Part II in our series on defunct sports teams in West Michigan – Click here for Part I ,
Finally we will start talking about the sport that is near many West Michiganders hearts… hockey. Michigan is a hockey mad state, and the West Side is no different. Looking through the list of defunct teams you see a great number of them were hockey clubs. It also wouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the two remaining minor league sports teams left Grand Rapids is a hockey team, the Griffins.
One of the oldest hockey teams that I could find in the area wasn’t in Grand Rapids but in Muskegon. The Muskegon Reds played from 1935 to 1938 in the Michigan Ontario Hockey League. They played in the Mart Auditorium along with another team the Muskegon Sailors (who started in 1938). Another interesting note is that the Chicago Blackhawks used The Mart as their preseason training facility.
Grand Rapids would get its team, the Rockets, in 1949 and they would go until 1956 playing in The Stadium Arena, which is now known as the DeltaPlex. The Rockets left Grand Rapids in 1956 and moved to Huntington, West Virginia ( a hockey hotbed) and became the Hornets.
One of the longest tenured teams in West Michigan was located in Muskegon. The Muskegon Zephyrs started in 1960 and different variations of this team existed until 1992 (those they did change names quite frequently). Zephyrs were owned by Jerry Delise, and they got their name from sponsor Zephyr Oil Co. of North Muskegon. They even won the IHL championship in 1962. For the 1965-1966 season the Zephyrs renamed themselves and became the Mohawks. They remained the Mohawks until 1984-1985 season when the team was sold to a new ownership group for $1, and then they became the Lumberjacks who played until 1992, before moving to Cleveland. But that was not last of the Lumberjacks in Muskegon, oh no… the Lumberjacks never die and rise again harder and stronger. The name was re-used twice. The 1st time the Muskegon Fury took the name after the Lumberjacks left town, but they eventually relocated as well, moving to Evansville for the 2010-2011 season. This Lumberjack vacancy was soon filled because Rochester Mustangs moved to Muskegon and became the new Lumberjacks who are still currently playing in the new USHL (a reincarnation of the past league). No wonder it took me so long to write this post, its quite confusing with the teams coming and going, and keeping the same name, crazy ole Lumberjacks.
One of the unfortunate realities of many of these teams is that they often only play for one season and then they disband or relocate. Such was the case with the Grand Rapids Blades who played for the 1976-1977 season, and even won the USHL championship, then they ceased to exist. Ready for a rabbit hole? Ok in more recent history there was another Blades team, but this time located in Kansas City and they belonged in the IHL from 1990 to 2001. Tying this back to West Michigan, guess who owned the Kansas City Blades, that’s right The Ledger favorite family… the DeVos’. They purchased the team in 1996, the family also owned the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Orlando Solar Bears as well. The wikipedia article on the Blades states that the DeVos family rather quickly became the fans enemies, with a series of changes they made, and how they attempted to move the Blades to Oklahoma City.
For all the teams that were born in Grand Rapids, and then migrated elsewhere, the Grand Rapids Owls were one club that did the opposite. They started out as the Dayton Owls and they moved to Grand Rapids mid-season in 1977. They lasted until 1980, when they disbanded the club due to financial reasons, and not being able to get a new stadium to play in. The redundantly named Stadium Arena (now known as the DeltaPlex) was their home ice stadium, they missed out on the Van Andel arena by 16 years. Though Grand Rapids did miss some infamy by a couple of months, because one of the Owls players, Raymond William (Wild Willie) Trognitz was permanently suspended from the IHL, when during a brawl against the Port Huron Flags, Trognitz took his stick and struck it against a Flags player’s head, putting that player in the hospital. The reason Grand Rapids escaped the infamy, because the team was still the Dayton Owls the time.
Then finally in 1996, the Van Andel Arena was built, and shortly there after Dave Van Andel and Dan DeVos formed West Michigan Hockey, Inc. which was able to bring the Griffins into town. They effectively solved the problem of a lack of a stadium in Grand Rapids, which brought an end to the Owls.
Then there is roller hockey. Apparently West Michigan had its own league eloquently named Michigan Elite Roller Hockey League. In 2001 this league merged with the National Roller Hockey League (love cached websites!) West Michigan was littered with the following roller hockey teams: Grandville Gators, Grand Rapids RiverFrogs, Kalamazoo Jones Soda (blatant copyright infringement), and Muskegon Comets. Looks like there might have also been a Lansing Wild Cocks team, and the Kalamazoo team may have changed its name to the Warriors.
Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s been tough to dig up much information on soccer in West Michigan. Grand Rapids had a team called the Explosion and Kalamazoo had a couple of teams one indoor team called the Kangaroos and an outdoor team called the Kingdom.
Well time to come clean, I am stretching this series into a three part-er. So in the next installment I will be exploring some reasons why so many of these teams have come and gone in West Michigan.
Once again feel free to share any stories you have about these teams, or any pictures or anything else.