The standard history of hockey talks about the “Founding Teams” of the National Hockey League and then “The Original Six”.
Beyond Montreal, Toronto, New York, Chicago, Boston and Detroit, we wondered, what our North America’s oldest professional hockey teams.
We found that the oldest franchise was that which now plays in Hartford and calls itself the Wolf Pack, an American Hockey League affiliate of the New York Rangers.
The club moved to Hartford from Binghamton, New York after the 1996-97 following the removal of the Hartford Whalers to Raleigh, North Carolina where they became known as the Carolina Hurricanes. In Binghamton since the 1970’s the team was varioulsy known as the Dusters, the Wahlers and the Rangers. It was as a Ranger farm club that the team left Central New York State for Connecticut.
But few are aware that this franchise was initially started in 1926 as the Providence Reds. Ther are wonderful stories to be told about the FReds, and we will save that for another time.
But for those who keep records of such things, this franchise has been existence since the 1920’s first in Providence (at the nd of their stay there as teh Rhose Island Reds) until 1975-76, after which they went on to Binghamton and Hartford.
The longest continuous professional franchise (other than the original six) is the Hershey Bears. In 1932 Milton S. Hershey established the “Hershey Hockey Club” to manage pro hockey teams based in Hershey which since then has operated four different teams in three pro leagues including the AHL Bears. Now in its ninth decade, it is the seventh-oldest professional ice hockey organization in North America to have continuously iced professional teams in the same city without interruption after only the NHL’s “Original Six” clubs in Montreal, Toronto, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Detroit which were all established in or before 1926.
The history of Hershey hockey goes back to a series of amateur hockey matches played in Hershey between college teams beginning in early 1931. The first such formal hockey game ever played in Hershey took place on February 18, 1931, when Penn A.C. and Villanova University faced off in the 1,900-seat Hershey Ice Palace. Nine months after that successful inaugural contest, Swarthmore Athletic Club moved into the Ice Palace, where they played their first game on November 19, 1931, against Crescent A.C. of New York City. In the lineup that night for Crescent was a 23-year-old center named Lloyd S. Blinco, a native of Grand Mere, Quebec, who came to Hershey the next season and would remain continuously associated with Hershey hockey for a half century as a player, coach, and manager.
The popularity of these amateur hockey matches prompted chocolate-maker and amusement park-operator Milton Hershey and his long-time entertainment and amusements chief, John B. Sollenberger, to bring pro hockey to Hershey by sponsoring a permanent team. To that end Mr. Hershey established the “Hershey Hockey Club” in 1932 as a hockey management organization to operate the Hershey B’ars in the newly formed Tri-State Hockey League which included three other teams from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Atlantic City. After a single season in 1932-33, that circuit reformed itself into a larger, seven-club Eastern Amateur Hockey League in which Hershey played first as the “Chocolate B’ars” (1933–1934), then again as the “B’ars” (1934–1936), and finally from 1936 to 1938 as the “Hershey Bears,” a name adopted in response to criticism levied by New York sportswriters and the league that the “B’ars” moniker was too commercial. (These writers had already informally dubbed the club as the “Bears from Penn’s Woods” when they visited Madison Square Garden to play the New York Rovers.)
On December 19, 1936, the newly renamed EAHL Bears also moved from the confines of the Ice Palace (where they had to play on a small, 60×170-foot rink) into the newly constructed 7,286-seat Hersheypark Arena (then known as the “Hershey Sports Arena”) built immediately adjacent to the older venue. Over the next sixty-six seasons, Bears’ teams played a total of 2,280 EAHL and AHL regular season and playoff games at the Hersheypark Arena which served as the home to hockey in Hershey from 1936 to 2002. Since 2002 the AHL Bears have used Hersheypark Arena as their practice arena only.
On June 28, 1938 the then just formed International-American Hockey League (renamed American Hockey League in 1940) granted a franchise to the Hershey Bears Hockey Club which at the time still owned and operated the EAHL Hershey Bears, the then three-time regular season champions of that league. In joining the nascent I-AHL, which had just been formally established that same day with the consolidation of seven existing teams from two smaller disbanding leagues, the Bears became the eighth member club needed to fill out the new circuit. (While the new Bears began play in the I-AHL in 1938, the hockey club also continued to operate an EAHL team, the Hershey Cubs, for one more season before leaving that league altogether.)
As mentioned above, in 1977 Hershey became the only original AHL hockey club to have continuously iced a team in the same city since the league’s 1938-39 inaugural season when Providence’s franchise was sold and moved to New York state as the Binghamton Dusters after the 1976-77 campaign.Share