Jerseys for the Albany Choppers and Border City Bandits are now collectables. (Albany: Ben Bradley/Border City: Paul O'Neill)
Poring over sweaters and leagues for our ultimate jersey tournament, I got a little reflective over the teams that didn’t quite make it through the summer.
No more Richmond Renegades, Oklahoma City Blazers or Fresno Falcons (who didn’t even make it through the winter, actually).
No more Iowa Chops.
That’s right; the much-ballyhooed American League affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, who were named after pork and, much to the delight of our buddy Puck Daddy Greg Wyshynski, had a dance pack called the ‘Baby Backs,’ are gone.
The Chops lasted but a season, though they gave us so many memories. In 20 years, collectors will be hawking game-worn Chops jerseys from Bobby Ryan, Drew Miller and Andrew Ebbett. And we’ll all remember how the team half-jokingly tried to sign Brett Favre.
But the plight of the Chops got me thinking about the unstable nature of sports teams: Who were some other one-season wonders in hockey’s past? Well, it’s probably no surprise there’s been many.
Here’s a smattering of my faves:
Border City Bandits (2000-01), Central League: Based in Texarkana, Arkansas, the Bandits were as non-traditional a market as you can imagine. They didn’t win much and due to a financial squabble with the league, didn’t even finish that one season: Border City played just 51 games in its history. Seven different goalies saw action that year and no skater played in all 51 contests.
Troy Uncle Sam’s Trojans (1952-53), Eastern League: A longtime Jersey Hound ghost, I’ve been chasing the Uncle Sam’s Trojans like Ahab and the white whale. I’ve seen the logo – it’s Uncle Sam – but never the sweater. I even called the Troy, N.Y. historical society one time. Troy, on the border of Vermont, is the home of the Uncle Sam mythology, as the character is purported to be based on a meat-packer named Sam Wilson who lived in Troy and delivered food to the army during the war of 1812. The hockey team’s legend may not be so strong, but guess who played four games for them in their only season? Coaching legend John Brophy.
San Francisco Spiders (1995-96), International League: How’s this for a mixed bag: the Spiders played one season in the IHL, scraping their way into the playoffs before losing in the first round. Unremarkable? Yep. But check out the team’s roster: Stanley Cup-winning coach Jean Perron was behind the bench, aided by assistant coach Bruce Boudreau and player-assistant coach and future Hockey Hall of Famer Rod Langway. And lest someone give Langway trouble on the ice, the Spiders also briefly procured the pulverizing talents of all-time goon Link Gaetz. Sandis Ozolinsh, Stephane Beauregard and Mike Lalor also suited up for the team.
Pasadena Panthers (1944-45) Pacific Coast League: The largely California-based Pacific Coast circuit was a pre-cursor to the original Western League (not to be confused with the major junior circuit) and the Pasadena Panthers were an early casualty. Perhaps the market was too saturated – the nearby Los Angeles Monarchs and Hollywood Wolves also competed in the PCHL – but it could also be because the Panthers won just four of their 18 contests (tying one). Nonetheless, the PCHL had some great names, from the San Francisco Shamrocks and Oakland Oaks to the Saskatoon Quakers and yep, Vancouver Canucks.
Albany Choppers (1990-91) International League: Back when the IHL was considered on par with the American League, it wasn’t odd to find future NHLers on the rosters. The Choppers, for example, counted John Blue and Paul Laus as charter members (alright, so it’s not exactly a murderer’s row). Alas, Albany’s history was one season of last-place hockey, but the AHL’s River Rats came along soon after, so there are second acts in this sport.
Honorable mentions go to the Miami Matadors (ECHL, 1998-99), Syracuse Firebirds (1974-75) and the Tropical League, which itself lasted just one year in 1938-39. Plus, big-ups to hockeydb.com for feeding my nerdy research needs.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.
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