Albany Choppers

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Albany Choppers
Albany Choppers
Founded 1990
Home ice Knickerbocker Arena
Based in Albany, New York
Colors Blue, red and white
League International Hockey League
Captain Dale Henry

The Albany Choppers was an independent professional ice hockey team competing in the International Hockey League during the 1990–1991 season. The franchise originally existed as the Fort Wayne Komets, whose owner, David Welker, opted to move his franchise to Albany, New York and its brand-new Knickerbocker Arena, a major league caliber facility, during the IHL's period of nationwide expansion. It had the regional Price Chopper supermarket chain as a major investor—hence the name and colors of red, white and blue in Price Chopper's corporate hues.[1]

Among players for the Choppers were goaltenders Rick Knickle, former St. Louis Blue Bruce Racine and former Boston Bruin John Blue; former New York Islander and team captain Dale Henry, former Minnesota North Star Dave Richter, and Mario Lemieux's brother, center Alain Lemieux, who was the team's leading scorer until he was traded for cash. A large number of players were ex-Springfield Indians, including Henry, Lemieux, forwards Stu Burnie, Bob Bodak and Jim McGeough, and defensemen Vern Smith, Manny Vivieros and Gord Paddock.

The team began play in the 1990–91 season, but ran into a major roadblock. It was the IHL's first foray east of its traditional Great Lakes stronghold, and fearing the competition, the entrenched American Hockey League rushed an expansion team just across the Hudson in neighboring Troy, the Capital District Islanders. Not in recent history have so many minor league teams been crammed into such a small market—the established Adirondack Red Wings were less than fifty miles north in Glens Falls, and the perennial college hockey powerhouse RPI Engineers played in Troy—and all suffered at the gate through the subsequent price wars (although RPI benefited from having the Capital District Islanders as a tenant).[1]

An expansion team without an NHL affiliation, the Choppers suffered worst, and as they became a last place team, attendance plummeted; for numerous games attendance in the cavernous 'Knick' was no more than a few hundred fans. After local media reported attendance figures at odds with the ones management was reporting (by physically counting heads), the team ceased to report attendance altogether, while giving season tickets away outright.[2]

As it was, the team hemorrhaged funds, held back by the costliest travel budget in the IHL, payrolls were not met, and supplies became dear. One notorious incident came during an overtime game against the new Fort Wayne Komets (Welker's franchise had been replaced by the relocated Flint Spirits team), when Jim McGeough was sent out for the final shot in a shootout because he had the only sound hockey stick remaining on the bench.[2]

The Choppers folded due to lack of funds on February 15, 1991;[1] the Capital District Islanders promptly honored all Choppers season tickets in an attempt to boost their own attendance. Somewhat ironically, Henry, Knickle and Vivieros finished the season back in Springfield, where they helped the Indians to their final Calder Cup championship, while leading goal scorer Yves Héroux would move to the Peoria Rivermen and prove key in their own Turner Cup championship in that same season against the Komets, the team with whom Burnie signed. Lemieux, Burnie and Richter retired after the season. Defenseman Scott Drevitch was the final Chopper active in professional hockey, playing for the Elmira Jackals of the United Hockey League in the 2006–2007 season.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Mancuso, Jim (2006). Hockey in the Capital District. Images of Sports. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 25. ISBN 0-7385-4467-1. Retrieved 2011-11-29. 
  2. ^ a b Miller, Chuck (April 1996). "Like Trying to Build a Skyscraper Out of Chopsticks". Hockey Digest.