How did the American Hockey League start?
In 1936, the Canadian-American Hockey League merged with the International Hockey League to form what is today known as the American Hockey League (AHL). Eight teams hit the ice that first season, playing in familiar cities like Cleveland, Springfield, Philadelphia, Providence and Syracuse. Frank Calder, the NHL’s president at the time, was instrumental in the forming of the new league, and his name would be given to its championship trophy. The first Calder Cup was won by the Syracuse Stars, beginning a tradition that continued in 2005 when the Philadelphia Phantoms were crowned AHL champions.
What is the history of pro hockey in Cleveland?
The Cleveland Indians (IHL) (1929-1933)
The roots of professional hockey in Cleveland traces back to the Cleveland Indians, who began play in the International Hockey League in 1929-30. The Indians played for five seasons, until being renamed the Cleveland Falcons for the 1934-35 season.
The Cleveland Falcons (IHL) (1934-1936)
The Cleveland Falcons were a professional ice hockey team in Cleveland that played home games in the Elysium Arena. The team was founded in 1934 as a member of the International Hockey League, where they played for two seasons. In 1936, the team transferred to the International-American Hockey League along with three other teams from the International Hockey League. After playing the 1936-37 season in the new league, they were renamed the Cleveland Barons, for the 1937-38 season.
The Cleveland Barons (AHL) (1936-1973)
The original incarnation of the Cleveland Barons was the most successful team in AHL history. The team played at the Cleveland Arena in the AHL from 1936 to 1973. In that time they won ten division titles and nine Calder Cups, both unsurpassed AHL records. Originally known as the Cleveland Falcons in 1936-37, they became the Barons after only one season.
The preeminent star of the franchise was Fred Glover, the team's career leader in goals, assists, points, penalty minutes and seasons (and second in league history in all those categories). Also notable was Hall of Fame goaltender Johnny Bower, who before he starred in the NHL, played brilliantly for the Barons for nine seasons and is the AHL's career shutout leader.
The longtime general manager for the franchise was James C. Hendy, a Hall of Fame Builder and the first prominent statistician in the history of the sport. Other notable players included Les Cunningham, a five-time league All-Star for whom the AHL's MVP award is named, Jack Gordon, Bill Needham (the team's career leader in games played), Cal Sterns, Fred Thurier and Les Binkley.
The Cleveland Crusaders (WHA) (1972-1976)
The Cleveland Crusaders of the World Hockey Association (WHA) began play in 1972. The team played in the Cleveland Arena from 1972-1974 and then in the Richfield Coliseum from 1974-1976. Having the second hockey team in the city shrank the market for the Barons and caused their demise. The Barons could not compete with the WHA practice of hiring ex-NHL players whose contracts had expired, and consequently, lost many fans. The owner, Nick Mileti, decided the team could not compete against the Crusaders and moved the Barons to Jacksonville, Florida.
Notable players include Gerry Cheevers, who played for the Crusaders until 1976, when the team was moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. In St. Paul, the Crusaders became the second incarnation of the Minnesota Fighting Saints when the NHL's California Golden Seals moved to Cleveland and became the Cleveland Barons.
The Cleveland Barons (NHL) (1976-1978)
The Oakland Seals of the NHL were also negatively impacted by competition from the World Hockey Association (WHA). The NHL eventually took control of the team in February 1974. The league ran the team for two years until San Francisco hotel magnate Mel Swig bought the team in 1975 with the intent of moving the team to a proposed new arena in San Francisco.
George Gund was a minority owner of the team and persuaded Swig to move the team to his hometown of Cleveland as the Barons in 1976. The team was named after the very popular American Hockey League team that played in the city from 1936 to 1973. Although a successful minor league city, Cleveland had been turned down for an NHL expansion team on three previous occasions. The fourth time proved to be the charm as the Seals moved in 1976 to become the Cleveland Barons.
The Barons played in the suburban Richfield Coliseum in Richfield, Ohio, an arena originally built for the WHA's Cleveland Crusaders, with the then largest seating capacity in the NHL of 18,544. The team would never come close to filling the arena in their two years in Cleveland. In 1977, with the team struggling on and off the ice, Swig sold his interest in the team to George and Gordon Gund.
The Gunds invested in the team, and it seemed to make a difference. The Barons stunned the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens on November 23 before a boisterous crowd of 12,859. After a brief slump, general manager Harry Howell pulled off several trades in an attempt to make the team tougher. It initially paid off, and the Barons knocked off three NHL powerhouses--the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres--three nights in a row in January 1978. A few weeks later, a record crowd of 13,110 saw the Barons tie the Philadelphia Flyers 2-2. The bottom fell out in February, however, as a 15-game losing skid knocked the Barons out of playoff contention.
After the season, the Gunds tried to buy the Coliseum, but failed. On June 14th, 1978, the Barons were merged with another financially troubled team, the Minnesota North Stars (now the Dallas Stars), under the Gunds' ownership. The North Stars assumed the Barons' old place in the Adams Division and Cleveland would be without hockey from 1978-1992. Eventually in 1981, the Gunds were successful in their bid to purchase the Richfield Coliseum, and in 1983, they also purchased the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cleveland Lumberjacks (IHL) (1992-2001)
The Cleveland Lumberjacks was an International Hockey League (IHL) team founded in 1992-93. The team was originally formed in 1984 as the Muskegon (Michigan) Lumberjacks, but moved to Cleveland after the 1991-92 season. The uniform colors were blue, gold, and black. The logo (right) was a beaver wearing overalls holding a homemade hockey stick framed by a circular saw blade. The team made the playoffs almost every season and played in two second round series and one third-round series in 1996-97. During a three-year span, the team also had consecutive years of attendance of over 9,000 fans per game. However, at the end of the 2000-01 season, the IHL folded, taking with it the Lumberjacks.
The Cleveland Barons (AHL) (2002-2006)
A strange course of events took place in creating the resurrection of the Barons in 2001. In 1991, the Gunds announced that they were planning to move the Minnesota North Stars to the Bay Area. The NHL vetoed the move, but agreed to dissolve the North Stars-Barons merger and allow a new expansion franchise to take some of the North Stars roster to San Jose as the NHL’s newest franchise, the San Jose Sharks.
In 2002, the San Jose Sharks, who were born from the Cleveland Barons, returned the Barons to Cleveland, but as an AHL team. The Sharks moved their AHL affiliate and farm team, the Kentucky Thoroughblades who played in Lexington, Kentucky, to Quicken Loans Arena (named Gund Arena at the time) and renamed them the Cleveland Barons.
The new Cleveland Barons played at The Q for four years, but after the 2005-06 AHL season, the Barons’ franchise pulled its stakes and headed to Worcester, Massachusetts to be rechristened as the Worcester Sharks.