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Team and League History


Prologue
This franchise was previously known as the Birmingham South Stars, who played one season in the Central Hockey League in 1982-83.
 
Birmingham South Stars logo
 
July 6, 1983
It is announced that the team's President, Mike McClure, would be traveling to Winston-Salem to discuss the possibility of moving the team to the Atlantic Coast Hockey League. "We're not counting out the Central League. Yet we know, budget-wise, the only way to go economically is the ACHL," McClure said. According to Central Hockey League President Bud Poile, there is a possibility Birmingham could return to the CHL but the latest that decision could be made would be July 26th.

      Atlantic Coast Hockey League logo
   
Compounding the problem is the National Hockey League's Minnesota North Stars have pulled their support from Birmingham, due to poor attendance. The North Stars are in talks with the CHL about taking over the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, who are in limbo due to an ownership dispute. If the North Stars decide to support the Golden Eagles, the South Stars will try and talk to the NHL's St. Louis Blues about buying the team.

Both McClure and Poile admit the South Stars' chances of staying in the CHL are doubtful due to the distance Birmingham is from the other teams. The franchise layout in the ACHL would lower Birmingham's travel costs considerably. Also, the break-even point in the ACHL is 2,000 fans per game, as opposed to 3,000 in the CHL.

All teams in the ACHL are independent, which means they have no NHL parent club to support them with money and players. With the wealth of retired hockey players from past Birmingham teams, this should pose no problem. "Of course, the caliber is not going to be what the Central League was," McClure said.

The ACHL is the former Eastern Hockey League, which folded in 1981. To take its place, the EHL owners formed the ACHL. With only five teams last year, the league looks to grow to ten or more teams before the next season starts. "The league at this point is looking tremendous, and we'd love to have Birmingham in our league for a number of reasons," said Rick Dudley, owner of the ACHL's Carolina Thunderbirds. Dudley is also in charge of the ACHL's expansion plans.

August 3, 1983

It is announced that South Stars head coach Gene Ubriaco, last season's CHL Coach of the Year, has been named head coach of the American Hockey League's Boston Skipjacks.

August 13, 1983
McClure says the team has lost the battle for the right to use the nickname South Stars and will instead call themselves the Birmingham Bulls.

McClure also said that the future of the Bulls depended on their rental contract with the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. "There isn't much we can do until we have a lease arrangement. We're within the same universe on terms. They are concerned with the cost of keeping ice in there, and we're concerned with keeping our costs at a minimum. If hockey draws a decent number of people, we can both benefit. I still believe hockey can make it in Birmingham. If I didn't, I wouldn't be going to all this bother. The sport has been unstable since the World Hockey Association ended. What hockey needs in this city is one year on the books without aggravation," McClure said.

      Photograph
  Head coach Dave Hanson
   
Coliseum director Casey Jones is also hopeful an agreement can be worked out. "We'd love to have hockey back. But there are certain costs we have to cover. People don't understand how expensive it is to keep ice on the floor. It costs us $400 a day to keep ice down. It's an expensive procedure. We got all our money from the hockey team last year. We want hockey," Jones said.

September 12, 1983
McClure officially announces there will be a hockey team in Birmingham and it will play in the ACHL. "This is the Atlantic Coast League's fourth year, and it has made strides every year. The quality of play is going to surprise a lot of people. Actually, it may be better than the Central Hockey League. The CHL is strictly a developmental league. The Atlantic Coast League is not restricted to young players. We're expecting good hockey. This time, with the lower travel budget, the numbers look much better. We need about 2,200 fans to break even. I think we can get that. With the players we'll have, everything makes more sense than before."

McClure also named Dave Hanson as the Bulls head coach. Hanson, who is only 29, has no prior experience as a head coach. He played with last years CHL champions, the Indianapolis Checkers. He is also a former Birmingham Bulls player. "I've been interested in coaching for a while now. Glen (Sonmor, former Birmingham Bulls head coach) told me once he thought I had the character for it. I think this is a good opportunity for me to start. Birmingham is my home, and that makes it even better. I know what it takes to win. I've played on a lot of winners," Hanson said.

Hanson might be best known for two reasons other than his play. In 1977 he was cast as "Jack Hanson", one of three fictitious Hanson brothers who were teammates of Paul Newman in the film "Slap Shot". The other two Hanson brothers were real-life brothers Steve and Jeff Carlson. After the film, the Hanson brothers were wildly popular with fans and the three continue to make public appearances as their characters.

