The Dayton Gems pt. 2
The Dayton Gems were originally established in 1964 by local business man Edgar “Lefty” McFadden. Discussing the team of that day may sound an awful lot like describing them today, for many similarities exist between that team and the one that now plays for Dayton. The Gems played then where they play now, at Hara Arena, which also opened its doors for the first time in 1964. The original team also played in the International Hockey League. The IHL similarly folded (though much later), but has been re-established as a new entity carrying on the same name. Though eventually growing to immense size, the IHL was considered a bus league for mostly Midwestern teams who could easily ride a couple hours to each game, which is again true today. The IHL in its current incarnation was once the Colonial Hockey League, a smaller league that adopted the IHL name in 2007.
It’s a wonder all the similarities that exist between the two, but if it has any bearing on the future of the new franchise, it may bode well for the Gems. In the 1968-69 and 1969-70 seasons, they won back to back championships, and again in 1976. They produced several NHL players in that period as well, and frequently filled Hara to capacity for games, with local fans dazzled. The Gems did eventually fall on hard times, as we all know, and folded in 1980, but exactly thirty years later they play for Dayton again.
In their first year they have proved themselves to be competitive in the league. Struggles are expected as the team learns to play together, but they stand only one spot out of playoff contention, with plenty of games left in the season. With John Marks coaching the team, hopefully for years to come, it seems a very likely possibility. Coach Marks left the ECHL as the winningest coach in the League, with 523 wins, and 3 championships to his name since 1993*. Prior to his time there, he coached in the former IHL, with another 240 wins. Most of coach Marks’ professional hockey career was with the Chicago Blackhawks, where he started as a defenseman but eventually changed over to the left wing position, where he scored 129 goals.
During last Saturday’s tribute to Lefty McFadden, Coach Marks spoke in front of a crowd about his own experiences in the NHL and how he coaches his team. He thanked the loyal supporters in Dayton and those who work so tirelessly for the team before discussing how they are fairing so far. He acknowledged they still have some work to do, and discussed in quite a bit of depth how he likes to train his team, giving those present a crash course in basic hockey strategy. Teamwork, he said, was the key to any team’s success. Discussing some of the Gem’s heartbreaking losses this year, which have frequently been only by a difference of one goal, he explained how a team playing together and playing their role can come out victorious. Later on in the evening he recalled that when he was playing in college, a friend of his, who played basketball, discussed the similarities of the games with him. He said the principles of protecting the net were the same; a good defense will make the opposing team shoot from the perimeter. Likewise a good offense can dissect that defense, get in close and make the shot; but only, he stressed, when working together.
The night continued on the ice with a pre-game ceremony that honored Lefty McFadden with a banner that will now hang in Hara Arena, as well as distribution of a plaque and flowers to his family members who were in attendance at the game. After the Star Spangled Banner, the Gems came out fast against Port Huron in the first period. They struggled for the first five minutes to keep the Icehawks away from their own net, but Dayton then flashed down the rink and scored two goals in less than one minute. John Ornelas, with an assist from Preston Briggs and Pierce Norton, fired the first shot past the Port Huron goal tender, and only 19 seconds later, Joe Van Culin slipped another one by with the help of Corey Courturier and Matt Auffrey. Keeping the aggressive pace going, Mike Olynyk scored yet again, with assists from Preston Briggs and Justin McCutcheon.
Following a late first period goal by Port Huron’s Adam Maccarone, the Gems went into the second period up 3-1. An increase in penalties as well as no score on either side, showed it was heating up between these teams, and it could be felt in the crowd whose cheers, despite their lack of numbers, echoed loudly throughout the entire arena. It wasn’t until the third period that things really got interesting though, as Port Huron scored again to bring the game within one goal. A fight broke out between Matt Auffrey of the Gems and Daniel Tetrault of the Icehawks in the middle of the period, and 28 minutes of penalties were wracked up between both teams in the 3rd as well.
Justin McCutcheon sealed the game however with a late goal that brought the final score to 4-2. Coming from the Johnstown Chiefs in Pennsylvania, McChutcheon has only been with the team for about a month. He has proven himself a valuable player already, scoring 3 times in the 9 games he’s played with the Gems, including 2 in the difficult loss to the Quad City Mallards last Wednesday. Having a quick word with him, I asked how well he was adjusting to Dayton. He smiled and laughed a bit, saying he was enjoying it so far but hasn’t had a lot of down time since he’s been here, as their schedule has kept the whole team rather busy.
This weekend the Gems will take on the Muskegon Lumberjacks Friday at 7:30pm and also also play the Quad City Mallards again on Sunday at 5:00pm. The Lumberjacks are first in the league right now, having only lost 10 games all season, but the Gems are responsible for 3 of those losses earlier in the year. Don’t forget $10.00 adult tickets and $7.00 tickets for children 12 and under, makes for a cheaper night of entertainment than going to the movies, and on Friday nights, beers are only $2.00 a piece.
* information taken from hockeydb.com
**All photographs courtesy of Andrea Ivey.