham repeated their championship following the most recent 2011-12 season. The Panthers third title now ties them with Sheffield for the most in the EIHL's nine seasons.

Panthers 10-11, Panthers 10-11
The Nottingham Panthers celebrating in 2011

The majority of the players in the EIHL come from North America, Canada in particular, which leads to a more physical style of play compared to other European leagues, and player movement is a regular occurrence, as long term contracts are uncommon.

Ice hockey in the UK is still a very niche sport, receiving little coverage by the media, with only the finals being shown live in 2010. The EIHL is considered to be below the leagues in Germany, Finland and Sweden, but on par with Italy, Denmark and Norway and above the Netherlands and France. For comparison, it is considered to be roughly equivalent to the ECHL, the third level of North American professional hockey.

Today's featured jersey is a 2004-05 London Racers Adam Dobson jersey. Jerseys in the English Premier Ice Hockey League are a mixed bag of loud and garish, influenced from the east by those worn in various European leagues, and classic and traditional, with influences coming from the NHL to the west, with today's featured jersey clearly being one of the more subdued ones, looking very much like the Canadian jerseys worn in the 2010 Olympics.

In some ways, we feel guilty in choosing a London Racers jersey to represent all of British ice hockey, as the team was nothing less than a failure, if not an embarrassment, as their first hastily organized season saw the club finish with an absolutely abysmal 3-49-2-2 record while playing in a building constructed back in 1873.

While their second season saw the club move to a new arena, it was very small, even by British standards. The club also hired a former AHL player to coach and benefitted from the NHL lockout, which allowed it to attract a pair of NHLers, which contributed to an acceptable 19-19-9-3 mark, which saw the team improve by 40 points and climb out of the cellar.

Their third season was cut short when first, an opposing player suffered serious facial injuries after hitting an object which was protruding from the arena boards. Then, there were issues a week later when the plexiglass at the arena shattered in an irregular manner, injuring a spectator and causing a game to be abandoned. When another piece of glass broke in practice in the same way, serious safety concerns about the arena were raised. When the team could not find a new home or reach an agreement about improvements at the rink, the club withdrew from the league and folded just 17 games into the season, although the arena management claimed that the concerns about the arena were a smokescreen to cover the club's financial problems.

To be fair, while there have been a number of long-running successful teams in Great Britain, only three of the current ten teams were formed prior to 1988, the Cardiff Devils (1986), Nottingham Panthers (1980) and the Fife Flyers, who date back to 1938, while four of the ten only came into being after 2000. While Fife is the oldest team in the league, they only joined the EIHL for the 2011-12 season.

Meanwhile, other long established teams fell by the wayside in the 1990's, the Ayr Bruins (1936-1991), the Blackpool Seagulls (1951-1993), the Durham Wasps (1947-1996) and the Murrayfield Racers (1952-1996).

Sheffield, Nottingham and Cardiff have all played in the British Hockey League, the Ice Hockey Superleague and the Elite Ice Hockey League over the last 30 years, which does not speak to a great deal of stability in the leagues they play in, while the fact only three teams have competed in all three leagues does not speak to the stability of the majority of British clubs themselves, especially when one considers the top level has been run without the relegation system since 1996-97.

Still, five of the ten teams in the current EIHL have participated for every season and the league has managed to maintain it's membership at 10 clubs for five of the last six years, which hopefully is a sign that the league, which will be concluding it's first decade this coming season, can achieve a level of stability, and perhaps even growth, with speculation of expansion to large population centers of Manchester, Dublin and London, as you would hope that a city of 8.1 million people could support a team in a league where the average rink holds just 4,200.

London Racers 04-05 jersey, London Racers 04-05 jersey
London Racers 04-05 jersey, London Racers 04-05 jersey

Today's video is the Elite Ice Hockey League playoff finals from the recently completed 2011-12 season, which saw the Nottingham Panthers repeat as champions with a win over the Belfast Giants.

Honestly, there's a few leagues in North America (MLB, NFL & NBA) that could learn a thing or two about attractive championship trophies from the British.


Monday, July 30, 2012

1976-77 Minnesota Fighting Saints Louie Levasseur Jersey

July by the Numbers makes a pilgrimage to the State of Hockey for jersey #30.

The original Minnesota Fighting Saints were charter members of the World Hockey Association for the 1972-73 season, wearing jerseys with a large "S" logo at first in white, blue and even occasionally yellow. Midway through their first season a new set of jerseys appeared with the "Little Saint" logo, but only in the home white and road blue colors.

Christiansen Fighting Saints "S" jersey, Christiansen Fighting Saints "S" jersey
Keith "Huffer" Christiansen modeling the Fighting Saints original "S" logo sweater

The club, led by captain Ted Hampson, finished mid-pack record-wise, but found themselves in the tougher Western Conference, where they were forced to play a one game tiebreaker against the Alberta Oilers to advance to the playoffs, despite both clubs having better records than Philadelphia and Ottawa who qualified in the East.

