Golden Anniversary of Hockey in Nashville

Very cool stuff here, so I'm moving this to the front page - Dirk

Nashville saw its first hockey game 50 years ago--on October 27, 1962--when the newly formed Nashville Dixie Flyers made their Eastern Hockey League debut before 5,000 fans at brand-new Municipal Auditorium. Although the Nashville Banner's Bill Parker termed it "less than a howling success," since the Flyers lost 2-0 to the second-year Knoxville Knights, we have a view of that historic game courtesy of Greg Goodman. Greg found 16-mm black and white film of the event among the effects of his late father, Benny Goodman, who was part owner of the Dixie Flyers franchise.

After the jump, we'll discuss the Dixie Flyers who appear in the film and what it suggests about the uncertainties surrounding the team's first year. We'll also see what the film tells us about the way the game was played in the EHL back then.

Among the Dixie Flyers' 13-man opening night roster, the first player to skate up to the camera is actually the team's trainer, #1 Joe Sgro, who donned the skimpy pads whenever the lone player tagged the "goaler" was incapacitated. The Flyers had not yet activated goalie Marv Edwards, whom we'll see later in the film. #2 Emile Gilles and #13 George Knipelberg were first-year Flyer favorites until they pocketed meal money but refused to board the bus for an extended trip among the league's northern cities. They were fired on February 1, 1963, and the Flyers completed the road trip with only eleven players. Flyers captain #5 Don Smith turned in a hat trick in the team's first win, a 6-2 decision over the Clinton (NY) Comets, four days after opening night. Two weeks later Smith left the team and returned to Canada. Alternate captain #11 Ken "Red" Murphy then donned the C. #15 Billy Reid scored the Flyers' very first goal on Municipal Auditorium ice in the Flyers' second home game, a 7-4 loss to the Charlotte Checkers. #3 Bobby Maxwell, #7 Frank Butler, #8 Dino Leggio and #14 Alex Kuzma were four of the 27 players cycled in and out of the lineup in the team's chaotic first year.

Four of the original Dixie Flyers survived the first 16-48-4 season to become the heart of Nashville's EHL championship teams. In 1965 the Dixie Flyers captured their first league championship and in the succeeding two seasons,1966 and 67, they won both the EHL title and the playoffs' Walker Cup. #4 Flo Pilote was a bruising blueliner whose back checks left many an opponent on the ice. Flo played in every one of the Flyers' nine seasons while his brother Pierre captained the Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Black Hawks. #9 Ted McCaskill became an offensive force for the Flyers before moving up to the Minnesota North Stars when the NHL expanded in 1967. Ted left his mark on the game as the model for Dr. Hook in the classic hockey movie Slap Shot. #10 John McLellan began the Flyers inaugural season as player-coach but gave up his on-ice role after a severe collision with teammate Joe Zorica. On the bench McLellan molded Nashville's EHL championship teams. McLellan later moved up to succeed Punch Imlach as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs and was voted 1971's NHL coach of the year. He was preceded on the Toronto bench by Joe Sgro, who became the Maple Leafs' trainer.

A second section of the film shows the Dixie Flyers' first general manager, Steve Brklacich, and Flyers goalie Marv Edwards. Edwards was the cornerstone of Nashville's EHL championship teams--Pekka Rinne's real precursor even as he wore thin, horse hair-stuffed pads and played without a mask. Marv later moved up to the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and California Golden Seals. The Tennessean's Bill Isom wrote that Brklacich's "contributions to the first year troubles and eventual success of the Flyers were about equal." In fact, Brklacich's management style convinced an exasperated coach John McLellan to walk out as the team traveled south from its first training camp in Port Colborne, Ontario. In Johnstown, PA, McLellan relented and grimly rejoined the team. Brklacich later became the New York Rangers' Director of Player Personnel.

The film's third clip shows opening night referee Geno Giavotti briefing his two linesmen before the game. In those days the EHL provided a ref for each game, and Giavotti was a favorite among players because he was relatively impartial and sometimes put away a beer or two with players after a game. However, EHL home teams were responsible for providing linesmen. For the team's first home game the Dixie Flyers recruited two local area high school football coaches who could skate. Each coach made $15 for the trouble.

The concluding scenes show the Dixie Flers' very first home game. Obviously the camera doesn't follow the action very well. But remember, no one in the Nashville crowd--including the camera operator--had ever seen a hockey game before!

Finally, two of those original Nashville Dixie Flyers remain in Nashville a half century after first setting foot in a city that had never seen hockey:


Flo Pilote operated a tavern in Hermitage called "The Penalty Box," and the one-time bruiser currently leads a life of gentlemanly retirement.


Ken Murphy is retired from a very successful post-hockey career in the construction business. He and Nashville businessman Ted Berman began Nashville's youth hockey program in 1965, signing up Dixie Flyers players like Flo Pilote to serve as coaches. Ken also provided invaluable insight and assistance to writer- producer Scott Osborne for the documentary Gold Record: 50 Years of Hockey History in Nashville.

This FanPost was written by an OTF reader, and does not represent the views of the editorial staff. Got something you'd like to share? <a href="" target="new">Post your own</a>!

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