The second reason is Hanson pulled Winnipeg Jets star Bobby Hull's famous toupee off during a fight. Tensions were running high during the playoff game on April 14, 1978, but after the fight Hanson apologized. Hull reportedly replied, Its OK kid, I needed a new one anyway." For his transgression, Hanson received a 7 minute penalty in the game and numerous threats from Jets fans after the game.
     
Photograph  xxx Photograph 
Dave Hanson (far left) in scene from "Slap Shot"   Dave Hanson (second from left) and Bobby Hull
(being held by referee) looking for Hull's toupee
     
 October 1983
 
1983-84
  Atlantic Coast Hockey League   
    Birmingham Bulls
    Carolina Thunderbirds
    Erie Golden Blades
    Mohawk Valley Stars
    Nashville South Stars
    Pinebridge Bucks
  xxx   xxx   xxx   xxx  
                 
Birmingham Bulls logo    Carolina Thunderbirds logo    Erie Golden Blades logo    Mohawk Valley Stars logo   Nashville South Stars logo
Birmingham Bulls   Carolina Thunderbirds   Erie Golden Blades
Champion
  Mohawk Valley Stars   Nashville South Stars
                  
Pinebridge Bucks logo                
Pinebridge Bucks                
                 
October 14, 1983
McClure announces that due to delays in finalizing the team's finances, the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Board has evicted the Bulls from their offices in the Coliseum. The Bulls will not be allowed to use their offices until they pay the $50,000 Coliseum rental fee. Also, there has been no ice put down for the team to practice on.

"We have a commitment for the money, but it is taking a while for our backer to complete arrangements. The Civic Center's Board's decision is to keep us out until the money is in their hands. At the moment, we don't have it," McClure said.

Jones replied, "The contract they signed required a $50,000 deposit delivered by September 30. They didn't do it. They kept saying they'd have the money on Monday. Then it was going to be Wednesday. An accountant (for the unnamed major investor) called and said the earliest would be Friday. Now they say it might be ten more days. After the problems of last year, the Board simply said, 'put up the deposit and you can move in'. And that's where it stands. We're ready. We want hockey. Hockey has been good to us in the six years we've had it."

October 16, 1983
McClure addresses the team's future by saying, "The league is getting concerned now. They want to know what we're going to do. Frankly, I don't have an answer for them. We can open on the road if we have to. We might be forced into playing some home games somewhere else. I just want to get the money and get started. I believe we can make hockey be successful if we can just get it going."

If financing is not found soon, the Bulls could be forced to play their first few home games at their practice facility, the Oxmoor Ice Lodge, or possibly in the city of Huntsville.

October 18, 1983
The ACHL informs the Bulls that their deadline to obtain proper financing is the 19th. "I have one last guy. He's not looking at profit or loss, but what the hockey team can mean to the city. He wants to do it emotionally but realizes there are better ways to invest his money. I won't give up. The sad part is Dave is putting a good team together. The rest of the league is (asking) 'How can he do that?' But the rest of the league is solid, and doesn't want something on a maybe basis. The league is in a bind, and I understand that. They have to know something Wednesday (tomorrow). The Coliseum Board won't wait. Recalling the things that have happened - WFL, Central Hockey League team folding and the indoor soccer team that was supposed to be here - they want their money up front," McClure said.

October 19, 1983
The ACHL decides to give the Bulls another day to gain financing. "We had a conference call meeting with the league and they gave us until noon (tomorrow) to get our financing together. I believe hockey is good for the city. It would be a blow if it disappeared from the sports scene. I would think it'd be a great blow," Hanson said.

ACHL officials have reportedly told city leaders in Syracuse, NY that the Bulls could possibly move there before the regular season begins in a few days. The league is also considering two Virginia cities, Salem and Roanoke.

Edmund Ricco, assistant executive director of the BJCC, wants the Bulls to stay. "Hockey has been good to us in the past. We're just waiting for the money. Everybody is ready to move on our end."

Even if the Bulls find the money, the first game might need to be postponed because the ice isn't ready for play.

"It's very frustrating. I've got an excellent an exciting hockey team, a good group of fellows that want to play hockey in Birmingham. We've been let down so many times," Hanson said.

