Dayton Area Sports History

   Hockey

                                                                             1964-65 Dayton Gems

                                                                              Dayton's First Professional Hockey Team

Sitting (L-R):  Rich Brown, Guy Trottier, Ken Coombs, Pat Donnelly & Roger Ouimet

Standing (L-R):  Pat Rupp, Warren Back, George Boychuk, Ian McIntosh, Sid Garant, Ted Lebioda, Ron Meier, Al Cleary,

                              Bob Regis, Bob Bailey & Ludger Doucet

 

                                                               The Gems are Born in Dayton

  

  In the early summer of 1964, more than five years after the Troy Bruins last played at Hobart Arena, the International     

Hockey League (IHL) began looking for a new city in which to locate a franchise.  A few months earlier, after the 1963-64 IHL season had ended, teams in Chatham and Windsor, Ontario, had folded leaving the league with just five members.

IHL Commissioner Andy Mulligan and its Board of Governors wished to maintain the number of teams competing in the

league at six.  In order to do so, they would need to locate a team in either a city that had once had a team in the league or in a new city altogether.

  On June 25, 1964, a press conference was scheduled in Dayton to announce that the IHL would be locating a team in the

city and would play its games at the newly built Hara Arena - owned by Harold and Ralph Wampler.  The franchise would be owned by a group from Louisville, Kentucky.  When last minute plans for the out of town ownership fell through, the league approached Dayton area sports promoter Ed "Lefty" McFadden to head the new franchise - on condition he raise $40,000 by August 1, 1964, to fund the team.  

  McFadden was well liked and well connected. At that time, he was general manager of the Dayton Speedway.  Even though it was the middle of the racing season, he went about the challenging task of selling a sport to a town that had never had a hockey team and where many of its residents had never seen a hockey game!  Nevertheless, McFadden was sucessful in raising the capital by the deadline.  The ownership consisted of 25 stockholders that McFadden said "just that many more people selling hockey".  On August 1, 1964, Dayton joined Ft. Wayne (IN), DesMoines (IA), Toledo (OH), Muskegon (MI), and Port Huron (MI) as members of the IHL.

  For the team's first coach, McFadden selected Warren Back.  Back, a Boston Bruin farmhand, had spent seven years in the IHL and was ready to retire following the 1963-64 season when he played with the league's Muskegon Zephyrs.  McFadden persuaded Back to join the Dayton franchise in August as player/coach and help build the new team - which still did not have a name.  In mid-September, just six weeks before the first game was to be played, 'Gems' was chosen to be the name of the team - submitted in a "Name the Team" contest by Jim Gabringer of Huber Heights.

  The team did not have any players at that time except for Back.  Therefore, the first challenge was to have enough bodies to put on the ice for opening day of training camp. "Lefty", ever the public relations genius, knew that the majority of the local media would not recognize a good hockey player anyway!  Prior to the start of training camp in early October, Hara Arena was still bing readied for its new tenants.  A gas explosion on October 9, destroyed the front of the builiding.  Luckily, no one was killed in the accident and amazingly, repairs and construction on the arena were completed for the first game.

 

                                                 1964-1968: From Doormat to Perennial Power

  The Dayton Gems took to the ice for their first game on October 31, 1964, playing on the road against the Port Huron Flags.  The Gems lost 5-2 with Rich Brown scoring the very first Gems' goal.  The next day, on November 1, the Gems

hosted the Flags for the team's first ever regular season game at Hara Arena.  A crowd of 2,871 showed up to watch the Gems beat Port Huron 5-2.

  The first season for the Gems was tough and by its end a total of 45 players had dressed for the Gems - 15 dressing for each game.  At one time, the team had a dismal record of 4-24.  But throughout the season, Warren Back and "Lefty" McFadden added players that improved the team and who would be mainstays in the upcoming years including:  Guy Trottier, Sid Garant, Bob Bailey and Pat Rupp.  The first year Gems finished fifth in the six team IHL with a record of

23-45-2.

   The 1965-66 season saw great improvements in the Gems.  Home attendance increased to over 3,100 a game and the team qualified for the playoffs by finishing in fourth place with a record of 33-35-2.  After a memorable first round playoff series win over the Ft. Wayne Komets, the Gems were defeated by the Port Huron Flags four games to one in the Turner Cup finals.

   The 1966-67 season saw the Gems win their first of three IHL regular season championships.  The team finished in first place with a record of 44-25-3 and home attendance shot up to over 4,000 a game.  Dayton was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.  The next season, the team once again made the Turner Cup finals, this time losing to the Muskegon Mohawks.  After the 1967-68 season, Warrem Back retired as coach but only after building one of the elite teams in the IHL.

