Over the past 50-plus years, the Flyers have been the main hockey team in Philadelphia, with decades of accolades helping Philly bleed orange and black. But the Flyers aren’t the only professional hockey team in Philadelphia’s history, they weren’t even the first NHL team in the city limits. Let’s take a look back at the history of professional hockey in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia’s first professional hockey team was the long-forgotten Arrows. Beginning play in 1927, the Arrows were a part of the Canadian-American Hockey League (CAHL). In the 336 games they played as the Arrows, from the 1927-28 season to the 1934-35 season, they had a 131-165-40 (wins-losses-ties) record. They finished first in the C-AHL once as the Arrows during the 1932-33 season but did not win a championship. During the 1930-31 season, the Arrows shared the Philadelphia Arena with the new NHL team, the Quakers. The Arrows, even though they were a minor professional team, would outperform and outdrew the Quakers. Some notable names to play and manage for the Arrows include Hall of Fame defenseman and 1927 Hart Trophy winner Herb Gardiner as the manager from 1929-1941. 1942 Hart Trophy winner Tommy Anderson and Black Hawks defenseman Art Coulter would both play for the Arrows before they made it to the NHL.
Before the 1935-36 season the Arrows would become the minor league affiliate of the New York Rangers and would change their name to the Ramblers. As the Ramblers, they would play one season in the C-AHL, finishing first and winning the Henri Fontaine Trophy, the league’s championship trophy, in the final season of the C-AHL and had a record of 27-18-3 (W-L-T) in 48 games and defeated the Providence Reds for the championship. The next season would see the International Hockey League (IHL) and C-AHL combine to create the International-American Hockey League (I-AHL). In 204 games in the I-AHL, the Ramblers would go 99-80-25 (W-L-T). They would finish first during the 1936-37 and 1938-39 seasons. They would make the final both times but lost.
Then the I-AHL turned into the American Hockey League (AHL) that still exists today.
In their only season in the AHL as the Ramblers, they played 56 games and had a record of 25-25-6, and missed the playoffs. A notable name that played for the Ramblers was Bryan Hextall Sr. who is a Hall of Famer and is the grandfather of Ron Hextall, so there is some family lineage with playing hockey in Philly for the Hextalls.
For the 1941-42 season, the Ramblers renamed themselves the Rockets. They played one season, consisting of 56 games, and had an 11-41-4 record missing the playoffs. They would fold after this season.
In 1930, the Pittsburgh Pirates found themselves in trouble. Like most of the world, the 1929 Wall Street Crash left the owners on hard times, and then they found themselves without a suitable arena for the NHL. Owner Bill Dwyer, along with his front man Benny Leonard, got permission to move the team to Philadelphia temporarily until there was a suitable arena built. During the 1930-31 season, they would become the Philadelphia Quakers, donning the orange and black with the nickname “Quakers” spelled diagonally on the jersey. The Quakers had a disastrous 4-36-4 record (W-L-T) that would be the worst record, in terms of winning percentage at .136 until the 1974-75 Washington Capitals had their abysmal .131 winning percentage. After the 1930-31 season, the Quakers, along with the Ottawa Senators, suspended operations. While the Ottawa Senators would eventually come back, the Quakers would eventually fold in 1936, after five years of suspending operations, due to plans for a new arena in Pittsburgh being scrapped.
Immediately after the Arrows/Ramblers/Rockets franchise folded, the Philadelphia Falcons began to play at the Philadelphia Arena for the Eastern American Hockey League (EAHL). In 191 games in the EAHL, the Falcons had an 83-91-16 record (W-L-T) finishing fifth, third, third, and second respectively in their four seasons in the EAHL. There is no data for the EAHL playoffs.
The Falcons would change their name to the Rockets when they moved to the AHL for the 1946-47 season, a callback to the previous Philadelphia franchise. They played three seasons in the AHL totaling 200 games. In those 200 games, they had a record of 42-141-17. They would fold after the 1948-49 season.
The Falcons would return to the EAHL for the 1951-52 season and would play in 25 games posting an 8-17-0 record before officially disbanding for good.
The EAHL would halt operations for the 1953-54 season but would start back for the 1954-55 season as the Eastern Hockey League (EHL). The Philadelphia Ramblers would play in the Philadelphia Arena in the EHL for nine seasons. In those nine seasons, they would play in 592 games and compile a record of 258-308-26 record. No data is available for regular season standings and playoffs. The Ramblers would move to Cherry Hill after the 1963-64 season and would be named the Jersey Devils.