October 20, 1983
McClure announces he has obtained the necessary funding for the team. Discussions lasted for two and a half hours past the league's deadline, however. An anonymous investor has agreed to post the $50,000 deposit required by the Coliseum Board. Due to the late agreement, no ice has been put down and the Bulls will have to reschedule their home opener until next week.

"Dave and I were in meetings all day and finally got everything resolved. We're very happy with the financial support we're going to have for years to come. We just have to take what we have and do a considerable marketing and promotional job and be very visible in the community. We have to recreate the enthusiasm that was here before when John Bassett first brought hockey to Birmingham," McClure said.

McClure refused to name the team's investor saying, "He wants to remain behind the scene, and that's how it is."

McClue had been looking hard at moving the Bulls to Syracuse, but the Onondaga County War Memorial arena was too booked up to allow for any hockey games. Peter Napier, War Memorial's general manager, said they had only a few dates available but they also weren't looking to inherit someone else's trouble. "We're interested in bringing hockey in here, but we're being sure nobody comes in here on a shoestring expecting us to bail them out."

October 25, 1983
The unidentified backer has suddenly recalled his $50,000 deposit, leaving the Bulls future in doubt. McClure blamed a newspaper article for the change of heart. "He feels he was being made to look like a fool. We are back to square one, looking for another backer. We have two people who are willing to go into partnership with our original backer. That is, they'll put up half the money if he'll come back and put up the other half."

ACHL Commissioner Ray Miron is in town and is involved with the negotiations.

The Mohawk Valley Stars are also in town, waiting to see if they will have an opponent to play against the Bulls.

October 26, 1983
The league will give the Bulls until the end of the week to obtain their financing or they will be forced to shut them down. McClure is optimistic and said they "had a couple more investors agree to share some of the load."

"The league decided today to let them play three games and see what happens. We need more time. It could have come to the point where we said, "We haven't got it solved, so that's it.' But we'd like to have Birmingham in the league. It's a big a city, with the best building in the league. We can't just say 'Forget it.' Birmingham has had some good years in hockey, some not so good. I thought we would like to give it a chance. However, if I thought there'd be only three games played, I'd never have let them play a game," Miron said.

October 28, 1983
Miron announces that the ACHL has officially suspended operations of the Birmingham Bulls franchise due to their inability to obtain proper financing. Miron said the club's failure left the league with no alternative.

Randy Van Meter, league president and Nashville South Stars owner, said the league wanted to take swift action. "We wanted to nip this in the bud before things got out of hand. Birmingham would have operated on a day-by-day thing and I don't know if they would have made it through the season. I hate to see them go. They were our closest rival and shortest road trip."

A last-ditch effort was made last night when Birmingham Stallions owner Marvin Warner was approached. "I was contacted. I feel very badly about the situation. But the Stallions are a very important enterprise, and the limited time I have to devote in this area must be toward the Stallions. I hate to see anything leave Birmingham. It's unfortunate. Were we further along ourselves, we might be in a position to help."

Another rumored prospect, Thomas Falls, owner of a local janitorial service, withdrew yesterday.

McClure still refused to name any potential investors. "I'd just rather not get into it. I'll take the blame. I just regret, due to our inability to get the proper financial support that we have no choice but to suspend operations."

Miron said the Bulls never posted their performance bond of $20,000 or their $5,000 franchise fee.

October 29, 1983
Hanson says the Bulls had even tried to contact actor Paul Newman at the last minute to test his interest in financing the team. A few years ago, Hanson played a minor role in the movie "Slapshot", which starred  Newman as the fictional team's head coach. "Yeah, we attempted to contact Paul. I got to know him when we shot the movie in Johnstown, PA, and he's a great guy. He just might have gone for it," Hanson said. However, Newman could not be reached before the ACHL suspended the team's operation.

McClure blamed a large part of the team's failure on the cost to keep ice frozen in the Coliseum. "It's a major-league building, and the financial demands are too great for minor-league hockey," McClure said.

Epilogue
Many local hockey fans thought the sport would be gone forever in Birmingham. But that would not be the case.

In 1993 Art Clarkson purchased the East Coast Hockey League's Cincinnati Cyclones franchise and moved it to Birmingham. As an homage to the hockey teams of the past, Clarkson named his team the Birmingham Bulls.
 
 
 
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Last update: June 03, 2019