Before the Blue Jackets: Looking Back at Columbus’ Minor League Hockey Teams of the 1960s and 1970s

Before the Blue Jackets: Looking Back at Columbus’ Minor League Hockey Teams of the 1960s and 1970s

 

Columbus Hockey

By David McDevitt

Greetings loyal readers! It’s been a few months since my last blog post, but my supervisor Kieran is still pushing me to new heights of archival learning, and the most recent iteration of these efforts came in the form of a collections table. For the uninitiated, that’s when a curator or archivist sets up a temporary mini-exhibit in a museum and displays interesting items from the collections. Museum patrons are free to walk over, look at the items, and ask questions.

For the topic of my collections table I chose to examine a series of minor league hockey teams based out of Columbus in the 1960’s and 70’s. I selected this because 1) the Ohio History Connection had enough relevant material to set a reasonably compelling table, and 2) I’ve been really into hockey lately, especially with the NHL playoffs under way (go Flames!!).

The first of these teams was the Columbus Checkers, founded as an expansion team in 1966 as part of the International Hockey League (IHL). The Checkers (and their IHL successors) played their home games at the Ohio Expo Fairgrounds Coliseum, just a hop and a skip away from the Ohio History Center you know and love.

Unfortunately, following the 1969-70 season, the Checkers shut down operations after just four years, likely due to poor fan attendance.[1]

The materials I exhibited for the Checkers were a series of newspaper clippings complete with pictures relating to the Checkers, as well as a hockey puck with the team logo on the face. In addition to those items, we at the OHC have several quality color slides of the Checkers. Unfortunately, because of their small size they weren’t well suited for exhibition at the collections table and I had to leave them behind.

Following the Checkers’ untimely exit, Columbus went without a professional hockey team for a year. That ended when Charlie Finley, the owner of the NHL California Golden Seals and MLB Oakland Athletics, bought the IHL rights to a team in Columbus, naming it (also) the Golden Seals. After just two seasons of play, the Columbus Golden Seals were sold to a new owner, who renamed his team the Owls. Sadly, we have very few items related to the Golden Seals here at the OHC, although we do have a Seals game puck that was caught by a fan during a game!

The Owls played four more years in Columbus before relocating to Dayton after the 1976-77 season, a result of financial difficulties, poor attendance, and scheduling conflicts at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.[2] Neither the Checkers, Golden Seals, nor the Owls ever met with significant on-ice success while playing in Columbus, although the Owls did come within one game of winning the IHL championship a few years after leaving Columbus. Regarding the Owls’ representation at the collections table, I had a series of large images from what I believe was a preseason home game against an unknown visiting team; the photos themselves were originally from the Ohio AFL-CIO News-Tribune.

While presenting my collections table, visitors looking at the pictures frequently commented on the depicted players’ lack of helmets, an unthinkable practice in modern hockey. It took the 1968 on-ice death via head injury of Bill Masterson, an NHL player, to start the shift towards widespread helmet wearing. In spite of that event, helmets were still somewhat slow to catch on, and weren’t mandatory in the NHL until 1979. With that in mind, it’s not surprising to see Columbus’ players skating around without head protection as seen in many of the images we have in our collections.

While researching this topic, I came across a fun fact! It turns out Don Hay, a former head coach of my favorite NHL team, the Calgary Flames, played for the Owls in 1974-75. He was the Flames’ head coach for less than a full season before being fired, but I still think that’s pretty neat![3] And here’s another fun fact: the Calgary Flames started out as the Atlanta Flames before they moved to Calgary in 1980. The Atlanta Flames got their name because of the burning of Atlanta during the Civil War, an act carried out under the supervision of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman of Lancaster, Ohio. Now that’s what I call an Ohio History Connection!

 


[1] “Columbus Checkers, 1966-70,” columbuschill.net, accessed 4/7/17. http://www.columbuschill.net/history/checkers-owls-seals/columbus-checkers-1966-70/
[2]  “1971-1980 Columbus Golden Seals & Columbus / Dayton / Grand Rapids Owls,” funwhileitlasted.net, April 21, 2011. http://www.funwhileitlasted.net/tag/columbus-owls/
[3] “Don Hay,” hockeydb.com, accessed 4/7/17, http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=8675

 

Posted April 13, 2017

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