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Columbus Hockey History

The Golden Seals and Owls: Columbus Returns to the IHL


For one season the heartbeat of Columbus hockey was silent. During that time the IHL made no secret of the fact they wanted a Columbus franchise back in their league. One year later, maverick owner Charlie Finley introduced the Columbus Golden Seals logo to the local media stating "it's time for hockey to return."

Finley, a member of baseball's Hall of Fame, was best known at the time as the owner of the Oakland A's and the NHL's California Golden Seals. In spite of his major league presence, Columbus did not produce a winning product in the era of the Seals winning just 15 percent of their total games in two years at the Coliseum. In fact, the Seals or "Baby Seals" as they came to be known had only one lasting legacy, their white skates, a Finley trademark.

Irreverent marketing and game ideas were a part of Finley's reputation as a sports owner. Often he drove the baseball establishment crazy with some of his ideas. During the 70's, the A's broke away from the long standing tradition by wearing bright gold and green uniforms, with white shoes, and paying players to grow mustaches. He also introduced orange baseballs during the preseason because he claimed the players could see the ball better. To speed up the game he suggested reducing a walk to three balls and a strikeout to two strikes. These ideas had about as much success and acceptance as his IHL franchise in Columbus.

In the two seasons of Columbus Golden Seals hockey, Finley and Seals coach Terry Simpson were a disaster. Simpson lasted only one season (1971-72) after Columbus finished with a 15-55-2 mark placing them 41 points behind third place Des Moines. Not a single Columbus player finished among the league leaders in scoring or goaltending.

After taking a beating in their first year, the unthinkable happened - the team got worse. With Simpson relieved of his duties, Finley brought back Bartoli with the hopes that attendance and the team's winning percentage would improve. But, an older Bartoli could not cure the lack of talent on the Seals roster. At the close of the 1972-73 season, the Seals finished in last place with a 10-62-2 (22 pts) record scoring a total of 177 goals (2.39 a game). By the end of the season the Seals were up for sale.

With the Golden Seals struggling to survive, Finley sold the team to Al Savill earning him the moniker of Columbus' hockey savior. Savill, an investment broker, began his tenure as owner by renaming the team the Owls. He kept Bartoli in place as head coach hoping he could bring the team back from the proverbial cellar. Immediately Bartoli made several player trades and signings, recruiting a tougher which was more physical. The 1973-74 Owls led the IHL in penalty minutes totaling 2,437 PIM in 76 games. After allowing nearly 400 goals that previous year, the Owls established a blue-collar lunch pail attitude with players like Steve Lyons, Mike Thompson and Bill Bond. In addition, Bartoli upgraded the status of the team by landing an affiliation with the NHL's St. Louis Blues.

The following year the Owls enjoyed success they had not yet seen in the city's hockey history. Columbus finished the 1974-75 season second (40-32-4, 84 pts) in their division and roared to the IHL semifinals behind the outstanding play of netminder and Columbus native, Bill Yeo. However, with no home ice advantage (playoff games were played in Troy, Ohio due to building conflicts) the Owls quickly bowed out of the playoffs.
Fresh off the most successful pro hockey season in the city's history, the 1975-76 Owls entered the season with high hopes behind Bartoli's revitalization plan. Bartoli again went out on an off-season recruiting binge bringing in new talent such as Don Hay, who is now the head coach of the American Hockey League's Utah Grizzlies and then-future Minnesota North Star Kim MacDougall. But, even with a new breed of talent the Owls finished the year a disappointing 24-44-7 (56 pts) failing to qualify for the postseason. The 1975-76 season would Bartoli's last behind the bench. The next year he became the Owls' general manager hiring Ron Ullyot as the team's head coach.

The 30-year old Ullyot brought a new enthusiasm back to the Owls lockerroom in 1976-77 leading the team to a second place finish (35-30-11, 81 pts) at the end of regular season. However, heading into the postseason the Coliseum was again not available for the playoffs causing the team to play its games in Troy, Ohio. Frustrated by the city's lack of available facilities, Savill moved the Owls to Dayton. Savill was quoted in the Columbus Dispatch stating he had made his decision when the team had to play its deciding seventh game of the playoffs in Toledo, despite having home ice advantage over the Goaldiggers.