CLEVELAND LUMBERJACKS - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
The CLEVELAND LUMBERJACKS of the Intl. Hockey League returned professional hockey to the city after a hiatus of 14 years when Larry D. Gordon moved his Muskegon Michigan Lumberjacks to Cleveland in 1992. Lured by the prospect of playing in the GATEWAY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CORP. arena, then under construction, Gordon agreed to play Lumberjack games at the Richfield Coliseum for the 1992-93 and 1993-94 seasons. The team, a member of the IHL's Atlantic conference, is a minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins. At the end of their first (1992-93) season in Cleveland, the Lumberjacks, coached by Phil Russell, had scored a total of 87 points, which ranked them 7th in the 12-team league. They lost 4 straight games to the Fort Wayne Komets in the Turner Cup playoffs. The club, however, averaged 5,211 fans per game and made a profit. Rick Paterson was installed as head coach for the 1993-94 season. The Lumberjacks began play at Gateway's Gund Arena in downtown Cleveland in the fall of 1994. At the end of the 1994-95 season, the Lumberjacks were last in the Northern Division of the IHL with a 34-37-10 record, although they once again made the IHL playoffs. In 41 home dates at the Gund arena, the Lumberjacks drew about 8,500 fans per game, for a season attendance total of 351,223. The team was contracted with the Penguins through the 1998 season.
Following the 1996-1997 season in which the team lost the Eastern Conference title series to the Detroit Vipers 4-1, the Lumberjacks' twelve year affiliation with the Pittsburgh Penguins ended. The Lumberjacks functioned as an independent organization free to contract with various NHL organizations for the 1997-1998 season. This change resulted in a turnover in the coaching staff as Perry Ganchar replaced Rick Patterson as head coach. The Jacks' independent status lasted a year until a new affiliation agreement for the 1998-1999 season was reached with the NHL's Tampa Bay Lighting. After the Lightning was purchased by William Davidson, owner of the IHL's Detroit Vipers, the team bought out the second year of its two year contract and dropped its ties with the Lumberjacks. The Jacks signed a new agreement with the Chicago Blackhawks for the 1999-2000 season and went all the way to the semi-finals of the IHL's Turner Cup playoffs before losing to the Grand Rapids Griffins 4-2 in their best of seven series. During the season the Lumberjacks Jock Callander broke the IHL record for career points. Callander retired at the close of the year after 18 pro seasons (15 with the Lumberjacks) with 1,402 career points. The Lumberjacks retired his number (15) in November, 2000.
Between the 2000-2001 season, the team once again switched affiliations - signing an agreement with an NHL expansion team - the Minnesota Wild. Larry Gordon also sold the Lumberjacks to Cleveland Businessman Hank Kassigkeit for a reported $4 million dollars. The Wild hired a new coach, Todd McLellan, and hired Callander as an assistant coach. , Kassigkeit failed to secure a television or radio contract for the teams games and came close to folding the franchise midway through his first season. Having five different affiliations over four years seriously damaged fans attachment to the team. Average attendance dropped to a league low: 4,227. IHL President Doug Moss sued Kassigkeit to prevent him from shutting down operations and took control of the franchise in February, 2001. Despite these difficulties, the team made it to the playoffs - losing in the first round to Grand Rapids. At the close of the 2000-2001 season, the Intl. Hockey League ceased operations, bring an end to the Lumberjacks franchise, as well as the franchises from Detroit (Vipers), Cincinnati (Cyclones), Kansas City (Blades) and Orlando (Solar Bears). Six other teams-the Chicago Wolves, Grand Rapids Griffins, Houston Aeros, Manitoba Moose, Milwaukee Admirals and Utah Grizzlies-joined the American Hockey League.
Phil Stamp, ed., with Stewart Roberts, "A to Z Encyclopaedia of Ice Hockey," © 1998-2002, <http://www.azhockey.com/index.html> (23 September 2002)Last Modified: 04 Oct 2002 08:12:02 PM
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