The Cincinnati Kids. That's what they are becoming known as in circles around the Queen City these days. It seems to be a very appropriate name for these high-flying, free-wheeling ‘bandits’ that call beautiful Riverfront Coliseum their home. The Coliseum sits magestically on the banks of the legendary Ohio River, and this also fits into the story quite well.
If you were to check with the WHA League Offices in Hartford they would tell you that the official name of this team is the Cincinnati Stingers Hockey Club Corporation, and that it came into being in March of 1973. That's officially.
Unofficially they are indeed the Cincinnati Kids. The team has an average age of just over 23; the youngest team in Major League Hockey. On the ice, they are led by fiery, flamboyant, superstitious Head Coach Terry Slater, a man who loves his mother dearly, but when she left after a two week visit, he openly admitted that he was happy that she “got back to Canada safely.” The reason? Let Slater explain it.
“She is a dear lady, and it's nothing personal, but the day she arrived, we lost to Birmingham here 6-2. She stayed for two weeks and we ended up losing seven straight. The day of the Birmingham game, we had quite a bit of snow and I wasn't sure that she'd be able to get her flight out. It scared me. But by four o'clock that afternoon she was safe in Canada, so everything was alright. We won 7-1.”
Slater's Kids have brought a new dimension into the city of Cincinnati, a dimension that has been lacking in sports teams for some time now in the Queen City. They are anything but conservative, both on and off the ice. As a unit, they thrill in the sensational, witnessed by individual celebrations after scoring a goal.
Take for example rookie right winger Dennis Abgrall. Upon scoring he immediately faces the net, reverses his stick and ‘shoots the net’ machine-gun style, reminiscent of the old days of the roaring twenties and the day-light attacks that were so very common of that decade.
Twenty year old Rookie Peter Marsh has by-passed the traditional arm raising in favor of imitating The Fonz's “aayyy” when he scores, and former Toronto Maple Leaf Blaine Stoughton simply twirls his stick like a baton and places both his hands on his hips and skates back to center ice.
Collectively, they applaud each other. Fifty years ago a mob was thought of as a group of hoods that broke the law. Nowadays, a mob on Coliseum ice occurs everytime a Stinger scores, with players leaving the bench to congratulate the goal scorer. It is a peaceful mob, one that exemplifies the unity of the team.
“We are a young team” stated Dennis Sobchuk, who by the way, signed with the Stingers in '73, even before Cincinnati had decided upon the team nickname, “and our youth reflects on the enthusiasm that we show on the ice.”
“They say we gamble a lot (on the ice) and I guess that we do. We aren't get to the point of realizing that we sometimes should sit on a one or two goal lead in the third period, instead of trying to make it a three goal lead. Sometimes our gambling pays off, sometimes it doesn't.
“Terry doesn't like it too much when it doesn't pay off,” he added with a smile, “but we're learning.”
This year Slater has used former Michigan Tech star Billy Steele mainly as a penalty killer, although in certain games Steele has a regular shift.
“He's definitely an asset to our club” remarked Slater recently.
“If one of my regulars is going a little flat, I'm not hesitant at all to throw Billy in. Mainly, though, I like to keep him fresh so he can give it all he's got when we are short-handed.”
Steele is a member of Terry's ‘Killer Bees,’ along with Dennis Sobchuk. These two, as forwards, almost exclusively take the responsibility of thwarting the opposition when they have a Power Play, and to date they have been very successful.
“One of the weak points we had last year was killing penalties,” continued Slater, “but this year we have done much better. I think right now we are one of the better teams in the league at holding off the other team when we are a man short. San Diego does an excellent job, but after them, I'd say we are as good as anyone else.”
Rookie goaltender Norm LaPointe also figures into the rambunctious theme of the Cincinnati Kids. He's the one who has been doing the stealing, more accurately, the down right robbing. His goals against average is one of the best in the league, and Slater attributes the teams success in wins over Winnipeg and Quebec to the outstanding job that Norm LaPointe has done for him in the early going of those games.
“No question about it,” explained the coach. “If Normie hadn't come up big in the early going against Winnipeg up there, we'd have been out of it by the time we started going.”
LaPointe turned aside 35 Jets shots in that game (13 in the first period) and Cincinnati went on to win 4-2.
In Quebec on Oct. 17th, Cincinnati scored three unanswered goals in the last two periods to win 5-2 over the Nordiques.
“Norm stopped two breakaways in the middle period when we were tied with them, and that was the turning point,” said Slater.
LaPointe also stopped 11 more shots in that period, and a total of 25 in the game.
Then, in mid December, the rookie netminder who finished his junior career with Three Rivers of the QMJHL, put together back to back shutouts on Coliseum ice to match a league record. He stopped Phoenix 8-0 on December 12th and then three days later he whitewashed Minnesota 5-0.
Team Captain Rick Dudley is one of the youngest captains in Major League hockey, but it is an honor that he has earned hardly.
At twenty-seven, Dudley has gone from being a ‘goon’ on a minor league team to an inspirational leader with the '74-'75 Stanley Cup Finalists, the Buffalo Sabres. After that year he signed with the Stinger and let all team-mates in scoring last year, with 43 goals and 38 assists for 81 points.
He's been around, and his experience is rubbing off on the younger kids.
“If you want to learn by example,” smiled Stinger 21 year old left winger Claude Larose, “then you watch Duds. His desire and determination is unbelievable.”
Twenty-five year old center Richie Leduc echoed Larose's feelings not long ago.
“Last year when I was with Cleveland, I held an awful lot of admiration for Dudley,” he says.
“Rick reinforced my thinking about what a big factor determination can play in this game.”
Rounding out these Gambling Kids from the Queen City, you can't overlook guys like steady defenseman Ron Plumb, (who received more votes for the mid-season All-Star Classic than any other blueliner in the league) John ‘Captain Crunch’ Hughes (given the nickname by Andy MacWilliams, the talented Voice of the Stingers, because of Hughes devastating body checks that he delivers just about as often as bartender ‘Bago’ serves a drink in the luxurious Beehive Club after another Stinger home ice win) rookies Greg Carroll, (another top draft choice signed by Cincinnati, Carroll had 111 assists and 60 goals for Medicine Hat last year) Jamie Hislop (recently recalled from Hampton of the Southern League, Hislop scored three goals and added four assists in his first two games he played with Cincinnati on a regular shift . . . former All-American at the University of New Hampshire) and defenseman Barry Melrose, who is richly laden with talent after spending time in the AHL with Springfield, he seems ready to step in and perform steadily for Slater.
Finally, there is the spacious Coliseum. Within a hard slapshot of the Ohio River, this $20,000,000 structure that was completed in August of '75 is the last piece that fits ever so neatly into Cincinnati Kids' puzzle.
It is very fitting that the Coliseum sits on the banks of the Ohio, because it is these same river banks that in the mid 1800's saw so much Riverboat Gambling that delivering machinery, textiles and other goods to Cincinnati became secondary in the minds of the Riverboat captains and their crews. It was gambling first, and if you had time, or had lost all your money, you helped with the loading and unloading.
Perhaps when the Stingers come onto the Coliseum ice, the organist should be playing ‘Rambling, Gambling Man’ instead of ‘The Sting.’