Here’s something that you probably don’t have in your jersey drawer.
It’s also something you’re going to want to add.
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The history of the Buffalo Norsemen is brief, but awesome. The team played in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) during the 1975–76 season. There were a few notable names on the roster, such as player/coach Bison Guy Trottier. Their rival was the Johnstown Jets.
If the terms “player/coach” and “Johnstown Jets” ring a bell, well they should. A playoff game between the two clubs was the inspiration behind the iconic movie, Slapshot.
So what happened to inspire the film?
The Norsemen entered the NAHL playoffs two weeks later despite a losing record for the season. They faced the Johnstown (PA) Jets in the quarterfinal round. During an early game in the series in Buffalo, a black player on the Jets roster was subjected to racist taunts and signs by the Norsemen fans.*
When the series moved to Johnstown, Jets players retaliated by instigating a full-fledged brawl during the pre-game skate around. The melee sent Norsemen players Greg Neeld and Charlie Labelle off to the hospital. After the fight subsided, the Norsemen retreated to their locker room at the Cambria County War Memorial and refused to come back on the ice. NAHL officials handed the Jets a victory by forfeit…which also gave them the series victory and eliminated the Norsemen from the playoffs! The incident inspired a pre-game brawl scene in the classic hockey movie Slap Shot, released the following year and based largely on the Johnstown Jets.
“Naturally we took the team off the ice,” Norsemen General Manager Willie Marshall told the press at the time. “We had two players who couldn’t play. They beat up a couple of our stars…Hockey is secondary in this league. I hate to say I’m a part of this league. The people running the league have lost all touch with reality. We’re here to develop young hockey players, not goons.”
The Norsemen never played another game. The club folded following the season. The Jets went on to win the league championship.
*Allegedly. I haven’t been able to turn up any more on this side of the story, which is not surprising due to the age and lack of resources on this lost hockey lore.
The Johnstown Jets once fought the Buffalo Norsemen pre-game. Some Buffalo players tried to escape by climbing over the boards.
— Jen (@NHLhistorygirl) October 12, 2012
— Vince Lee (@vinceleeYYC) April 2, 2012
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Dave Hanson described the connection for ESPN’s now defunct “Page 2:”
In reel life: The Chiefs start a fight with an opponent during pregame warmups, and in the championship game the Syracuse Chiefs forfeit after a fight and Ned’s striptease, giving the Chiefs the victory and the championship.
In real life: According to Dave Hanson, the Jets brawled against the Buffalo Norsemen before a playoff game started, when no refs were on the ice. “They (the Norsemen) skated off the ice and went into the locker room and refused to come out to play the game, and we won the playoff series by forfeit,” said Hanson.
We’ve had some pretty ridiculous things happen to our teams in Buffalo, but this underappreciated event might be the best of the worst.