The History of Milwaukee Hockey

This article appeared in the October 1980 issue of Hockey Exchange.

Last year, the Milwaukee Admirals celebrated their 10th anniversary. Frank Mazzocco, Admirals Director of Communications, looks at the teams, the people and the events that preceded the creation of the Admirals.

Any birthday, anniversary or milestone gives cause for celebration. In a society where even change itself is changing at rapidly increasing rates a 10th anniversary is of special significance. Given the on again, off again history of hockey in Milwaukee, the 10th anniversary of the Admirals is a landmark – a remarkable accomplishment.

The Public Library reports that the Schlitz Polo Club gave the city its first look at hockey during a demonstration staged on the Milwaukee River in 1887. The first organized games were played some 30 years later by the Milwaukee Drueckers, a team founded by Robert Pierre Druecker. The team made its home at Gordon Park Locust Street and Milwaukee River. Judging that the sport was catching on, Druecker built the 5,000 seat Castle Ice Gardens for $300,000 at 35th and Wells. Both the hockey team and the Gardens folded shortly after the facility was opened in 1926. (The building is now being used by the Wisconsin Telephone Company.) The Drueckers played as amateurs from 1918 to 1922 and for four seasons as professionals from 1922–26.

In the late 1930s, the Luick Dairy Company sponsored a semi-pro team that had many former college players. In their five-year history, the Luicks faced teams from Chicago, Detroit, Muskegon, Wausau, Eagle River and Waukegan. One member of that squad was John Dunn, now the captain of minor officials at all Admirals games. Dunn, who also played with the Drueckers, is a member of the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame.

No team saw the start of their third season until the Admirals

Organized hockey returned to Milwaukee after World War II with a parade of teams, none of which saw the start of their third season until the Admirals. The first of four International Hockey League teams in Milwaukee was sponsored by the Clark Oil Company. The Clarks played at the old Coliseum at State Fair Park. They lasted only one season (1948–49) and finished third in the South Division with a 16-15-1 record. In the playoffs, the Clarks won the best of seven opening round, 4-2 over the Louisville (Ky.) Blades. They just missed the advancing to the league playoff championship when they were defeated by the Toledo Mercurys in a two-game total-goal series 9-7. In that year, the Clarks Alf “Red” Carr, Sandy Air and Ralph Warburton were among the top scorers in the division.

In 1950, the Seagulls had a brief life, playing in what has since become known as the United States Hockey League (then the American Hockey League). The Seagulls, the first team to play hockey at the Arena were a farm team of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Chiefs had the league’s leading scorer in Alex Irving

Milwaukee had its second try in the IHL with the Chiefs from 1952–54. In the first season (52-53) the Chiefs finished sixth out of six teams in the circuit (15-42-3) but had the league’s leading scorer in Alex Irving. Irving piled up 103 points (46 goals, 57 assists) in just 59 games. He was joined by two other Chiefs in the top ten Don Poile (76 points) and Rod McElroy (73 points).

When the league expanded to a nine team, single division format in 1953–54, the Chiefs finished ninth. They had a 13-48 record and no one was among the top ten scorers. It was their last season.

The Falcons became the third IHL team in Milwaukee folding early in their second term. The team played most of their games at the Coliseum in their first season (1959-60). They finished third out of four teams and did not make the playoffs. The Falcons suspended operations the following season on November 26, 1960 with a 1-15-1 record.

The Metros were not as fortunate as the Falcons and did not finish their first year in the United States Central Hockey League (another forerunner of the USHL). Former Admiral General Manager and defenseman Barney Loomis, a West Allis native, was a member of that team in 1961. Goal judge Paul Dowd who works the Admirals games today was also on that squad.

It was nearly a decade later before the sport strained its head above water (or ice). A new rink in town at Wilson Park attracted players from northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Unknowingly they were the foundation of a team that would become the Admirals and make hockey history in Milwaukee.

A new rink attracted the Wings

The list of hockey franchises in the city of Milwaukee had grown long by the time a group f men, mainly from Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula, arrived in town to begin playing at a newly built indoor arena. Some of the first team shad moderate success. Many had none at all. The following is a rundown of the seven teams that gave Milwaukee its hockey foundation.

