Thursday, December 15, 2011

Today in history: December 15

One of the darkest days in Indianapolis hockey history ... today is the 33rd anniversary of an afternoon press conference that still leaves a lot of long and bitter memories.

1978: At a press conference, Racers owner Nelson Skalbania announces the team will cease operations immediately. He cited losses of $40,000 per game and said he had tried to find local investors to keep the team afloat through the end of the WHA season, but those investors didn't materialize. Skalbania had made several personnel moves during his year and a half of ownership with the club, most famously bringing in Wayne Gretzky for an eight-game stint with the Racers, but many were not popular -- most notably a mass exodus of players to the hated Cincinnati Stingers in the 1977-78 offseason. The Racers folded 25 games into the 1978-79 season -- which would be the WHA's final year -- and were 5-18-2. The Racers were scheduled to play the Czechoslovakian National Team the following night, and several players wanted to play the game as a swan song, but the team was disbanded immediately. Players went to other WHA teams or to the minor leagues to finish out the year. The end of the Racers' four-and-a-half year tenure meant the end of major-league hockey in Indianapolis. They would be replaced by the Central Hockey League Checkers the following August, and either a minor pro or Junior A team has represented the city for all but one year since.

Hugh Coflin: Capitals defenseman in 1951-52. He had three goals and 25 assists in 68 games. He had played 31 games the previous year with the Chicago Blackhawks, then was traded to Detroit the following offseason. Although he never played a game with the Red Wings, he did travel with the team in the Stanley Cup playoffs and his name appeared on the original Stanley Cup when the Wings won it in 1952. Coflin spent the next eight years in the Wings' organization with the WHL Edmonton Flyers -- the team the bulk of the Capitals' roster became after the franchise folded in 1952. A native of Blaine Lake, Sask., he was born in 1928, and passed away in 2010, three days shy of his 82nd birthday.
Phil Hughes: Goaltender who came to the Chiefs for the final 12 games of the 1955-56 season. He posted a 3-8-1 record in goal with one shutout. Hughes played much of the 1950s in the minors, retiring after a 38-game stint with the Fort Wayne Komets in 1957-58. A native of Port Arthur, Ont., he was born in 1926.
Sam Marotta: Ice goaltender for one game in 2009-10. He allowed three goals in a victory. Since, he has been a goaltender for Merrimack College in the NCAA. A native of Bridgewater, Mass., he is 21.

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