1972-73 Minnesota Fighting Saints team, 1972-73 Minnesota Fighting Saints team
The inaugural 1972-73 Minnesota Fighting Saints team

The team also finished mid-pack in attendance, drawing an average of 5,855 while competing with the crosstown Minnesota North Stars, who had a five year head start in the NHL, but who were at the peak of their popularity attendance-wise, attracting sellout crowds of over 15,200 fans for the second of three consecutive seasons.

The Fighting Saints added to their roster for their second year of 1973-74, signing goaltender John Garrett to share the duties in goal with former 1972 silver medal winning US Olympian Mike Curran, but the real attention getter was the signing of forward Mike "Shakey" Walton away from the Boston Bruins, who would electrify the fans with a 57 goal, 117 point season to win the WHA scoring crown.

Walton Fighting Saints photo WaltonFightingSaints.jpg
Walton left opponents in his wake in 1973-74.
As always with any Fighting Saints photos, be sure to note the clear
dasher boards in St. Paul, which were unique to rinks in all of North America

Additionally, Wayne Connelly (95 points, 4th overall) and George Morrison also had 40 goal seasons to get the fans in St. Paul on their feet, while the fighting ability of Gord Gallant and John Arbour (first and third in WHA penalty minutes) kept them standing.

Minnesota Fighting Saints 3-74, Minnesota Fighting Saints 3-74
The 1973-74 Minnesota Fighting Saints

Also on the roster of note was fourth leading scorer Murray Heatley (26 goals and 58 points), father of current NHLer Dany Heatley, who now plays for the NHL's Minnesota Wild in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, which is built on the old location of the Fighting Saints arena, the St. Paul Civic Center.

The Fighting Saints completed the season with the second best record in the league and defeated the rechristened Edmonton Oilers in Round 1 of the playoffs, but were defeated by the mighty Houston Aeros in a six game war in Round 2.

Aeros Saints brawl, Aeros Saints brawl
The Aeros Ted Taylor and the Fighting Saints Gord Gallant fought
as the clubs engaged in a vicious playoff battle

Meanwhile, ten miles down the road, the North Stars sank from a 37-30-11 record for 85 points down to a 23-38-17 record, worth just 63 points, which caused them to miss the NHL playoffs while the Saints were selling over 17,000 seats for their battle with the Aeros.

The North Stars did themselves no favors in 1974-75 by sinking even further to 23 wins and 51 points, missing out on the playoffs again, a season which saw their attendance take a noticeable drop to 13,587.

Meanwhile, in St. Paul, Garrett alone posted 30 wins, seven more than the North Stars, while Curran added 11 more and even 40-year-old veteran Jack McCartan, a 1960 US Olympic gold medal winner, chipped in with a win as the Fighting Saints finished sixth in the league with 87 points as their average attendance grew to 8,410, a healthy increase of 1,800 per game.

Walton again led the team with 48 goals and 93 points, compared to Dennis Hextall's team leading 74 for the North Stars. Gallant again led the WHA with 203 penalty minutes and Ron Busniuk 176 were tied for third as the Fighting Saints games were never a dull affair. Their final home game of the season against Phoenix saw a crowd of 17,312 set not only a team record, but the then record for the state of Minnesota (which gave the Fighting Saints bragging rights over the North Stars) and the all-time WHA record which was never broken.

Shakey Walton Fighting Saints, Shakey Walton Fighting Saints
Shakey Walton again led the Fighting Saints in scoring in 1974-75

In the playoffs, the Fighting Saints fought off the New England Whalers in six games, before being eliminated in six games by the Quebec Nordiques.

1974-75 Minnesota Fighting Saints team, 1974-75 Minnesota Fighting Saints team
The 1974-75 Minnesota Fighting Saints

The 1975-76 season would prove to be a pivotal one for the two clubs, as the North Stars sank still lower, a 53 loss 47 point season, led by Tim Young with just 51 points and Bill Goldsworthy's 24 goals left them ripe for the picking.

The Fighting Saints reloaded their roster by adding NHL veterans Dave Keon and John McKenzie to their lineup, which was again led by Walton in scoring. Minnesota natives Henry Boucha and Paul Holmgren should have added to the gate, along with the popularity of fighter Jack Carlson, but with attendance stagnant at 8,396 (compared to the dismal North Stars 9,655), the Fighting Saints were in financial difficulties, which included an episode where they players were paid in cash out of a paper bag at the airport to convince them to get on a plane for a road trip!

Jack Carlson takes on all comers, Jack Carlson takes on all comers
The true life inspiration for Slap Shot's Hanson Brothers,
Jack Carlson willingly takes on all comers

Shortly after that episode, the club packed it in after only 59 games of the schedule had been completed with the team at 30-25-4, on pace for 86 points and a sure playoff spot.

