FLYERS PILGRIMAGES: NIAGARA FALLS
Years before the Philadelphia Flyers played their first game in the National Hockey League, the Niagara Falls Flyers were one of the most prominent teams in the old Ontario Hockey Association (OHA). Created in 1960, the Boston Bruins-affiliated Niagara Falls club won three OHA championships and two Memorial Cups between 1962-63 and 1967-68.
The Philadelphia Flyers, who played their first NHL campaign after the league expanded from six to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season, shared more than just a team name with the Niagara Falls club. A host of future Philadelphia players played their junior hockey in Niagara Falls before moving on to the professional ranks.
Three members of the Broad Street Bullies' Stanley Cup winning teams of 1973-74 and 1974-75 were former Niagara Falls Flyers. Hall of Fame goaltender Bernie Parent left his native Quebec to play for the Bruins-affiliated club in the years before the creation of the NHL Draft. Previously, forwards Gary Dornhoefer and Terry Crisp were members of the team.
Dornhoefer and Crisp were both born in 1943, whereas Parent was born in 1945. As such, their junior careers in Niagara Falls did not overlap. However, during his Parent's two years in Niagara Falls (1963-64 and the Memorial Cup winning 1964-65 season), he shared the goaltending duties with a St. Catharines, Ontario native by name of Doug Favell. In both 1963-64 and 1964-65, Parent won the Dave Pinkney Trophy as the OHA's top goaltender.
Years later, of course, Parent and Favell would go on to be the Philadelphia Flyers' goaltending tandem during the formative years of the franchise before Parent was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1973, the Flyers reacquired Parent's NHL rights from the Maple Leafs. Favell went the other way in the trade.
Bernie Parent (bottom left) and Doug Favell (bottom right) shared goaltending chores for the Niagara Falls Flyers before moving on the pro level.
Apart from the aforementioned four Philadelphia players, numerous others who later wore the now-famous "flying P" crest were members of the Niagara Falls Flyers during the OHA team's original run (1960-61 to 1971-72). The ranks include the likes of Rosaire Paiement, goaltenders Phil Myre and Dunc Wilson and tough guy forward Randy Holt.
Additionally, Derek "Turk" Sanderson went on to have a short but memorable eight-game run with the WHA's Philadelphia Blazers in 1972-73. Parent was also a member of that team before his return to the Philadelphia Flyers the following season.
In 1972, the original Niagara Falls Flyers franchise was sold and the team was relocated to Sudbury, Ontario, to become the Sudbury Wolves. The team plays in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) to this day. In the meantime, the family that owned the original Niagara Falls Flyers subsequently bought the OHA's St. Catherines Black Hawks and moved the franchise to Niagara Falls in 1976. Once again, the club adopted Flyers as its team name.
The second incarnation of the Niagara Flyers played from 1976-77 to 1981-82. This version of the team did not have nearly as much success as the originals. The club won its division in the 1978-79 season before ultimately losing to the Peterborough Petes in the playoff finals. Every other season of its existence, the club finished with a losing record.
Among the alumni of the second incarnation of the NF Flyers were future Philadelphia Flyers goaltenders Bob Froese and Mark "Trees" Laforest. However, the most famous alumnus of the second incarnation of the NF Flyers was a forward who never played for Philadelphia during his prolific-scoring NHL career with five clubs: Mike Gartner.
In the spring of 1982, the Niagara Falls team announced it would relocate again. This time, the club moved North Bay to become the Centennials. Twenty years later, the franchise moved again, packing up for Saginaw, MI. The Saginaw Spirit has been a member club of the Ontario Hockey League ever since the 2002-03 season.
Throughout its history, both incarnations of the Niagara Falls Flyers played their home games at the Niagara Falls Memorial Arena. Later, the OHL's Niagara Falls Thunder (1988-89 to 1995-96) played there before moving its much-traveled franchise to Pennsylvania to become the current day Erie Otters. Among the notable Thunder players who made it to the NHL was future Flyers captain Keith Primeau.
