Friday, February 26, 2016

Old Time Hockey!

My senior year at Tremper High School is quite memorable for a number of reasons. Coming to mind are my various adventures while working at Burger King, my inebriated excursion down the railroad tracks and Kenosha Flyers hockey games. The Burger King escapades and the hapless trip on the tracks have been previously chronicled; so today I thought that I would share some of my memories of the Kenosha Flyers and the Continental Hockey League.

I’m not quite sure why the guys I hung around with starting going to Kenosha Flyer games back in 1974, but I am glad that we did. Our motley group included my brother Mike, Glenn Evenson, Keith Panasewicz, Bill Nicoll, Dave Proeber, Curt Vergenz, Doug Becker and myself. It was at these Flyer games where I met Leon Rosko which was instrumental in getting me involved announcing softball games at historic Finney’s West.

First a little history about the Flyers and the CHL:

The Continental Hockey League was a semi-pro hockey league that was in existence from 1972 until 1986. The league had humble beginnings. It began as almost a recreational league in Chicago and was made up of former youth league players. Initially, the players were not paid, but over time, the talent in the league improved.

The mid to late ‘70s were a time of relative stability for the CHL. A core group of teams – Chicago Wildcats, Chicago Wildcats, Peoria Blades, Kenosha Flyers, and Springfield Kings were the mainstays of the league. Other teams such as Madison Blues, Pekin Stars and Rockton Wheels also came and went. But the teams were relatively stable and the players were the same from year to year.

There were several occasions where teams temporarily moved or disbanded. One season the Kenosha Flyers had to play in Zion because the Kenosha Ice arena was not available. The Chicago Cardinals disbanded because a lack of availability. When this happened, most of them went to play for Kenosha.

Some of the team’s rinks were less than desirable. The Logan Ice Dome in Peoria had a ceiling that was held up with air pressure. To make things even more interesting, there was only one shower for both the home and visiting teams!

Some of the more memorable players from the various non-Kenosha teams included: Chicago Cardinals – Ted Kaminski. Madison Blues - Phil Caruso, Cal Harris, Dan Corns and Clarke Blizzard. Chicago Wildcats – Sam Saltzman, Warren Munson, Jerry Kurth, Jim Krein and Bill Possehl. Peoria Blades – Ric Olson and brother Mike Olson.

That inaugural year of attending Kenosha Flyer games was special for many reasons, the biggest being the team winning the Walmar Cup, the CHL’s version of the Stanley Cup. This a list of the more noteworthy players from that team:

1974-1975 Kenosha Flyers
Reg Fleming
Pat O’Shea
Les Day
Jim Allen
Brian Glenwright
Lou Grassi
Mike Bednarik
Gene Stoney
Alfie Morrison
Paul Kelly
Jim McClellan
Paul Buck
Bruce Garber
Doug Glendenning
Chuck Kennedy
Steve Anderson
Don Walsh, owner

There are so many vivid recollections from, not only that championship year, but from many other “events” involving the Kenosha Flyers. It should be noted, that while they weren’t a part of that championship team, homegrown talents like Bob Arneson, Rich Rosko, Gene Rosko, and Joe Rosko played for the Flyers.

The 1974-1975 season was the first year we started following the Flyers. Besides my brother, Doug and Curt, the rest of us were all seniors in high school. Typically, the games were on Saturday night with an occasional Sunday afternoon tilt. Admission was only a couple of bucks, so we attended pretty much all of the home games.

Our group was usually located at the very top of Kenosha Ice Arena, just to the right of center ice. My brother and I were both artistic so we made several large posters that we attached to the wall of the arena right above us. Like the NHL Philadelphia Flyers, the team colors were black and orange, so that was the basic palette for our signage.

Two of the posters immediately come to mind – “Kelly’s Heroes” and “Alfie’s Army.” The first was for goaltender Paul Kelly. He rented an apartment in Kenosha, worked at the arena’s pro shop, and even attended the same church that I did. We got to know Kelly pretty well. In fact, Glenn and I even traveled with him for a road game in Peoria.

The second poster honored winger Alfie Morrison. He was older, good-sized, had jet-black hair, and wore black horn-rimmed glasses when he played. He was a decent player, but not too physical. That is until the playoffs started. Talk about kicking it up a notch! Morrison became a beast, destroying anyone who stood in his way.

Sometime after the holidays, it was announced that that the Flyers were forming a fan club. The club would meet at various watering holes after designated home games and dues would be collected. The fact that the players would be attending these get-togethers made it a no-brainer…we had to join the Kenosha Flyers Fan Club!

I can even remember some of the “administrators” of the fan club. The president was Floyd Hart. “Big” Mike Soens and his wife, Juanita also served as officers, although I’m not sure what their titles were. I do know that Juanita had a thing for Gene Stoney. Stoney was a defenseman that also served as coach of the Flyers. Stoney was American Indian, tough as a pit bull, a bit crazy and was rumored to bring a gun with him on road trips to Peoria. And Juanita loved him. A lot.

Because a majority of the players were from northern Illinois and the Chicago area, it was decided that the first fan club meeting would be at the Quonset Hut on Grand Avenue in Waukegan. This way it would be on the way home for most of the team. The Quonset Hut was a tavern that served pizza and Italian sandwiches.

It sounded good to us.

Yes indeed, it sounded good to us because we were going to get to hang out with the Kenosha Flyer players after the game. Another reason that it sounded so good to us was because it was going to be at the Quonset Hut, a tavern that served pizza and BEER! Hey, I know we weren’t “legal” yet, being only 16 or 17, but we enjoyed an occasional cold one whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Needless to say, four or five of us made the 30-minute trip south on Green Bay Road for the inaugural Kenosha Flyers Fan Club. We paid our dues, listened to Floyd Hart pontificate about the purpose of the club, and sat in awe of being in the presence of the players we had just cheered for.

Then came the pièce de résistance. After ordering a pizza, the waitress asked us what we would like to drink. Being the largest member of our group, I put as much as bass as I could in my voice, and belted out, “Give us a pitcher of Pabst.” And it worked! The server nodded her head and left to get our pizza and beer. This fan club was great!

Well, for a short while it was.

After a short time, Hart and his cohorts decided to move the meetings to Sullivan’s, a Kenosha saloon located right around the corner from the Ice Arena on Highway 50. We weren’t quite sure why they made the switch, but as long as we could get beer, what did we care? Besides we didn’t have to drive to Illinois.

Then we found out why the fan club chose to move the meetings to Sullivan’s. For a nominal fee, the bar would put out a buffet for the club and players to enjoy. Well, the fee wasn’t so “nominal.” Being high school kids with limited financial resources, we questioned the amount. We were told that the price had to cover the cost of the Flyer players; they ate for free.

Suddenly we weren’t so star-struck with these guys. As a group we decided to drop out of the official Kenosha Flyers Fan Club. We didn’t have a secret crush on Gene Stoney like Juanita Soens did. They could buy their own grub. We were content to “admire” them from the top of the bleachers in the arena. Besides, we were resourceful; we knew plenty of places to pick up a cold one after the game.

I miss those days. Oh well. Until next time…from the booth.

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