For the 1976-77 season, changes were afoot, as the NHL's California Golden Seals moved to Cleveland and became the Barons, setting up shop at the Richfield Coliseum. Meanwhile, the WHA's Cleveland Crusaders, fearing Cleveland was not large enough for two professional clubs, were looking for a new home.

When their proposed sale, which would have moved the team to Florida, fell through, the franchise eventually moved to St. Paul, where it became the second incarnation of the Minnesota Fighting Saints, this time with the New Fighting Saints wearing red and yellow rather than the blue and yellow of the original Fighting Saints, but oddly still competing directly with an established NHL club.

Many of the previous Fighting Saints players were brought in to try to recapture the fans of the original incarnation of the team, including Keon, Mike Antonovich, McKenzie, Arbour, Gallant (who had been sent packing by the original club after a late night, alcohol-fuled fight with then Fighting Saints coach Harry Neale!), Carlson, Bill Butters and Curran.

John McKenzie Fighting Saints, John McKenzie Fighting Saints
John McKenzie in the scarlet and gold of the New Fighting Saints

The public never embraced the new team, despite the familiar faces, having already had one team ripped from their grasp in midseason leaving a bad taste in the mouths of many. With attendance averaging just 6,211 and the team playing just barely over .500 at 19-18-5, team owner Nick Mileti's attempts to sell the club to local owners proved unsuccessful and the team folded after just 42 games of the 1976-77 season, bringing an end to the franchise on January 20, 1977, ending the WHA's time in Minnesota for good.

1976-77 Minnesota Fighting Saints team, 1976-77 Minnesota Fighting Saints team
The final Fighting Saints club, the red clad 1976-77 squad, found time for a team photo before folding after only half a season

Of the nine times the WHA went head to head with the NHL - Boston (1 1/2 seasons), Philadelphia (1), New York (1 1/4), Los Angeles (2), Minnesota (4 1/4), Chicago (3), Toronto (3), Vancouver (2) and Detroit (just 3/4) - the NHL prevailed easily each time with arguably the Fighting Saints giving it the best effort in terms of durability, competitiveness and attendance. The WHA quickly learned taking on the established league was a losing proposition and abandoned placing teams in NHL served markets for good with the folding of the New Fighting Saints.

For the remainder of their days, spent trying to merge with the NHL, the WHA served smaller, less traditional markets such as Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Birmingham, San Diego, Houston and Phoenix in addition to their successful teams in smaller Canadian markets like Winnipeg, Edmonton and Quebec, although not all of the Canadian ones were successful, as teams failed miserably in Ottawa and Calgary even without competition from the NHL.

Meanwhile, the North Stars attendance sank even further to an average of 9,083 despite the loss of competition from the original blue-clad Fighting Saints, despite rising from 47 points to 64 in 1976-77. Their improvement proved to be a mirage, as they next sank to a team record low to last in the NHL with just 45 points in 1977-78 when they averaged only 8,666 per game, 56% of their average number of fans in 1971-72, the year before the Fighting Saints arrived just down the road.

Ironically, the North Stars would not rebound until a merger with the Cleveland Barons, the team that displaced the WHA's Crusaders, who became the red-clad Fighting Saints to once again compete with the North Stars, happened in time for the 1978-79 season and re-energized the struggling, battle-weary North Stars, who suffered greatly during the WHA era like no other NHL club.

Today's featured jersey is a 1976-77 Minnesota Fighting Saints Louie Levasseur jersey from the second incarnation of the Fighting Saints, who were the transplanted Cleveland Crusaders. The new Fighting Saints simply kept everything intact about the original Fighting Saints jerseys with the Little Saint logo, introduced midway through their first season, except for switching the original blue color for red, which did not do much for the jerseys, as the greater contrast between the blue and yellow made for a much more effective look than the lower contrast red and yellow.

It proved to be a non-issue when the second incarnation of the Fighting Saints lasted barely one half of a season when the operation had more problems with their finances than how they played or looked while doing it.

Minnesota Fighting Saints 76-77 jersey, Minnesota Fighting Saints 76-77 jersey

In our extensive video section begins with a highlight film of the Fighting Saints first season of 1972-73. Notice the gold alternate jerseys with the original "S" logo, none of which are known to have survived, as the logos were removed and the sweaters were handed down to a local high school who shared the same colors.

Another thing to be aware of again are the unique clear boards used in the St. Paul Civic Center, which allowed fans a view of the puck at all times, particularly those fans in the first several rows of seats, which were set back from the boards by a fair distance due to the round layout of the Civic Center.


Next up, coach Neale interviews a few of the Fighting Saints roster prior to Walton's record setting season. Goaltender Garrett's suit and bow tie along are worth your time as he does some early time in front of the TV cameras prior to his current broadcasting career. Walton would go on to exceed the prediction of 50 goals.