Built in 1950, Niagara Falls Memorial Arena held about 3,000 spectators for hockey games. Located at 5145 Centre St., the old arena is two blocks north of the (in)famous collection of tourist attractions on Clifton Hill. The building was sold by the Niagara Falls community in 2012 to a group of Russian expatriate investors called V2 Niagara Inc.
Today, the former Niagara Falls Memorial Arena has been re-purposed into a gallery featuring works of art and historical exhibits. Most recently, a spectacular exhibition of massive sand sculptures
opened at the building.
The exhibit traces the history of the War of 1812. The Battle of Lundy's Lane (July 25, 1814) between the United States and Great Britain took place in present day Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was one of the highest-casualty battles of the war and among of the bloodiest clashes ever fought on Canadian soil.
The largest display at the exhibition is a 22-foot high recreation of the Treaty of Ghent, which brought the war to an end. Among other displays, there are also depictions of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, Andrew Jackson, William Henry Harrison, King George IV, Major Gen. Isaac Brock, Shawnee chief Tecumseh and Canadian folk hero Laura Secord.
War of 1812 sand sculpture display at the former Niagara Falls Memorial Arena.
Every sculpture in the exhibit is at least 13 feet high. The works were created by 17 different sculptures from around the world. The exhibition at the old hockey arena has been a big success thus far, and is currently slated to run until 2017.
If you are a Flyers fan and your travels take you to Niagara Falls, it is well worth your while on two fronts to take an excursion to the old Niagara Falls Memorial Arena.
First, it's a neat way to pay homage to the site where a host of Philadelphia Flyers players of the 1960s to 1980s once played for the Niagara Falls Flyers. There may not be hockey played in the building anymore but the site represents a lot of tradition and a history that unwittingly bisected with that of the Philadelphia team that later bore the same name.
Second, there is actually something worth seeing at the site of the former hockey arena. You wouldn't be simply passing by some abandoned and dilapidated building or the site of some since-demolished structure where a hockey arena once stood. The revived site and the extensive sand sculpture exhibit it currently houses would be well worth the side trip in Niagara Falls even if the building's history had no ties to hockey.
Of course, the Falls themselves will always be the biggest lure to visit Niagara. The Maid of the Mist boat ride, the breathtaking vantage points of the Falls at Table Rock Tunnels and taking in the natural power of the Great Gorge make the trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls worthwhile even if you aren't enamored of Clifton Hill or Casino Niagara (built on the site of Maple Leaf Village, which was a piece of several vacations my family and I took during my adolescent years). The opportunity to visit the old home of the NF Flyers and take in the sand sculpture exhibit is just the icing on the cake.
QUICK HITS: AUGUST 31
* Radel Fazleev, the Flyers sixth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, recorded a second period power play assist in the Calgary Hitmen's 12-3 slaughter of the Prince Albert Raiders in WHL preseason action on Saturday. Fazleev earned the primary helper on Ben Thomas' power play goal that opened up a 4-1 lead. Calgary strafed helpless Prince Albert goaltenders Rylan Parenteau (21 shots) and Ian Scott (12 shots) for six goals apiece.
Travis Sanheim, the Flyers first round pick in 2014, did not play in last night's game. His twin brother, Taylor, chipped in a goal and an assist while posting a plus-four on the night. Unlike defenseman Travis, Taylor Sanheim is a left winger.
* Flyers fifth-round 2014 draftee Oskar Lindblom continued to start on the first line for Sweden's U20 team at the Under-20 Four Nations Tournament in Jönköping, Sweden. As was the case in the recent World Junior Championship evaluation tournaments in Lake Placid, NY, and Quebec, Lindblom skated on a line centered by recent Detroit Red Wings draftee Axel Holmström.
