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Stick in the past: Exhibit looks back to Brooklyn’s forgotten hockey team

Americans icon: This jersey worn by Brooklyn Americans coach Mervyn “Red” Dutton while the team was still called the New York Americans, is on display at the Brooklyn Historical Society.
Photo by Jason Speakman

It’s an ice exhibit.

The puck may be about to drop on the New York Islanders’ inaugural season in Brooklyn, but a new exhibit is looking backwards to Brooklyn’s first professional hockey team — the Brooklyn Americans. The show, open now at the Brooklyn Historical Society, tells the story of the “Amerks,” who last took the ice in 1942. The exhibit’s organizer says that it makes a perfect pre-show for the borough’s new hockey team.

“With the Islanders coming to the Barclays Center, it is the right time to tell a story most people have never heard before,” said Marcia Ely. “And this is a great family-friendly exhibit to experience before catching an Islanders game.”

“Brooklyn Americans: Hockey’s Forgotten Promise” features the team’s star-spangled jerseys and equipment, along with rare photos, pamphlets, game programs, and newspaper articles about the team, drawn from the Hockey Hall of Fame and private collectors. And visitors can watch actual game footage from old movie reels, part of a clever display built to look like vintage rink boards. The display is built to evoke the era when the team played, said Ely.

“This is a nostalgic story of a different time,” she said. “The American story is woven in and out of this team’s history. People who still bemoan the Dodgers leaving Brooklyn will love this exhibit.”

Placards in the show explain how a notorious Prohibition-era gangster, Bill Dwyer, bought a bankrupt Canadian hockey team in 1923 and shuttled them to New York like so much bootlegged hooch. Renamed the “New York Americans,” the team donned red, white and blue sweaters and played at Madison Square Garden. They proved so successful at the box office that the Garden’s owner started his own franchise a year later: the New York Rangers, who quickly overshadowed the Americans.

The exhibit also discusses “Dutton’s Curse” agains the Rangers. Player-coach Mervyn “Red” Dutton renamed the team the “Brooklyn Americans” in 1941, with plans to build a new arena in Fort Greene. But the National Hockey League suspended the team after the 1941–42 season because of World War II, and the team never re-formed, in part because of opposition from the Rangers.

Ely described the League meeting that decided the team’s fate: “[Dutton] was ready to reinstate the team, but when he saw it wasn’t going that way, he slammed down his stuff and stormed out of the room,” Ely said. “The apocryphal part of the story is that he said the Rangers, who had won the Cup in 1940, would never win another Stanley Cup in his lifetime.”

The curse worked: Dutton passed away in 1987. The Rangers did not win another Stanley Cup until 1994.

“Brooklyn Americans: Hockey’s Forgotten Promise” at the Brooklyn Historical Society [128 Pierrepont St. at Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 222–4111, www.brooklynhistory.org]. On display Wed–Sun, noon–5 pm until March 27, 2016. $10 suggested donation.

Reach reporter Eric Faynberg at (718) 260–2508 or by e-mail at efaynberg@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @ericfaynberg.
Treasure trove: The Brooklyn Historical Society has assembled rare photos, film reels, interviews, and equipment for the Brooklyn Americans exhibit from the Hockey Fall of Fame and private collectors.
Photo by Jason Speakman

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