A Brief History of the Philadelphia Firebirds

The Philadelphia Firebirds were a minor league ice hockey team that began play in Philly in 1974. One of their first owners was former Phillie great Robin Roberts, though he left after they lost a ton of money in their first season.

They began play in the North American Hockey League, where they played from 1974-1977. Among the players on that inaugural team was goalie Reggie Lemelin, who would play for the team for five years before later enjoying some success with the Calgary Flames and would be the Flyers goaltending coach for 13 years.

The team had some great nicknames. The best was Gordie “Road Hog” Brooks, but they also had Dave “Crash” Kelly, Fred “Fats” Williams, Bob “Waldo” Neely, and enforcer Mike “Barretta” Haworth.

The Firebirds won the league’s Lockhart Cup in 1976, defeating the Beauce Jaros, a team based in Quebec, 4 games to 2. (Here’s a great photo of a packed house in Philly for one of those games. A friend of mine who was at one of those games said that Paul Newman attended, as he was scouting for his upcoming film Slap Shot, which was based on the NAHL.)

The league folded in 1977, and the team moved to the American Hockey League. They played there for two years (in one of those seasons, they featured a right wing named Steve Coates; they also had a young left wing named Mike Eruzione who played with them for 6 games before becoming a national hero), then moved to Syracuse in 1979, where they played for one year as the Syracuse Firebirds. They folded a year later. For their 5-year run in Philly, they played at Convention Hall on the edge of Penn’s campus near Franklin Field.

7 Comments on “A Brief History of the Philadelphia Firebirds”

  1. doug marcus says:

    the voice al macadam doing their radio broadcasts back then. he was the gene hart of minor league hockey.
    there was a 40 goal tilt with the beauce jarros..yep 40 goals scored in one game.

    • Don McQuillan says:

      The announcer was John McAdams who also did work for Philadelphia area college basketball and Minor League baseball team ‘Wilmington Blue Rocks’.

  2. Rick Bauer says:

    Lemelin also had great success in Boston. Most of those players you name had very brief runs with the team save for Gordie Brooks. You missed Randy “Ozzy” Osburn, Mark “Bosco” Bousquet and Dave “Sudsy” Settlemyre.

    The team did not fold in Syracuse. They moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick and became the Fredericton Express.

  3. Dean Sommers says:

    Some inaccuracies in these comments, although we appreciate ALL Firebirds commentary. Mr. Bauer is correct that the players named in the original article were not key elements of the franchise…..Major players included Bobby Collyard, Richard Campeau, Dean Boylan, Gordie Brooks, Randy Osburn, and Michel Plante. Oddly, many of the players who won the Lockhart Cup in 1976 (I was there to see the game) retired right after the season ended….Denis Patry, Tommy Young and Pierre Henry most importantly. Sorry, Mr. Marcus, the Firebirds and Jaros NEVER played a 40-goal game ever. The game he might be recalling was a wild semi-final round playoff game in 1976, in Philadelphia, won by the Firebirds over the Johnstown Jets……14-10.
    If the Syracuse Firebirds migrated to become the Fredericton Express…..they had a gap year. The Firebirds played one season in Syracuse (1979-80) after leaving Philadelphia, but the Express did not join the AHL until the 1981-82 season……No Express in 1980-81, after the Firebirds’ demise, at least not in the AHL.
    The Firebirds’ amazing, incredible radio announcer, publicity man and part-time bus driver was JOHN MacAdams, a personal friend who passed away much too soon. John did yeoman work for many years (after his Firebird days) as public address announcer for college basketball at the Palestra in Philadelphia. A wonderful fabulous broadcaster! (Al MacAdam was a Minnesota North Stars all-star defenseman). Hope this helps! ” BEAUCE IS GROSS! ” – GO BIRDS!

  4. Timothy Moore says:

    I used to go to the Firebirds games with my dear, departed Brother John. Oh my God, we had so much fun! I never recall the crowds being sparse. It always seem like you It was a lot of people there to watch and Cherry cheer the birds on. Our favorite players wear Rejean lemelin and Mark Bousquet.

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