Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Hockey Chronicles

Flint Expatriate Jeff Stork recalls his early years on the road with the Flint Generals:

I spent my formative years in a collection of hockey arenas, and it seems like I’ve never been to Toledo when it wasn’t ten-cent beer night.

Let me explain. When I was 14, my father, Robert Stork, formed a consortium with his friends and bought the Flint Generals of the International Hockey League. Dad was the senior partner in Dupuis and Ryden, a respected CPA firm in town. His coworker, Jack De Yonker, was also an investor, along with clients Bernie McAra (son of the late Harry McAra, a Genesee County Circuit judge) and Dr. Eugene Chardoul, current owner of the Generals.

We were all well acquainted with the team, as Dad's firm had been their CPA since inception. We used to meet at the home of Generals founders Frank and Helen Gallagher and walk across Center Road to the arena. Yes, they literally lived across the street. Talk about a short commute.

It was very much a family business for us. My mother, the late Patricia Stork, managed the box office and worked each game night. She truly loved the team and was a hockey fan to her last days. I worked souvenirs in high school, choosing the lucky number winners for each game and managing the inventory of miniature sticks and pucks, which came from Czechoslovakia and cost 23 cents each.

We followed the Generals on the road. As a teenager, my buddy Steve and I were allowed to hop the team bus and ride with the team — pretty cool for a 15 year old —including weekend trips to play the Milwaukee Admirals for back to back series when they joined the IHL. Mom and I also drove to many games, sometimes with friends but often just the two of us.

We made a lot of friends during that time. Doug and Betty Rewbotham and the Wilsons from the Booster Club; Len and Luann Hoyes from the Journal; Pete and Ann Sark from WFDF; and just fans that mom got to know from the box office. John and Mary Andrewski were a retired couple that we saw in every city of the league. Carolyn Kilbury was a devoted fan before she was an employee. It was like an insiders club. There were fans at home games but true fans followed the team on the road, and they were like an extended family.

My dad's proudest hour came in late 1979. He agreed to a fundraiser exhibition game against the struggling U.S. Olympic Team to help them raise money. They spent two days in Flint, touring and preparing for the game. Although they defeated our beloved Generals easily, we all adopted them as our own and cheered them loudly. We felt personal pride when they won the gold in 1980.

For each city, there is something memorable that sticks in my brain.

Muskegon's arena was literally bordering on Lake Michigan. The poor old abandoned S. S. Aquarama was moored outside. The ship became like a landmark to me. It wasn't until years later that I researched her and figured out what she was.

Port Huron was a hell trip on unfinished two-lane M21. The halfway point was a dive called Velma's Road House outside of Capac. The arena didn’t have seats behind the goals, and the announcer was the worst in the league. I called him Mr. Monotone.

Saginaw's arena was attached to a downtown mall, part of a redevelopment plan that had some traction in the mid-seventies. They were the first team I know of to use "Rock and Roll Part II" as their theme song.

Grand Rapids played in an ice arena that started out as a sports venue, became a supermarket, then a theater, then back to an arena. I swore the ice surface was not level.

The Kalamazoo Wings had their act together. They were the Red Wings farm team, and were the best-marketed and best-presented team in the league. Even their Zamboni was better than ours — it had mag wheels.

But I swear, every time we played in Toledo it was ten-cent beer night. Who knows, maybe it’s always ten-cent beer night in Toledo. They'd put on extra window washers to keep the glass relatively clear of spilled brew, slobber, and who knows what else so that the more sober fans could follow the action. After the game, we would all carry a hockey stick so that we could make it to the team bus. Then we'd go to Tony Packos for world famous hot dogs.


  1. I visited L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon and Wendler in Saginaw both following the Generals, and had the opportunity to play in Port Huron's McMorran Arena. McMorran was only 180 feet long or so, 20 short of the 200 foot standard. A bizarre quirk involved penalties and goals having to be phoned in to the announcer. This lead to potential wacky hi-jinks galore.

