The Syracuse Blazers were a relative comet crossing the hockey sky. The franchise entered the Eastern Hockey League in 1967-68 and lasted out the final six years of the EHL’s existence. The club then joined the newly formed North American Hockey League in 1973-74 and when the NAHL ceased operations after the 1976-77 season, so did the Syracuse Blazers. However, in that short ten year period, the Blazers achieved greatness.
The first two years in the EHL were rocky, to say the least. Syracuse won just 21 of 144 regular games over the 1967-68 and 1968-69 seasons combined. In 1971-72, the Blazers reached the Walker Cup finals before losing to the Charlotte Checkers.
In 1972-73, the final year of the EHL, the team was nothing short of legendary. Syracuse won 63 of 76 regular season games, losing nine and tying four for a whopping 130 points. The team charged to the finals and took the final Walker Cup with a victory over the Roanoke Valley Rebels.
Blazers in the NAHL
Syracuse played in all four NAHL seasons between 1973-74 and 1976-77. The team won the Lockhart Cup championship in the first and last years.
Syracuse finished first overall in the inaugural NAHL season with 54 wins and 112 points, 19 more than the second place Maine Nordiques in the seven team league. The Blazers met the Long Island Cougars in the finals and captured the championship with a four game sweep.
Mike Morton was the team’s offensive leader, finishing the regular season with a modest 95 points. The Blazers were intimidators, to say the least. Syracuse players finished 2-3-4 in the NAHL for penalty minutes. Dave Ferguson sat 371, Gary Sittler (brother of Hockey Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler) accumulated 316 while the infamous Bill Goldthorpe sat 285 in just 55 games.
The Blazers were coached by Ron Ingram, his only year as head coach of the team. Ingram played pro hockey from 1955-56 to 1969-70, mostly in the American Hockey League. Ingram did find his way into 114 career NHL games with the Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers.
The Blazers once again finished first overall in 1974-75 but the numbers were not quite as spectacular. Syracuse won 46 games and finished with 95 points, 12 ahead of the second place Philadelphia Firebirds in the eight team league. The team played an incredibly even semi-final series with the Johnstown Jets. Each team scored 26 goals and the series went to the seventh game with the Jets edging out the Blazers 5-4.
Bob Jones was the team’s offensive leader in 1974-75 with 114 points. Garry Peters was behind the bench for his only year as the team’s head coach. In fact, it was his only year of coaching in pro hockey. Peters played pro from 1963-64 to 1973-74. He appeared in 311 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins. He also played 57 World Hockey Association games with the New York Raiders franchise (and its many reincarnations).
The NAHL expanded to ten teams and split into the East and West Divisions. Syracuse finished second in the East, 31 points behind the Beauce Jaros. The Blazers and Jaros met in the semi-finals and Beauce swept the series.
Doug Brindley led the team offensively with 101 points. Dan Belisle stepped behind the bench for his first of two years as the head coach. Belisle played pro from 1957-58 to 1970-71 and appeared in four NHL games with the New York Rangers during the 1960-61 season. Dan went on to become the head coach of the Washington Capitals for the 1978-79 season and 16 games into the 1979-80 season.
The Blazers went out the way they came in, as champions. The league was down to one group of eight teams and Syracuse finished first overall with 48 wins and 99 points. Like 1973-74, it was the Maine Nordiques finishing second, this time 14 points behind the Blazers. The two teams met in the finals with the Blazers sweeping in four games.
Bernie Johnston set the team’s NAHL high with 124 points. There were three players that reached the 50 goal plateau. Johnston scored 53, Tom Milani led the team with 56 and Jim Cowell scored exactly 50. Belisle once again coached the team.