Seattle Ironmen

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© Jeff Obermeyer 2000-2009

The Ironmen made their first appearance in Seattle as the Isaacson Ironmen of the Northwest Industrial Hockey League (NIHL) in 1943-44. NIHL teams were sponsored by war industry employers, and the majority of the players worked in these industries. Wartime scheduling and travel was difficult, but the league still maintained a fairly high level of play.

1944-45 – A new league appeared in the Northwest that was to be the driving force behind hockey in the region for the next three decades – the Pacific Coast Hockey League (PCHL). It began its life as an amateur league, and in its inaugural season it consisted of ten teams split into thee divisions spread all the way from Canada into California. Seattle had two entries – the Isaacson Ironmen and Sick’s Stars (sponsored by beer magnate Emil Sick).

The Stars lost to Portland in the opening round of the playoffs, but the Ironmen got redemption for Seattle by knocking off Portland in division championships four games to two. The Ironmen should have played the winner of the California division, but that series was cancelled and the Ironmen became de facto league champs. This earned them the right to play a series against the Boston Olympics for the US Amateur Hockey Association championship.

The Olympics traveled west and agreed to play their “home” games in Vancouver. The Ironmen dropped their first two games at home, but rallied behind the play of Frank Dotten to win the next four and take the crown. Dotten’s 13 goals and 19 points led all scorers as the Ironmen outscored the Olympics 45-24.

1945-46 – The Ironmen signed highly-sought forwards Bill Robinson (left) and Eddie Dartnell (right) for the season and looked to be in good position to repeat as PCHL champs. A potential scandal erupted when the New York Rangers alleged that Robinson, Dartnell, and one other player accepted money from the NHL club and were therefore ineligible to play as amateurs. While all continued to play, Dartnell’s season was cut short by a broken arm.

The Ironmen finished the season tied for second in their division with Portland, both holding identical 29-29 records. The Eagles bumped off the Ironmen in the best-of-three series, two games to one.

1946-47 – Injuries and suspensions kept the Ironmen struggling throughout the season. Two players had emergency appendectomies, while two others missed games due to blood poisoning and infections. Vern Kaiser was suspended for nine games for throwing his stick at Eddie Shamlock, costing Shamlock the vision in one eye.

The Ironmen made the playoffs, knocking off New Westminster in the first round before dropping to Portland in the second. Meanwhile, the league owners met to discuss the possibility of making the PCHL a professional circuit, thereby gaining more control over their players. While they decided to continue as an amateur league for the upcoming 1947-48 season, change was in the air.

1947-48 – The Ironmen finished atop the league with a 42-21-3 record, and though they once again beat New Westminster in the opening round, they fell to Portland in the second.

Perhaps the biggest news was the that the PCHL owners decided to declare the league professional, tying players to their contracts using the reserve clause and expanding their relationship with the National Hockey League.

1948-49 – Only four Ironmen from the 1947-48 season opted to turn pro and remain with the team. Manager Frank Dotten was able to pick up a number of former amateurs from Tacoma to fill out his roster, most notably a young 21-year-old center named Rudy Filion, who would go on to a long and successful career in Seattle.

Dotten made a number of late season moves to try to improve his club, but the Ironmen still finished the season in the cellar of the Northern Division and out of the playoffs.

1949-50 – Violence marred Seattle’s season, with one player cross-checking an official, a visiting player taking a swipe at a female fan with his stick, and near riot that had to be broken up by police to allow the officials to leave the building following a particularly contentious game.

Despite having the lowest scoring offense in the league, the Ironmen finished a respectable 32-27-11, and an impressive 20-11-4 at home. For the third time in four years they faced New Westminster in the opening round of the playoffs, coming up short in the best-of-five series.

1950-51 – For the third straight season the Ironmen were the lowest scoring team in the Northern Division, despite Joe Bell leading the entire league with 46 goals. Injuries and constant personnel changes took their toll on the team – 31 players suited up for the Ironmen over the course of the season, the most to ever appear for a Seattle club in a single season and a total that would not be matched until the 1970s.

1951-52 – It was a season full of bizarre incidents. A November game in Tacoma resulted in a fight between the coaches of the two teams, as well as between a Seattle player and a Tacoma fan, and ended when the Seattle players walked to their cars to find their tires had been slashed. The very next day newcomer Larry Silvestri was checked into the boards so hard that he suffered internal injuries and had to have a kidney removed. Later in the season the coach got into a fight with one of the players, and the goaltender was injured in a stick fight.

The last odd event happened as the teams jockeyed for playoff position. John Jackson (second from right) suggested that the team would be better off to intentionally lose games to drop from the fifth to the sixth season. Jackson reasoned that if the Ironmen could beat the top seed, they would get a bye during the second round. Management was not impressed, and Jackson was permanently suspended from professional hockey. Despite the drama, the Ironmen staggered into the playoffs, where they were quickly swept by the Tacoma Rockets in three games.