Professional Hockey in Philadelphia: A History

By Alan Bass · Oct 4, 2020 · Updated Oct 4, 2020
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  1. Alan Bass
    Philadelphia has been a hockey town since 1897. Before and even during the Philadelphia Flyers' tenure, other teams--the Ramblers, the Quakers and the Firebirds, among others--called the city home, for better or for worse. The first of its kind, this comprehensive history covers the teams and players that graced the ice from the turn of the 20th century through the 2009 demise of the Philadelphia Phantoms. Offering something for every hockey history fan, each chapter focuses on one of the teams that played in the City of Brotherly Love. The book starts in the 1890s, when hockey was first introduced to Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania, culminating in the construction of the city’s first professional hockey arena in the 1920s. The narrative continues with the Arrows, the first bona-fide professional team to play in the city, as members of the Canadian-American League. In those first few years, Philadelphia saw multiple hockey teams call the city home, including their first foray into the NHL with the lowly Quakers. Those Quakers set a record for futility that still stands today, with the fewest wins in an NHL season.

    The city’s hockey history makes a turn for the better in the 1930s with the American League’s Ramblers, a farm team of the Rangers, who earned Philadelphia’s first professional hockey championship. Unfortunately, the Rangers eventually shut down the successful squad, leading to a string of homegrown entries into the AHL and the Eastern League, most of which were less than successful, to put it kindly.

    That led to the Philadelphia Ramblers of the EHL, the longest-tenured Philadelphia team before the Flyers took the ice in 1967. And the Flyers chapter discusses the generally-untold story of Ed Snider and Jerry Wolman, their partnership in starting the Flyers, and their ultimate breakup just as the Flyers prepared to play their home opener in the old Spectrum.

    The book continues with chapters on the World Hockey Association’s Blazers, the North American League’s Firebirds, and the AHL’s Phantoms, all of which had illustrious characters and entertaining stories throughout their tenures in the city. The Blazers were a fun, if not disastrous season of Philadelphia hockey history, with some of the more outrageous hockey characters that have graced the city. The Firebirds chapter will come of particular interest to the many fans of Slap Shot and the associated leagues. The movie crew actually followed the Firebirds around for part of a season to garner research for the film – and the stories within the chapter sound like they were written especially for the movie. And last, but not least, the Phantoms chapter shows how successful a minor league club can be when they have a top-notch business plan backed by one of the most successful organizations since 1967 expansion.

    At the end of the day, hockey’s story in Philadelphia is best told through the lens of all of the professional teams that played there, not just the Flyers. The continued success of the Flyers is based in the foundation that was laid in the years before their arrival and in the minor-league clubs that graced the city’s ice during their history.

    The book is available now in e-book and paperback from your favorite online book retailer. At 237 pages, it includes over 80 photos from across the last 125 years of Philadelphia hockey history. The retail price of the paperback is $35.00 and of the e-book is $21.99. It is available for purchase here.

    Book excerpt:

    The almost 100-year history of professional hockey in Philadelphia has often been one of stark contrasts. To be sure, over the past half century Philadelphia has been home to many truly great hockey exploits – the NHL Flyers’ frequent regular season division and conference titles, eight trips to the final, and two Stanley Cups; their incredible defeat of the Soviet Central Red Army team in 1976; the unprecedented 35-game unbeaten streak in 1979-80; the Hall of Fame playing careers of Bob Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Barber, Mark Howe, Eric Lindros, and others; and of course, the consistent success of the Phantoms between 1996 and their exit in 2009, especially their AHL-record 17-game winning streak in 2004-2005 and their two Calder Cup-winning seasons.
    With a few exceptions, however, the history of the game’s earlier years in Philadelphia was a much more colorful – and perhaps more interesting – story. That history is both distinguished and filled with proud moments, from the original Ramblers’ 1936 Fontaine Cup championship to the Firebirds winning the NAHL crown in 1976, from the Flyers’ defeat of the Soviets to the Eastern League’s Ramblers battling the Soviet team nearly twenty years earlier and getting public praise from legendary coach Anatoli Tarasov amidst a hard-fought tie.

    While the Flyers rightfully headline the marquee of professional hockey in Philadelphia, the city’s hockey history outside the Flyers organization is extensive and just as important to understand. The beginnings of the sport throughout the city helped set the stage for the eventual success of the NHL club. Through team histories, anecdotes, and player profiles, this book will take you through the ups, downs, and characters that have paraded across Philadelphia ice. From the sport’s 19th century beginnings in the city in the form of the Quaker City Hockey Club, all the way to the Phantoms and their relocation to Allentown, Pennsylvania, hockey holds a special place in the heart of Philadelphia sports fans. This book chronicles the city’s lengthy, illustrious history with the game.

    About the author:

    Alan Bass is a published author and freelance writer who has covered topics ranging from psychology to sports to business. A New Jersey native, he received his B.A. in Psychology from Muhlenberg College, where he did in-depth scientific research on various topics, including athletic development in sports.
    A small business owner, Alan enjoys writing as a side hobby and has contributed to multiple published works. His first book, The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed the NHL Forever, was published in 2010. His most recent book, Professional Hockey in Philadelphia: A History, was published in 2020. A contributor to The Hockey News since 2009, his work has been featured on various national outlets, from NHL.com to ESPN.com.

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    About Author

    Alan Bass
    Alan Bass is a published author and freelance writer who has covered topics ranging from psychology to sports to business. A New Jersey native, he received his B.A. in Psychology from Muhlenberg College, where he did in-depth scientific research on various topics, including athletic development in sports.
    A small business owner, Alan enjoys writing as a side hobby and has contributed to multiple published works. His first book, The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed the NHL Forever, was published in 2010. His most recent book, Professional Hockey in Philadelphia: A History, was published in 2020. A contributor to The Hockey News since 2009, his work has been featured on various national outlets, from NHL.com to ESPN.com.
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