Things went well in Friday's 7-2 cakewalk against the Czech Republic. Lindblom assisted on the Swedes' first two goals of the game. Things didn't go so well yesterday in a 5-1 loss to Finland. Lindblom was held off the scoresheet and his line with Holmström and Fredrik Forsberg was a minus-two at even strength.
The Finns, who also blew out the Swedes in their game in Lake Placid, finished the mini-tournament in Jönköping with a 3-0-0 record, outscoring their opponents by a combined 13-3 score (not including the shootout game-winner against Russia in the opener). Highly touted 16-year-old Finnish left winger Jesse Puljujärvi , who is not NHL Draft eligible until 2016, led the way for his team with six points (three goals, three assists) in three games.
Team Sweden wraps up its tournament today with a game against Russia for second place in the three-game round robin. Lindblom is likely to see games this season with both Brynäs Gävle's J20 squad and the senior level team in the SHL. The J20 season gets underway on Sept. 13 with a home game against Leksand.
* In WHL preseason action on Saturday, the Kelowna Rockets blanked the Kamloops Blazers by a 5-0 score. Tyrell Goulbourne, the Flyers' third round pick in the 2013 Draft, was not in the Kelowna lineup. The Rockets take on the Vancouver Giants on the road tonight.
* Today in Flyers History: On Aug. 31, 1978, the Flyers playing career of Joe Watson came to an end when the team sold his contract to the Colorado Rockies in a cash transaction.
Watson knew the move was coming, based on a conversation with general manager Keith Allen. The move was made to accommodate Watson's wishes.
That summer, Allen told the 35-year-old that he had two choices. He could remain with the Flyers with the understanding that his role would be reduced to that of a spare defenseman who played infrequently. The other option was to be traded. Allen offered Watson the opportunity to handpick a list of possible destinations, from which the general manager would try to accommodate him.
The decision for Watson was a tough one. He had been with the Flyers since the inaugural 1967-68 season. He had played on both Stanley Cup teams, a pair of NHL All-Star Games (1973-74 and 1976-77). He'd settled permanently in the Delaware Valley. His younger brother, Jimmy, had been his teammate on the Flyers for years. On the other hand, he felt that he still had something to offer an NHL team as a regular.
Watson's competitive pride won out. He gave Allen a short list of teams, tailoring the list to emphasize struggling teams with a lot of young players for whom he could serve as an on-ice mentor. One of the teams was the woeful Colorado Rockies.
Unfortunately, Watson's hockey career came to an abrupt end in his 16th game with the Rockies. He shattered his right leg in 13 places after getting hit from behind into the boards by St. Louis Blues forward Wayne Babych. Watson knew immediately his career was over. Nine surgeries followed in the years thereafter, including six in the first nine months after the injury.
Watson's Flyers history did not end with the trade to Colorado. After announcing his retirement as an active player, Watson returned to the Flyers in a scouting and coaching capacity. Over the last 35 years, Watson has continued to work directly for the Flyers or within the current day Comcast-Spectacor company in a variety of different roles.
* Today in Flyers History: On Aug. 31, 1987, the Flyers traded backup goaltender Darren Jensen and tough defenseman Daryl Stanley to the Vancouver Canucks. In return, the Flyers received backup goaltender Wendell Young and a 1990 third-round pick (Kimbi Daniels).
* Today in Flyers History: On Aug. 31, 1995, the Flyers signed 36-year-old unrestricted free agent defenseman Kjell Samuelsson to a contract. Samuelsson's second playing stint as a Flyers lasted three seasons. The best year of his second stint was 1995-96. Paired with second-year NHLer Chris Therien, Samuelsson posted a plus-20 rating, 14 points and 80 penalty minutes in 75 games. Thereafter, Samuelsson struggled with injuries in his remaining two seasons.
After finishing out his NHL playing career with Tampa Bay, Samuelsson returned to the Flyers organization in a coaching capacity. Today, he is the Flyers player development coach, working in conjunction with John Riley.