By Jim Riggs, Sports Editor
(EDITOR'S NOTE: About a month ago it was announced that junior hockey will return to Jamestown and the good thing is that the team will have plenty of local involvement. Lack of local involvement led to numerous hockey failures in Jamestown in the past. I gave a capsule version of the trials and tribulations of the Jamestown Titans team in the North Eastern Hockey League in their only season of 2003-04. I heard quite a few comments about what was mentioned, but there was plenty more. And it's all true because you couldn't make this stuff up! This column was originally published on April 10, 2004.)
As far as Jamestown is concerned, the North Eastern Hockey League began as a rumor and ended as a rumor when the hometown Titans won the ''championship'' of the league's bizarre inaugural season on Sunday.
After not playing a game since mid-February because of what was called a ''players' strike,'' the NEHL decided to conclude its season last weekend at York, Pa., with two playoff games. Jamestown and the York IceCats were to play Saturday with the winner meeting Mohawk Valley, which received a bye for being first in the league standings, Sunday for the championship. But after York defeated Jamestown, 8-5, Saturday night, Mohawk Valley informed the league owner, who is also the captain of the IceCats, that it would not be coming to York for the title game the next day.
Quickly a new plan was adopted. Jamestown and York played again on Sunday, with the Titans winning, 9-1. Then the teams played a 20-minute tiebreaker, again won by the Titans, 6-1, to claim the Herb Brooks Memorial Trophy as the NEHL champions, less than 24 hours after they were supposedly eliminated following a loss in a first-round game.
This whole bizarre story began back in September when we received a telephone call from a York newspaper asking if we knew anything about Jamestown being in a new semi-pro hockey league. We had heard nothing about it and the reporter faxed us a press release stating that Jamestown, along with York, Mohawk Valley (in Whitestown, N.Y.) and Poughkeepsie would be in the NEHL. A news conference was held the next day in York announcing all that information. However, a check with the Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena confirmed there had been negotiations, but nothing had been finalized for a Jamestown team.
But a story in the York newspaper and also on The Associated Press wire on Sept. 14 listed Jamestown as in the league. Then press conferences were eventually held to announce the Mohawk Valley Comets and the Poughkeepsie Panthers being in the NEHL and again Jamestown was listed as the fourth team, but there was still no contact with the Jamestown media.
However there was plenty of chat room talk about Jamestown's team on the NEHL website. Then a name, Titans, and a logo, which looked like one the Southwestern Trojans had discarded years ago, suddenly appeared in early October for the Jamestown team, which was yet to be formally announced.
It was finally announced at a press conference on Oct. 28 at the Jamestown Savings Bank Ice Arena that Jamestown was officially in the league, something readers of the NEHL website and newspapers in the other three cities had known for a month.
In charge of the NEHL was the founder and former president of the Gulf Coast Hockey League which had teams in Little Rock, Ark., Texarkana, Ark., North Dallas and Houston in 2001. He was also a player and coach of the Little Rock team. The night before the press conference here, I talked with a sportswriter who covered the Little Rock team for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He talked of the debacle of that league and mainly the Little Rock team, which played only one exhibition game and one regular-season road game before being dropped from the league.
''It was the biggest joke I've ever seen,'' he said. ''It was the most disorganized thing I've ever seen.''
It was just a preview of things to come with the NEHL.
When asked at the press conference how the name Titans was chosen for Jamestown, it was explained that the founder, who would be the coach and a player for the York team, was playing computer football against the Tennessee Titans. He liked the name Titans and thought it would be good for Jamestown.
Fortunately he wasn't playing the Seahawks, Cowboys or Dolphins!
He also mentioned there was nothing in the area to tie in with a nickname. Gee, isn't Jamestown at the outlet of Chautauqua Lake? Isn't it the former ''Furniture City?'' And also a former All-American City? And the birthplace of Lucille Ball?
That is why when the Niagara Falls Rapids of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League moved to Jamestown, a contest was held to name the baseball team. A total of 547 entries were received suggesting nearly 50 names and a few examples were All-Americans, Furniture Makers, Jimmies, Lakers, Lucys, Muskies and Steamers. Jammers was the eventual winner and had been suggested by 47 entrants.
The next job was coming up with a logo, which was delivered to my home the night before its unveiling by a nervous Jammers' front-office employee. He handed me an envelope containing the logo, but from his demeanor you would have thought it contained a top-secret document.
What was all the fuss about? Like the Titans, the Jammers could have just chosen a logo from some clip art!
Being a semi-pro league, the NEHL players had ''real'' jobs and could only play in games scheduled for Saturday nights at 8:30 and Sunday afternoons at 1:30. Ticket prices for Jamestown games were established at $12 and $9, rather pricey when you consider you could drive 60 miles to Buffalo to see a National Hockey League game for about the same price for the cheapest ticket.
That's a reason the prices of tickets kept changing throughout the ill-fated season and were $8 and $6 for all teams by the end of the season.
Only 17 days after it was finally formally announced that Jamestown had a team, the Titans' season began and they got off to a great start by winning their first seven games. But the scores showed there was quite a bit lacking in the brand of hockey. It sounds more like the Tennessee Titans were playing after Jamestown won 7-6, 10-6, 13-10, 10-8, 11-8, 11-4 and 21-5.
Yes, there were goaltenders.
See ALL IN A DAY'S SPORTS, Page B3
From Page B1
The Titans finally lost their first game on Jan. 3 and as the new year continued the league began to unravel.
On Jan. 2 the Poughkeepsie Panthers moved to Connecticut and became the Cougars. And they suspended operations five days later.
While ticket prices continued to change almost weekly, in January fans attending a Titans home game received a roster with names and numbers for the first time so they actually knew who they were watching.
On Jan. 27, Jamestown was scheduled to play Mohawk Valley in Whitestown, but the game was postponed after only two Titans showed up because of a transportation mixup. The next day Jamestown's player-coach was traded to Mohawk Valley.
Under a new coach Jamestown went 1-2 with the last loss on Feb. 15. Then no one played as the league went on strike because the players weren't getting paid.
After weeks of no activity, a press conference was scheduled for York on March 5 to discuss the status of the NEHL, but it was never held.
Maybe they forgot.
So most players went on with their lives and chalked up not getting paid as a learning experience.
But while the NEHL was having trouble taking care of its first four teams, a new team for 2004-2005 was announced for Buffalo on Feb. 20. The announcement was made by the former general manager of a defunct pro team in Michigan. But on March 28 it was reported in The Buffalo News he had been arrested by the Michigan state police and was charged with identity fraud, fraudulent computer access, unauthorized credit application and providing false statements.
Does it never end?
Well it did end Sunday with the Titans, who had been eliminated from the quick-fix NEHL playoffs, getting a second chance and winning the title. And, according to a report in a York newspaper, there were 24 fans in the stands when the game began.
It's a shame the name of the late Herb Brooks had to be associated with it.
You may recall there was a hit movie titled Remember the Titans. It definitely did not refer to the Jamestown hockey team.