 

                                                    1968-72: The Turner Cup Comes to Dayton

   Following Warren Back, "Lefty" McFadden turned to NHL veteran Larry Wilson to lead the Gems.  He inherited a team that included IHL scoring champion and MVP Don Westbrooke, Duncan Rousseau, Barry Merrell, Pat Rupp and Al Beaule.  The 1968-69 Gems won their second IHL regular season championship and won a record nine consecutive games in the playoffs to capture their first Turner Cup.  Home attendance was at a high point as the team averaged over 4,500 a game for the year including an astounding 5,200 a game average over the last 14 games of the season.  

   The Gems returned to the playoff finals the next season beating Port Huron 5-2 at Hara Arena in game seven to become the first IHL team to win back to back Turner Cup championships in nearly ten years.  Don Westbrooke led the teague in scoring for the second year in a row and "Lefty" McFadden was named Minor League Hockey Executive of the Year by the Hockey News.

   Following the second Turner Cup championship, Larry Wilson left Dayton to become a head coach in the American Hockey League.  Former Gems forward Gerry Moore was named to suceed Wilson as head coach.  With many of the players gone from the Turner Cup teams, the Gems slipped to third in the standings for the 1970-71 season.  The following year, the Gems racked up a franchise record 49 regular season wins to finish first in the IHL Southern Division.  Neither season produced a Turner Cup and with the growing influence of the Boston Bruins on the Gems as a farm team, Gerry Moore was let go after two seasons.

 

                                                                1972-77: Success and Failure 

   In 1973, the Gems named Jimmy Anderson as the coach to replace Moore.  In his one season. Anderson led the Gems to a record of 44-25-4.  After the season ended, the Gems named veteran Tom McVie to coach the team. In his first season, the Gems struggled both on the ice and at the gate.  The team finished third in the IHL Southern Division and reports began to surface that the team was in financial trouble.  The big news, however, was that "Lefty" McFadden, who had been the team's general manager since its beginnings was leaving for a position with the newly formed Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League.

                                 1975-76 IHL Champion and Turner Cup Champion Dayton Gems

  The Gems returned to the top of the IHL for the 1974-75 season, but were shocked by Toledo in the playoffs.  The next season , with a team loaded with NHL caliber talent including goalie Jim Pettie, defenseman Gord Lane and forwards Rick Bragnalo, Stan Jonathan and Steve Self, the Gems set an IHL single season record with 104 points and won the IHL Southern Division and the regular season championship.  In the playoff finals, the Gems dominated Port Huron, sweeping the Flags in four games to capture the team's third and final Turner Cup.

   The 1976-77 Gems under coach Larry Mickey proved too inconsistent and for the first time in 12 years, the team finished under .500.  After being swept in the playoffs by Fort Wayne, the team announced the suspension of operations as a poor Dayton economy and an unusually harsh winter contributed to an excessive financial loss.  (As a note, the Columbus Owls moved to Dayton for the first two months of the 1977-78 season, but moved to Grand Rapids after drawing poor crowds.)

 

                                    1979-80; The Second Coming and Going of the Dayton Gems

   Early in 1979, Harold and Ralph Wampler announced that the Gems would return to the ice for the 1979-80 season.  The thought was that a two year layoff would whet the appetite of Dayton hockey fans and the franchise would see success at the gate.

   A crowd of just over 2,600 attended the home opener of the 'new' Dayton Gems, a 6-3 victory over the Fort Wayne Komets.  But general manager Keith Sprunk battled many of the same problems management did in 1977: a poor area economy, a cold winter and a losing team.  For the first time in its hisotry, the Gems finished last in the league.  As a result, the Gems folded in April of 1980 never to return to the IHL.

   In its fourteen years, the Dayton Gems won three IHL regular season championships and three Turner Cup playoff championships. Dayton area hockey fans were able to watch many great players, some of whom would eventually have careers in the NHL including: Guy Trottier, Gord Lane, Stan Jonathan, Dave Forbes and Jim Pettie. The Dayton Gems still evoke many wonderful memories of the sport of hockey in Dayton.  

 

                                                     Dayton Gems Season by Season Records

 

Season Wins Loss Ties Points Remarks
      1964-65           23              45            2            48                Finished 5th
        1965-66           33           35                2           68  Lost in playoff finals to Port Huron
      1966-67           44           25             3           91 Won regular season championship
      1967-68            33           27           12           78   Lost in playoff finals to Muskegon
      1968-69           40           21           11           91         Turner Cup Champions
      1969-70           38              30            4           80            Turner Cup Champions
      1970-71           36           29            7           79                Finished 3rd
      1971-72           49           23            0           98      Team record for most wins in                           a season (49)
      1972-73           44          25            4           92  
       1973-74           38          35            3           79

 "Lefty" McFadden leaves to join

   the NHL Washington Capitals

      1974-75           46          26            3           95    Southern Division Champions
      1975-76           47          21           10          104

           Turner Cup Champions

104 points is the most in IHL history

      1976-77           35          38            5           75        Team suspends operations
      1979-80           28          45            7           63

 Only season to finish in last place

  The team folds at the season end

       Totals             534         425           73