Team                              Years                    League

Drueckers                              1918–1922                   Amatuer

Drueckers                              1922–1926                   Professional

Luicks                                     Late 1930s                   Semi-pro

Clarks                                     1948–49                       International (IHL)

Seagulls                                 1950                             American (now USHL)

Chiefs                                     1952–54                       International (IHL)

Falcons                                   1959–60                       International (IHL)

Metros                                     1961                             US Central (now USHL)

In the fall of 1969, the county opened the Wilson Park Recreation Center, with a 2100 seat hockey arena. The rink needed a team and the group of players from the north needed a home. On January 24, 1970, the Milwaukee Wings were formed, led by General Manager Warren Fansher and Coach Paul Dowd. In an abbreviated 15 game season, the team won 8 and lost 7.

The Wings became Admirals

To undertake another season of hockey the team had to be restructured financially, and two Milwaukee businessmen stepped forward. They were William Chimo of Badger Outdoor Advertising and Erwin Merar, the Admirals appliance distributer for the state of Wisconsin. With the reorganization, the Wings became the Admirals.

They were classified as a Senior Intermediate team and in that first season (1970–71) opted not to join any established league, specially the Wisconsin State League. In order to provide a more attractive list of opponents for the fans, they played an independent schedule. Their earliest opponents included the Detroit Oak Leafs, St. Paul Parkers, St. Paul Johnny Whites and the Calumet Wolverines.

Fansher, a native of Stambaugh, in Michigan Upper Peninsula, stayed on to become the club’s first general manager. The Admirals first coach, John Chandik, was an all-American goalender at Michigan State. Chandik became a Milwaukee TV meteorologist and is now working in Green Bay. Those first Admirals played F.L.O. (For Love Only). They included a draftsman, a railroad engineer, two teachers and three civil engineers. Yet, they played a 24 game schedule and worked out twice a week.

Among those on the first roster were goaltender Don Signoretti , Milwaukeean Bill Marsh, Roy Salmela, Norn Rand, Chuck and Dale Kennedy (no relation), Paul Dowd, Duke Nettle, Tony Scozzfave, Tim Janoska, a West Allis goalie, and Jim “Beaver” Lowney.

Others who played that first season were Barney Loomis and Sandy McAndrew. Loomis, a West Allis native had starred for the amateur West Allis Flyers. He later became the Admirals general manger for five seasons (1971–76). McAndrew was the Admirals all time leading scorer for several seasons. Wire service reporter Chris Peppas once described both men as “immortals” in the minds of Admirals fans.

The Admirals first game on November 8, 1970 was a benefit for youngsters in the Southeastern Hockey Association. The Admirals were charitable that night in bowing to the Rockton, Ilinois Cardinals 13-2. Three days later a news conference was held to formally announce the formation of the team, which played its first regular game on November 14.

A crowd estimated at 1600 was on hand at Wilson Park to see the Admirals defeat the Madison Hawks 7-4. Records from that era are sketchy but it appears likely that Scozzfave scored the first Admiral goal. Signoretti registered 47 saves while Dale Kennedy and McAndrew each scored twice that night. McAndrew went on be the Admirals leading scorer.

The first Admirals sailed to a 16-7-1 record capturing the championship of the first Milwaukee Invitational tournament. After defeating the Chicago Chargers 16-3, the Admirals downed Madison 8-4 for the crown.

The year was a good one for Milwaukee hockey. Attendance figures were encouraging. The franchise was on its feet. Paced by Chimo’s leadership, there was no air of confidence about the organization. In 1971–72, the team elected again to play as an independent despite getting an invitation from the United States Hockey League to join that circuit.

Eventually, the Admirals joined the USH, became league champions and advanced to the International Hockey League.

Updates

The author Frank Mazzocco moved to the Twin Cities and became the radio voice of the Minnesota Gopher hockey team. Today, he runs a photography business and continues to broadcast Gopher hockey.

The Milwaukee Admirals moved from Wilson Park to the Milwaukee Arena and eventually into the Bradley Center. The team plays in the American Hockey League and is an affiliate of the NHL Nashville Predators. For the 2016–2017 season, the Admirals will return to the Milwaukee arena for its games as the Bradley Center will no longer be available.