Here is a more recently produced video on the Fighting Saints, during which Walton himself verifies the story about leaving the rink in full gear and heading to the bar, as well as the arrival of the real life Carlson Brothers, who inspired the Hanson Brothers from the movie Slap Shot.


Next is the retelling of the tale when Gallant beat up his own coach!


Finally, the retelling of "The Brawl at the Mall", the infamous fight between the New England Whalers (whose arena, the Hartford Civic Center was connected to a shopping mall) and the Fighting Saints, who were loaded with tough guys who were only too happy to live up to the team's name "Fighting"!


If you are interested in some rare Minnesota Fighting Saints jerseys, our friends at VintageMinnesotaHockey.com have a series of excellent reproductions, more accurate than anything found anywhere else online.


Sunday, July 29, 2012

1994-95 SC Bern Reijo Ruotsalainen Jersey

July by the Numbers once again returns to Switzerland for yet another eye-searing jersey.

Schlittschuh Club (SC) Bern (Ice-skating Club Bern in English) of Switzerland was established on November 3, 1930 and began play on January 1, 1931.

SC Bern logo, SC Bern logo

With the Swiss leagues using the promotion/relegation system, common in European soccer and hockey leagues, their first championship came in 1958 in the National League B. Newly promoted to the National League A, they captured a second championship in 1959, rising to the top of the league in absolutely the shortest time possible.

Their next championship came in 1965 after which the team was once again relegated, but rebounded to win promotion again in 1969. Their time in the NLA was not to last long though and they were relegated yet again.

SC Bern regrouped once again and won their way back to the National League A in 1972, ushering in a period of great success, as they won the NLA championship in 1974, 1975, 1977 and 1979. The late 1980's saw the club rise to the top once again, with NLA championships in 1989, 1991 and 1992.

A tenth championship came in 1997 and they have since added titles in 2004 and most recently in 2010 for an even dozen in the National League A in addition to the three have have to their credit in the National League B.

2009-10 SC Bern team, 2009-10 SC Bern team
SC Bern celebrates their 12th championship in 2010

Their success on the ice has also led to their outstanding success at the turnstiles, as SC Bern ranks as not only the club with the highest attendance in all of Europe at 15,779 per game in 2011-12, outdrawing eight NHL clubs in the process. Bern las led Europe in attendance for 10 consecutive seasons and outdrew their next closest Swiss competitor by an average of 8,154!

SC Bern fans, SC Bern fans
The fans of SC Bern regularly fill the PostFinance Arena

This high profile led to SC Bern being an attractive alternative to a number of NHLers during the lockout season of 2004-05, when Daniel Briere, Dany Heatley, J. P. Dumont, Marc Savard, Henrik Tallinder and Chris Clark all played for SC Bern at times.

SC Bern jerseys, SC Bern jerseys
If you have a logo, SC Bern has room for it on their jerseys
and nearly 16,000 fans to view it

Their competitive success also led to SC Bern being chosen to play the New York Rangers in an exhibition game in September of 2008 in advance of the first Victoria Cup.

2007-08 SC Bern team, 2007-08 SC Bern team
The 2007-08 edition of SC Bern

Today's featured jersey is a 1994-95 SC Bern Reijo Ruotsalainen jersey. This fantastic jersey, and by "fantastic" we don't mean "wonderful", but instead "bizarre" and "strange", is yet another is a series of the most unexplainable assaults on the eyes hailing from Switzerland.

While we are unsure of the brand of this jersey, it's got all the hallmarks of the Finnish company Tackla based on the mesh fabric used an the dye-sublimation of the graphics, who rose to prominence when they became the supplier to all teams in IIHF tournaments back in 1988.

This particular example features a vortex of color swirling around the club's crest. While someone lost in the whirlpool of color, the crest is at least still prominently placed on the chest of the jersey and not relegated to secondary status in location or size in deference to a sponsor's logo, as in the case of a soccer/football shirt.

As if the front of the jersey is not insane enough, the vortex is repeated on both arms as well as on the back below the numbers, where at least there are less lines, making it relatively "subdued" when compared to the front.

Also of note is the secondary sponsor logo of the prancing horse, which is not only on the upper left chest, but repeated around the collar no less than 11 times and contained inside both the back numbers.

SC Bern 94-95 jersey, SC Bern 94-95 jersey
SC Bern 94-95 jersey, SC Bern 94-95 jersey

Today's video section beings with Heatley scoring a hat trick while playing for SC Bern. Note the sponsor logos are not limited to the jerseys, but also cover the players helmets, pants and socks as well as the ice.


Up next are the rabid fans of SC Bern creating at atmosphere unlike any in North America.


Finally, a feature story on Briere and Heatley while playing in Switzerland during the lockout.


 

hit counter for blogger