(1976-77 Hampton Gulls Pat Donnelly)
By Chuck Eckels
The city of Hampton has had 5 different hockey teams in residence. It started with the Virginia Red Wings in 1973 and ended with the Hampton Roads Gulls of the ACHL in 1981. Only one of the five entries was successful in Hampton, Virginia.
The Southern Hockey League was created in 1973 as an offshoot of the old Eastern Hockey League. The EHL was a place where “butcher shop” hockey reigned supreme. The lead bad boy of the EHL was John Brophy who lead the league in PIM’s. I was told by another player if you put Brophy in a room with another player, no matter who the other player was, Brophy was the guy walking out of that room. Before a game Brophy would amp up on greenies so much so that he would have to get another player to lace up his skates for him. He would then go out and fearlessly dominate for three hours.
The EHL was a wild and wooly league. Once the Charlotte Checkers were late getting to a game with the Long Island Ducks in New York. The concession stands ran out of beer while waiting for the Checkers to arrive. Arena management allowed the fans to leave the arena and purchase 12 packs of bottled beer. By the time the Checkers arrived two hours later, the crowd was feeling no pain. As the game got underway, the 4000 or so referees in the stands took exception to a particular call. They started to throw brown glass beer bottles that were full onto the ice. The goalies hid in their nets as broken brown glass and beer suds littered the white ice. Luckily no one was hurt.
This was one of the reasons the owners of the Southern teams wanted to pull away from the league. They wanted a ” safer and calmer” league. There was too much “goonery ” in the league for the Southern owners. They wanted it to be more family friendly. Another reason to pull away form the Northern teams was travel costs. The owners could save money by traveling just to Southern cities. The final reason was fan interest. Southern teams drew in more fans when facing other Southern teams. Southern owners thought these reasons would generate more revenue.
From its inception during the 1973-74 season the SHL aligned themselves with the WHA (World Hockey Association). This league was created to rival the NHL by Dennis Murphy, Gary Davidson, and Edmonton hockey magnate Bill Hunter. The WHA was even crazier then the EHL if that was possible. The worst incident involved the Calgary Cowboy’s Rick Jodzio who once skated for the SHL’s Charlotte Checkers. Jodzio, whose hockey credentials are open to serious question as a hockey player, attacked Quebec Nordiques superstar Marc Tardiff on April 11, 1976 for no apparent reason. Jodzio cross-checked Tardiff in the face in the second period. He then dropped his gloves and threw bunches of punches into the face of the fallen star. Tardiff was carried off the ice on a stretcher and suffered a brain contusion. He missed the remainder of the season. The bench clearing brawl was so intense that it took over 20 Quebec City police officers to restore order on the ice. Jodzio was banned from the WHA and while charges were filed against him he later pled guilty to a lesser charge and paid a $3000 fine. Years later Jodzio and his son met Tardiff and his son where Jodzio offered up an apology. Tardiff accepted that apology.
With help from their parent WHA clubs and playing under WHA rules the SHL got underway in the 1973-74 season with the Roanoke Valley Rebels winning the Crockett Cup. The Charlotte Checkers coached by Pat Kelly would go on to win the next two cups. The fourth season the league went dark as it had become too ” soft.” The SHL owners had forgotten the lesson of the Charlotte Clippers of the 1950’s. The Baltimore Clippers had their barn burn down in the 1950’s and they had no place to play. They relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina at the bottom of the state. The Charlotte Clippers had phenomenal attendance because they won and they played a very physical game. John Brophy skated for the Clippers and that lesson would not be lost on him.
In the late 1960’s the city of Hampton, Virginia built the Hampton Coliseum with a seating capacity of about 10,000 people. The Fayetteville Arsenal were set to begin play in the SHL in the fall of 1974. They had only one problem. There was no ice. ( As a big fan of the SHL and former season ticket holder I have been asked if I have ever seen any Arsenal memorabilia like pucks or programs but I have not.) The team owners looked for a place to play and landed in Hampton. The team played for three years in Hampton before the league went dark in 1977. Coach John Brophy’s Hampton Gulls were a very physical team that won. The worst finish they had in three years was second place. Curt Brackenbury, Dale Smedsmo, and Hal “Mad Dog” Willis led they way that first season with physical play. A real good example of the Gulls play was a game that took place in Hampton on November 13, 1974. The biggest line brawl of the season took place between Hampton and Charlotte. All 34 players were battling on the ice. The white ice was littered with sticks and gloves. Even Coach Brophy and Coach Kelly were throwing down on each other in suits and ties. The battle lasted for an hour. The Gulls won that battle but lost the war 5-3 as both sides skated extremely short handed.
The city of Hampton first leased the Coliseum to the Virginia Red Wings of the AHL in 1973-74. The Wings moved to Norfolk the following season then left the area in 1975. Charles Wornom, a local drug store magnate, had purchased the SHL Gulls and after the SHL went dark he moved them to the AHL. This proved to be a costly mistake as revenues were quickly consumed by travel expenses. The AHL Gulls went dark in the winter of 1978. The Hampton Aces lasted for two season 1978-80 in the reborn EHL after they relocated from New Jersey. The final hockey entry for the city of Hampton was the ACHL Hampton Roads Gulls. They didn’t even finish the season. This was the final hockey team in residence as the Hampton Coliseum management decided they would generate revenue through concerts not hockey. The SHL Gulls were the only successful hockey entry in the city of Hampton because of their phenomenal attendance. All hockey is now played in Norfolk.
Notable players for the Hampton Gulls SHL/AHL are Curt Brackenbury, Frank Beaton, William “Buzz” Schneider, Jamie Hislop, Dave Hanson, Jeff Carlson, Rod Langway, Paul Hoganson, and Eddie Mio.
(1978-79 Hampton Aces EHL Peter Jack )