I've been a hockey fan since I was a little kid. Broke my leg ice skating when I was in first grade. Didn't stop me from getting back out there and dad obliged by freezing the back yard into an ice rink for a few years, complete with goals made from plastic piping and wooden "goalies" he made to shoot at. One goalie in a Detroit Red Wings uniform, the other in a Hartford Whalers jersey, my two favorite teams growing up. Red Wings games became can't miss appointments, I'd watch every one while keeping score in a notepad. Tickets were easy to come by back then so dad took me often, the team was absolutely horrible, the Dead Things era, and you had your pick of where to sit at Joe Louis Arena back in those days. My diehard fandom was finally rewarded in 1997 when the Steve Yzerman led Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup since 1955. I still vividly remember that night as if it were yesterday.
While I remained a Red Wings fan, another pro hockey team arrived in the metro Detroit area in 1991. Ads for the Detroit Falcons of the Colonial Hockey League ran in the Detroit News at the time, boasting of a rough and tumble team playing out of Fraser at the Fraser Ice Arena. My first Falcons game was on a Sunday afternoon during the 1992-93 season against the Flint Bulldogs. They took to the ice to "Hair Of The Dog" by Nazareth, with it's key lyric, "Now you're messin' with a son of a bitch!" making everyone aware this wasn't hockey for the faint of heart. All it took was one game and I was hooked. Essentially the legendary hockey movie Slapshot played out in Fraser and the other arenas of the Colonial League for five seasons. The talent level of the league was better than expected, a mix of former college and junior players, minor pro vets and even some guys who had a cup of coffee in the NHL. The rivalries were great and there are so many wild stories from those years in Fraser and things I saw on the ice, and off the ice, I could write a book.
The Falcons moved to Port Huron after the 1995-96 season, a victim of poor attendance, and were rechristened the Port Huron Border Cats where they drew much bigger crowds until their owner completely flubbed plans to build his own arena to move the team to, another wild story I could write another book on. A year as a traveling hockey team with no home arena killed the fan base in Port Huron and the franchise never recovered.
I was working in the Blue Water area during those Border Cats years so I was still able to follow my beloved former Falcons, but nothing compares to a hometown team and I was ecstatic when the now United Hockey League announced a team would be returning to Fraser, in the same arena the Falcons had played in, for the 2004-05 season. The Motor City Mechanics were born, with former Red Wing Garry Unger as head coach, and I was all too eager to plunk down my money for season tickets. Unfortunately, Unger came from the Central Hockey League and underestimated the talent of the UHL and the Mechanics were absolutely horrible out of the gate. Everything changed that year when the NHL lockout cancelled their season and the Mechanics made waves by signing NHL'ers Sean Avery, Bryan Smolinski, Derian Hatcher and the legend himself, Chris Chelios. I've never seen the arena, now rechristened The Garage, in Fraser as packed as those games with the NHL guys in uniform, but it still wasn't enough to propel the Mechanics to the playoffs. When the next season rolled around and the NHL guys were back in The Show, The Garage was back to being half empty most nights and with the high budgets involved with running UHL teams, the Mechanics were done after two seasons.
There was another minor pro team that called Fraser home for a short time in 2008, the Detroit Dragons of the All American Hockey League. But the less said about that league and franchise the better, the team folded after 14 games and the league never made it to a third season. So did I ever expect a minor pro hockey team back in Fraser? Once I started to read about the Federal Hockey League I always figured it was possible. The Fed started off as a complete gong show but has come a long way since its inception in 2009. Currently six of the league's ten teams are in former UHL markets and there are franchises in former AHL and ECHL cities as well. So I wasn't shocked when the Motor City Rockers were announced in 2020, set to play out of Fraser.
The COVID-19 pandemic squashed the initial incarnation of the Rockers but a new ownership group took over to finally bring the team to the ice for this season. Although I was unsure of what the quality of the hockey would be in the now renamed Federal Prospects Hockey League, I knew I had to be at the Rockers home opener to see for myself. I also could not resist seeing another pro hockey game in the storied old barn in Fraser, now known as Big Boy Arena, with so much minor pro hockey history and so many personal memories. And once again, from the first game I was hooked. Much like the early days of the Colonial League, I wasn't familiar with many of the players, but you quickly learn who the characters of the league are, the goons, the scorers, the best goalies, the biggest pests, and now I can't get enough of The Fed.
So why The Rock Show? For starters, I've written about minor league hockey in the past, covering the Border Cats for a local newspaper devoted to Michigan based hockey teams, and then covering the Mechanics for a now defunct website. The Rockers don't get enough coverage in the metro Detroit area and I'd like to help in whatever way I can to improve upon that. And minor league hockey is just a passion of mine. It's still the sport the way I grew up on it, before Gary Bettman stepped in and made the NHL both unrecognizable from the league I loved as a kid and, for me, unwatchable most nights. The best hockey to me on a pure entertainment level is the mix of skill, speed, grit and toughness the NHL once was with that underlying threat that at any second all hell could break loose. That element isn't in the NHL anymore. It is still very much prevalent in the minor pro game, especially at the level of the FPHL or SPHL, and to have it return to our backyard in metro Detroit is wonderful for hockey fans like myself who have been turned off to the modern NHL game.
So welcome to The Rock Show. Here I plan to recap Rockers games, post team news, including player transactions as they happen, and give opinions on the team and league. I know I'm starting this late in the season but there is still a lot to cover in the last month with the Rockers in the thick of a playoff race. It'll be good to help me get back into the groove of writing to start this now, with the hopes there will be a whole off-season and second Rockers season to post about going forward. Let's rock.