Ice Hockey’s Southern Debut

On January 30, 1956, professional ice hockey debuted in North Carolina. A week earlier, a fire destroyed the home arena of the Baltimore Clippers, an Eastern Hockey League team. Charlotte representatives convinced the team to play five of their remaining home games at the Charlotte Coliseum. The Clippers’ Charlotte debut, in which they played the New Haven Blades, drew 10,363 people to the 9,500 seat venue with more than 3,000 being turned away at the gate.

An article in the Charlotte Observer described the response: “Thousands of people who didn’t know a goalie from a dasher board lined up their cars a mile or so on Independence Boulevard and all the other streets around the Coliseum, trying to get into the place.”

The crowd sang “Dixie” before the opening face-off and cheered the Clippers on to a 6-2 victory. The city’s enthusiastic response prompted the Clippers to relocate to Charlotte permanently the following season, and they soon changed their name to the Charlotte Checkers. Hockey historian Jim Mancuso calls the relocation of the Clippers “the birth of professional hockey in the South” and credits it with paving the way for the expansion of other hockey leagues into the southern market.

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One response to “Ice Hockey’s Southern Debut”

  1. Cotton Boll Conspiracy says :

    Great picture with some notable hockey names: Les Binkley, the goalie, played five seasons in the NHL and four more in the rival World Hockey Association. John Muckler, standing directly behind Binkley, has had a long history as a coach and GM in the NHL, and coached the Edmonton Oilers to the Stanley Cup in 1990. John Brophy, third from the left, is the all-time career penalty minutes leader in Eastern Hockey League history and is said to be the model for the character Paul Newman played in the movie Slapshot. Brophy later coached the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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