In this episode of Bizarro World, the sportswriter shook the beer, sprayed it all over the pro hockey player and somehow lived to tell the tale.
Another player clumped into the crowded, boisterous Glens Falls bar that night still in full uniform — skates and all — and it seemed perfectly normal.
Everyone got to sip champagne from the Calder Cup as it was passed around, and even if the trophy wasn’t the real deal, the bubbles were. And the AHL championship they signified.
That was almost 33 years ago, one small but tasty sip from 20 seasons of Adirondack Red Wings hockey at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Mike Kane told that 20-year tale in its entirety for the Gazette, within the broader narrative of how the Glens Falls Civic Center and the Red Wings triggered a minor league pro sports boom in the greater Capital Region.
For that, Mike, who worked for the Gazette as a sportswriter and columnist for 25 years, is being inducted into the Adirondack Hockey Hall of Fame, for which there will be a ceremony on Friday during the Adirondack Thunder’s game against Reading at the rink, renamed Cool Insuring Arena in 2017.
Long-time NHL player Claude Loiselle, who helped Adirondack win the AHL’s Calder Cup in 1986 and remains involved in management of the arena in Glens Falls, and James Henry, the face of the Thunder for six seasons who leads the franchise in games played and career points, will join Mike as members of the 2022 AHHOF class.
Mike credits former Gazette sports editors Jack Hugerich and Butch Walker for giving him the opportunity to cover this new pro hockey team when they first dropped the puck in 1979.
It was a natural fit for Mike, who came to the Gazette from the Glens Falls Post-Star, where he was sports editor when the paper broke the story that the Civic Center was getting an AHL team, an effort driven by the legendary Ned Harkness.
“I didn’t know what I was doing, and we managed to get enough that we were certain that we could run this story,” Mike said.
“We called Harkness around 9 o’clock at night to tell him we were going to run this story, and his comment to us was ‘You’re going to blow us out of the [expletive] water’ And he called the publisher, and he tried to stop us from running the story, but we ran the story.
“Fast forward to August. At this point, I’m this young, unqualified sports editor. And I’m thinking, ‘I know who’s going to cover this team.’
Except it wasn’t for the Post-Star.
Mike started at the Gazette the day after the Travers Stakes was run at Saratoga Race Course that August, and “a week later Butch Walker and Jack Hugerich came to me and said, ‘We figure you know more about this hockey team than any of our guys do, so we want you to cover it.’
“The connection was Harkness. Harkness had been famous in Troy [as RPI’s national championship-winning coach] when Jack Hugerich was the sports editor of the Schenectady Gazette from 1948 to 1984. We had no arenas. We hadn’t had any pro sports in the Capital District since the Schenectady Blue Jays.”
Mike covered the first Adirondack Red Wings game in 1979 and the franchise’s penultimate game in 1999 before the team moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to be closer to the NHL parent organization in Detroit.
Those two games bookended four Calder Cup championships, in 1981, 1986, 1989 and 1992.
I was fortunate to tag along to help Mike cover that 1989 Calder Cup final, against New Haven.
Lasting images include a beer bottle flying over our heads in the press box during a game at the New Haven Coliseum, and filing stories in Glens Falls while blinking through the sting of champagne that had been poured over our heads in the locker room upon Adirondack’s insane 10-7 win to clinch the series.
The Detroit Red Wings fan tradition of throwing a dead octopus onto the ice during Stanley Cup playoff games had been re-created at the Adirondack-New Haven game.
Red Wings player Robbie Nichols managed to get his hands on the octopus, and draped it over the back of a TV reporter’s neck during a live shot in the locker room.
That was Lou Crawford who walked into Dango’s on Maple Street in full gear, hours after the game had ended.
And that was Miroslav Ihnacak, who took umbrage when Mike sprayed him with a beer at Dango’s.
“I was in a suit jacket and tie, because that’s the way we dressed then, and I managed to get in and out [in 1981 and 1986] without being doused,” Mike said. “Miroslav Ihnacak sprayed me in the locker room [in 1989]. I was so angry. So an hour or two later, he walked into Dango’s, and I saw him, shook a beer and sprayed him. He was so angry.
“Wait a minute, you’d just done it to me. Turnabout is fair play.”
Adirondack wouldn’t win another title, but stayed in Glens Falls until 1999 and became the subject of a book, “Minor in Name Only: The History of the Adirondack Red Wings,” that Mike wrote and was published in 1994.
In his view, Adirondack’s history was the pivot point for pro sports throughout the region.
“That was the only game in town,” he said. “To me, that building and the Adirondack Red Wings, it’s the most important moment in sports in the second half of the 20th century. The horse racing was already popular and already here. When this came around in 1979, it changed this market.
“And there’s been a lot of failures. That’s minor league sports. But you can draw a straight line from the Glens Falls Civic Center to the MVP Arena in downtown Albany. Jim Coyne was just absolutely envious of what was going on in little old Glens Falls, where they’re averaging 4,000 people a game.”
Mike remains the only three-time winner of the James Ellery Award that the AHL has presented since 1964-65 for outstanding coverage of the league.
He missed the Adirondack Red Wings’ final game before the franchise was moved, in order to attend a show at the Troy Music Hall with his parents and wife Kathy.
“My father ended up dying that year in September, and his health had been in decline,” Mike said.
“I didn’t expect them to lose, and then they would never be there again. Attendance had been bad, but we had no idea that would be it.”
Mike’s father Herb had been an Adirondack Red Wings season ticket holder throughout.
Three Calder Cup championships, and the Adirondack Red Wings coaches, players and staff were all props and characters in the 20-year tale.
So were the fans who filled the place.
“I’m going to see my father out in the stands,” Mike said. “When I’m on the ice [for the ceremony on Friday], there’s a lot of ghosts there. And I was a young guy now going back as an old guy, and most of those people are gone.
“That team changed the sports marketplace here. I’ve been to Dubai, Hong Kong, a bunch of [Kentucky] derbies, I’ve been to every Breeders’ Cup since 1994. But the most fun I had in my career was covering the Adirondack Red Wings in the 1980s, when Bill Dineen was coaching, they won three titles [two under Dineen]. It was alive. It was great, especially on Saturday nights. There were big crowds.
“And it wasn’t just Glens Falls and South Glens Falls and Corinth. It was people from all over the Capital District, Schenectady, Clifton Park and Albany . . . It was a big deal, and it was fun.
“So I was fortunate enough to be able to be right there for all of that.”
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