    All three are great semi-decrepit barns, but they sure ain't the I.M.A. I always relished the feeling of anticipation sturting down the concrete tunnel, bag over shoulder below the stands to locker rooms E-H. Arena II was alright, but a game in Arena I was big time.

    Any Expat hockey players out there with recollections of Whaley, Broome (Lincoln), Kennedy Center, or Memorial Park?

  2. Only been to Toledo once, but whatta city!! A seedier version of GR. Their IHL mascot was the "Goaldiggers"!!! Methinks the Generals nabbed Jim Edgerton (or was it John Veccharialli?) from them who along with Tony Fiore brought the Turner Cup to the Buick City in '84. Ignore the Gears affiliation and hail Dennis Desrosiers!!

    Steve Penney and Rick Knickle early were a awesome early 80s goaltending tandem akin to 1996's Andrei Mezin/Chris Gordon platoon. Ya can't imagine the pride I felt as a lad seeing Steve Penney suit up for the Canadians on CBC Windsor 9.

    Speaking of hockey on UHF, I seem to recall a Generals game being broadcast on WJRT sometime in the late 70s early 80s. True?

  3. Smurf-

    True. Late 70's, I am thinking playoff series of 77 or 78. Ed Phelps announcing and commentary by Doug Manchak, IIRC

    Good days.

  4. I spent much of my teen years at the IMA Ice Arena, as my dad, Dick Powers was very involved in getting the Generals to Flint. I remember Frank Gallagher visiting my dad in the hospital to talk about the Generals coming to Flint. My siblings and I worked the concession stands during the hockey games; and after the games pizza at Bob Periani's Pizza place was a regular occurance. What a great time that was!

  5. yeah, toledo...god, what a p***-bucket of a city. had to drive there 2x's a wk while working for serra's. Damn horrible shame the Aquarama went to pot. I think cruises on the lakes would be a draw nowadays, eh? wonder why UberGuber's little minions haven't jumped on it? I've been looking for an excuse to take the Badger across the Lake for a couple of years now...Also, why isn't their more of a sports diving industry here? There are at least 100-200 wrecks that are diveable out in front of my house alone!
    Where there any public functions held at the Burroughs mansion, back in the 50's, 60's? the place looks very familiar, though I doubt I've ever been inside...

  6. hey GY-
    maybe we can convince williamson to hold drag QUEEN races instead! nobody gets hurt, it's a cultural event, no fossil fuels to ruin the health of spectators and drivers or run out in a couple of weeks, and they sure won't break any windows on Chevie ave., eh? I know I'd go see that before I'd go get run over by some kid w/too much thrust under his ass!

  7. @Smurfs -- Being a former GFHA player I skated many, many Saturday mornings at all of the outdoor rinks. Memorial Park downtown was fantastic. No dressing rooms, just a big room to get dressed in always with a huge fire going. It was a very small rink with no fencing around the boards. We used to rent it with a couple of buddies for around $40 an hour well into the mid 90s.

    Whaley was probably the best. Drop in hockey after 8:00 for $3. We could play as long as they would stick around. Plus we would always go to Angelo's afterword.

    Broome was the worst. Since the it was right in the middle of the park there was never anything to stop the wind. We would have to play the games in half so that it would be fair that both teams skated into the wind an equal amount of time.

  8. You forgot about the "suicide seats" in Port Huron, along the catwalk that was about 12 feet above the ice and almost directly above the glass at the end of the rink. They had a row of folding chairs and, while they gave you a great view--looking almost straight down on the end of the ice surface, they were so close that you were in great danger of a puck clobbering you--either as it sailed over the glass OR on the rebound off the concrete wall just a few feet behind you.

    I loved going to the big arena in Ft. Wayne, thinking about how our Detroit Pistons used to play their NBA games there. I have been there in recent years--it holds a couple of thousand more people as they put in new rows of seats by, literally, raising the roof up higher. It's almost a major-league arena these days.


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