Cleveland Rocks! (But not with the NHL)
By Eric Rosenhek
When the Columbus Blue Jackets were established more than a decade ago, it marked the second time the National Hockey League had ventured into the state of Ohio. The first attempt was a complete disaster.
Younger fans have probably never heard of the Cleveland Barons. Older fans might vaguely recall them. The truth of the matter is that the team literally existed for the length of time it takes to make a sandwich.
The Barons were originally known as the Oakland Seals/California Golden Seals, one of the 1967 expansion teams.
The Seals struggled on and off the ice. In 1976l, after a failed plan to build an arena in San Francisco, majority owner Melvin Swig, on the advice of minority owners George and Gordon Gund, decided to move the team from the warm climate of California to the Buckeye State.
Cleveland was chosen because it was the Gund’s hometown.
The team was named after a previous franchise that had a successful run in the American Hockey League, from 1937 to 1973. Although it said Cleveland on the uniforms, the Barons’ arena was actually located in Richfield, a nearby suburb.
Unfortunately, the Barons didn’t fare better than their preceding incarnation. The club only lasted two seasons, finishing last both times, with a combined record of 47-87-26. Attendance was just as atrocious. The Barons never once came close to selling out a home game at the 18,000-plus seat Richfield Coliseum. Part of the blame lies with the team officially announcing their relocation to Cleveland less than two months before the start of the 1976-77 season. There was simply not enough time or money for any promotion.
Despite all these hardships, the Barons did experience some proud moments. During their final season (77-78), the Barons defeated some of the NHL’s top teams, including the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens.
The roster was clearly not a cast of all-stars, but there are some recognizable names. Buffalo Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier played 15 games for the Barons, picking up one assist. Jim Pappin, a member of the 1967 Stanley Cup champion Toronto Maple Leafs, also played for Cleveland, as did Gary Edwards and Randy Holt.
The end came in the summer of 1978. With the strong possibility of folding, the Gunds, now the majority owners, were given approval to merge with the Minnesota North Stars who were also having a tough time staying afloat.
While the NHL failed in Cleveland, professional hockey still maintains a presence. There was the International Hockey League’s Cleveland Lumberjacks, who existed from 1992-2001. Another Barons team was established by the AHL in 2001 and lasted until 2006.
Cleveland is currently the home of the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters. As for the NHL Barons, there are still places that maintain their history. You can see a game worn jersey at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. And believe it or not, there is a Facebook page dedicated to the extinct club.