February 25, 2014
The Philadelphia Firebirds were a minor league ice hockey team that began play in Philly in 1974. One of their first owners was former Phillie great Robin Roberts, though he left after they lost a ton of money in their first season.
They began play in the North American Hockey League, where they played from 1974-1977. Among the players on that inaugural team was goalie Reggie Lemelin, who would play for the team for five years before later enjoying some success with the Calgary Flames and would be the Flyers goaltending coach for 13 years.
The team had some great nicknames. The best was Gordie “Road Hog” Brooks, but they also had Dave “Crash” Kelly, Fred “Fats” Williams, Bob “Waldo” Neely, and enforcer Mike “Barretta” Haworth.
The Firebirds won the league’s Lockhart Cup in 1976, defeating the Beauce Jaros, a team based in Quebec, 4 games to 2. (Here’s a great photo of a packed house in Philly for one of those games. A friend of mine who was at one of those games said that Paul Newman attended, as he was scouting for his upcoming film Slap Shot, which was based on the NAHL.)
The league folded in 1977, and the team moved to the American Hockey League. They played there for two years (in one of those seasons, they featured a right wing named Steve Coates; they also had a young left wing named Mike Eruzione who played with them for 6 games before becoming a national hero), then moved to Syracuse in 1979, where they played for one year as the Syracuse Firebirds. They folded a year later. For their 5-year run in Philly, they played at Convention Hall on the edge of Penn’s campus near Franklin Field.