In 1967, the NHL decided that they would double the size of the league from six to twelve for the 50th anniversary of the league. Of the six new teams, the Philadelphia Flyers were one of them. Beginning play in the 1967-68 season, they are still active in the NHL, only missing the 2004-05 season, which was canceled due to a lockout. The Flyers were founded by owner Ed Snider, who had the new Spectrum built for the Flyers to play in. The Flyers have played in 4,253 NHL games and have an all-time record of 2,104-1,498-457-194 (W-L-T-OTL). They’ve won two Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975 and have made it to the Finals six other times losing to the Montreal Canadiens in 1976, New York Islanders in 1980, Edmonton Oilers in 1985 and 1987, Detroit Red Wings in 1997, and the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. The Flyers played in the Spectrum from their first season in 1967-68 until the CoreStates Center, now the Wells Fargo Center, was ready for them to play in starting for the 1996-97 season. The Flyers have historically been one of the best franchises in NHL history with the third-best points percentage (.575), only behind the Vegas Golden Knights (.637) and Montreal Canadiens (.586) as of October 13, 2021. Some of the most notable players to play for the Flyers are Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Barber, Eric Lindros, and Claude Giroux.
During the 70s, professional hockey was seeing a rise in viewership and entertainment, and much like how the NBA had the ABA to deal with, the NHL saw a new challenger in the World Hockey Association (WHA). Much like the ABA, the WHA would profit off getting big names to sign by allowing them to play at a younger age, 18 compared to 20 in the NHL, and would try to offer bigger salaries. One team that would start in the WHA was the Miami Screaming Eagles. Before they could even play a game, the team moved to Philadelphia and became the Blazers. The Blazers only played one season in Philadelphia posting a 38-40-0 record in 78 games and lost in the quarterfinals. The team was a disaster. Their coach, John McKenzie (who also was a player), and their two big stars, Bernie Parent and Derick Sanderson, were all injured in the preseason resulting in 20 games being played before McKenzie and Parent were back, and the Blazers lost 16 of those 20 games. Derick Sanderson left the team after only playing eight games due to the controversy of the team not paying him his full salary, which led him to return to the Boston Bruins. The zamboni driver was late for the Blazers’ first home game, and due to bad ice conditions at the Philadelphia Convention Hall and Civic Center, the zamboni cracked the ice, resulting in the game needing to be postponed. After the 1972-73 season, the Blazers relocated to Vancouver.
To capitalize on the popularity of hockey in Philadelphia after the Flyers won their first Cup in 1974, and with the relatively new vacancy at the Philadelphia Convention Hall and Civic Center, the Firebird began to play in the 1974-75 season in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). In the three seasons they played in the NAHL they played in 222 games with a record of 123-93-6. They finished second in the league in their first and third seasons in the NAHL and finished fourth in their second season. Ironically, that second season, 1975-76, would see the Firebirds win the Lockhart Cup. After the NAHL folded. In 1977, the Firebirds moved to the AHL. They played 161 games across two seasons in the AHL with a record of 58-84-19 and only made the playoffs in their first season in the AHL losing in the first round to the Hershey Bears. They would move to Syracuse for the 1979-80 season as the Syracuse Firebirds before that team folded.
After the Flyers left the Spectrum for the CoreStates Center in 1996, a vacancy was left. That would be filled by the Philadelphia Phantoms. With only a parking lot separating the two teams, they would be one of, if not, the closest major and minor league teams in North American sports. In the 13 seasons they played in Philadelphia, the Phantoms had a record of 586-371-65-42 (W-L-T-OTL) in 1,040 games. They would win the Calder Cup in 1998 and then again in 2005, with the help of young players that would be in the NHL had there not been a lockout, such as Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, the prized first-rounders from the 2003 NHL Draft, along with other notable Flyers prospects Patrick Sharp, RJ Umberger, Antero Niittymaki, Joni Pitkanen (who wasn’t exactly a rookie then), Dennis Seidenberg, Neil Little, and Riley Cote. The Phantoms would do quite well, finishing first in their division four times and four more finishes in the top three. Comcast Spectacor sold the team to Brooks Group due to the eventual demolition of the Spectrum. The Phantoms would move to Glenn Falls, NY, and become the Adirondak Phantoms before moving to Allentown, PA to become the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, which was the intent of the Brooks Group when they purchased the team. Aside from the players on that 2004-05 team, other notable players from the Phantoms include Claude Giroux, Pat Maroon, Brian Boucher, Roman Cechmanek, Micheal Leighton, Steve Downie, Rusland Fedetenko, Jim Montgomery, Vinny Prospal, Lucas Sbisa, and Jon Stevens.
By Noah Caplan (@Phlyers24)
photo creds: inquirer.com