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

The Brooklyn Paper
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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.
Updated 12:06 am, September 30, 2015
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Reasonable discourse

Lloyd Davis from Toronto, Canada says:
Just a minor correction: Dwyer bought an NHL expansion franchise in 1925 (not 1923), and then purchased the players of the Hamilton (Ontario) Tigers.

The Tigers had finished the 1924/25 NHL schedule in first place, but the players went on strike. They had already played a regular-season schedule that was 25% longer than the year before (30 games compared with 24), and as were told they would receive no bonuses for playing in playoff games. So they walked out.

Neither side would budge, and the league awarded the championship to the team that had won a semifinal playoff between the #2 and #3 teams, the Montreal Canadiens.

A few months later, the NHL added the New York Americans and Pittsburgh Pirates (yes, same name as the baseball team). Pittsburgh already had its own players — it had previously been a champion amateur club. The Americans needed players, and when the Hamilton team folded, Dwyer bought its players.
Sept. 24, 2015, 2:03 pm

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