Saturday, 28 September 2013

Something Rarely Seen

There are many sports where black memorial armbands are worn in memory of a fallen teammate. The Yankees wore black armbands for Ralph Houk after he passed away on July 21, 2010. But the one sport that rarely ever features an armband is hockey. Instead, hockey wears patches. There could a be a number of reasons for not wearing an armband, but the most likely is that there are already numbers and stripes on the sleeve of a hockey jersey, and adding an armband may cause the meaning to be lost as the black armband fades into the background on a uniform. But one team DID wear an armband for a short time. Today we look at how the WHA's Cleveland Crusaders got to wearing a black armband on their arms.

I encountered a number of issues when looking this information up on the internet. Mainly, there isn't a lot of information aside from a few newspaper articles I was able to find. Since 1976 was the last year that the Crusaders called Cleveland home, it appeared that not many people cared about the team enough to take a photo or write about the team's plight. Subsequently, they would be the second incarnation of the Minnesota Fighting Saints by the time 1977 rolled around. A photo of the Crusaders wearing these armbands may become a "white whale" for this writer.

In any case, there was some dissension among the ranks after the Crusaders gave Gerry Cheevers his walking papers. GM Jack Vivian had criticized his star goaltender by saying that he wasn't providing quality goaltending for the club, and that prompted Cheevers to quit the team. It also didn't help that Cheevers was worried about being paid by the cash-strapped Crusaders as well, but the criticism of his play prompted he and his agent to walk away from the Crusaders. They met with Vivian and team officials, ended the contract held by the Crusaders for Cheevers' services, and Cheevers went back to the Bruins to assist them in their quest for a Stanley Cup.

Secondly, as the team pushed into March playing good hockey, there were reports breaking that team owners of the Crusaders had been in contact with the NHL to bring the struggling Kansas City Chiefs to Cleveland. This, of course, didn't sit well with the players, and they decided to stage a protest against the team's owners for their indiscretions. Losing Gerry Cheevers was a big blow to the team, but they persevered. Losing their jobs? That was something they wouldn't tolerate.

On March 10, 1976, the Crusaders took the ice at the Richfield Coliseum wearing black armbands to protest the actions of team management. Rather than walking out, the team decided to wear their protest on the ice in the form of black armbands. At this point in the season, the Crusaders and Cincinnati Stingers were battling for first-place in the Eastern Division, so none of the players even considered a walk-out with the success they were having on the ice. The armbands, though, would send a message to owner Jay Moore and his staff, and hopefully prompt questions from reporters around the league that would cause Moore to reconsider his options.

It was reported that Moore and Vivian met with the players before the game to ask them to reconsider their black armband protest, but the Crusaders clearly had no interest in taking that advice. GM Jack Vivian resigned the next day after realizing that either the players no longer had faith in him or that his earlier attempt to resign after losing Cheevers may have been the best move. In any case, Vivian's time with the Crusaders was over.

Stranglely, owner Jack Moore stated that the armband protest displayed by the Crusaders actually was good for the team! The discussion that took place before the game apparently was beneficial for both sides, and looked like things would settle down in Cleveland. And that's where this trail goes cold.

I have searched and searched to find out if this was the only game they wore the armbands to no avail. I have looked for images and photographs of the armbands, but if the protest only lasted one game, photos of that game could be few and far between. What I can conclusively say, though, is that the Cleveland Crusaders wore black armbands on March 10, 1976 against the Cincinnati Stingers in a 5-2 win. That conclusion is proven with the newspaper articles linked above.

As for any other teams, I haven't seen many in hockey wear the armband. Do any come to mind? Leave your comments below and link pictures if possible!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

scott haislet said...

i was actually at Richfield Coliseum 3/10/1976 for the black arm band game. I dont remember much about the game, but i do remember that Cleveland played a very strong game, winning 5-2. I do remember a play in the corner when a teenage kid (fan) was up against the glass showing his black arm band to the players adjacent on the ice. I was about 15 years old then, what a great memory. I went to the last game of the season (loss in overtime to San Diego Mariners... i do remember that loss left Cleveland out of first place in the East as the season). That SD game was the last I ever saw...did not go to the playoffs v. New England Whalers that year, then team busted and moved to me at that age, it was very shocking...that was pre-internet when there was just not the same level of coverage... I had never heard about the rumor that NHL was thinking Kansas City Scouts might move to Cleveland.

Of the 4 years Crusaders played in Cleveland (2 at downtown Cleveland Arena and 2 at Richfield Coliseum), a very young Steve Albert was the play-by-play announcer (about 22 years old when he started in 1972)....he's brother of Marv Albert and uncle of Kenny Albert also of broadcasting fame.

another footnote on Cleveland hockey...the Oakland Seals transferred to Cleveland as the "Barons" for two seasons starting in Oct 1976...i actually got a job as a sports writer and covered about 15 games in 1977-78 season before Barons also folded and were ironically merged with Minnesota North Stars at the end of the 1978 season.

Cleveland was a great AHL city with the "old" Barons from 1937 to 1973 (they left when Crusaders came), but the dying rust belt economy in Cleveland just did not support hockey, there was not a culture of hockey, and the move to Richfield in hindsight was a disaster