Written By: James Slemp
This Hockey Carny traveled via planes, trains (nope), and automobiles (an RV) throughout the United States last year. This On Location segment will highlight one diamond in the rough that many of you have overlooked: Spokane, Washington.
Spokane sits on the Spokane River in eastern Washington, about 18 miles west of the Washington-Idaho border and 92 miles south of the US-Canadian border. Professional hockey came to Spokane in 1916 when the Spokane Canaries played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. Going without a team for twenty years, hockey returned to Spokane via Oakland in 1937 when the Oakland Clippers relocated to Spokane; they played minor league hockey in the Pacific Coast Hockey League. They lost in the finals in 1937. The Clippers were renamed the Bombers in 1940 and lasted one season. In 1946, the Spokane Spartans formed a senior amateur hockey team, participating in the Western International Hockey League. The Spartans were renamed the Flyers in 1949 and played in the WIHL until 1958. The Spokane Comets formed in 1958 as a minor league team in the Western Hockey League. They made it to the finals in 1962 but lost. The Comets folded, but hockey remained in Spokane with the Spokane Jets, who played senior amateur hockey in the Western International Hockey League from 1963 to 1974. The Flyers replaced the Jets in 1974 in the WIHL. From 1974 to 1982, they played in various leagues, including the WIHL and the WHL. The Spokane Chiefs formed in 1982 as a team in the WIHL and have since moved up to the Canadian Hockey League. The Chiefs have two Memorial Cup Championships in 1991 and 2008, two WHL Championships in 1991 and 2008, and four Western Conference Championships in 1991, 1996, 2000, and 2008. Over 60 former Chiefs have played in the NHL.
Even with an incredible hockey history in Spokane, there are only two places to ice skate: the Numerica Skate Ribbon at Riverfront and the Eagles Ice Arena. The Riverfront Park’s Numerica Skate Ribbon isn’t an ice rink but a 16-foot wide by 650-foot-long pathway where skaters can experience inclines and declines as they skate around an outdoor path. Unfortunately, Spokane was hot as an elephant’s peanut sack in June when I visited, and the Skate Ribbon didn’t have ice; it serves as a roller/inline skate path during the warmer months. The Eagles Ice Arena, however, is a traditional ice rink that hosts stick and puck, pick-up, youth and adult hockey leagues, sled hockey, public skating, and figure skating. The rink was built in 1973 by the Eagles Lodge, which sits next door to the rink. A second sheet of ice was added in 1981. The Spokane Americans Youth Hockey Association, the Spokane Oldtimers, and the Lilac City Figure Skating Club purchased the rink in 2017 to keep it open. Today, the rink is home to the Spokane Jr Chiefs, the Lilac City Figure Skating Club, the Spokane Oldtimers Hockey Association, and the Spokane Braves.
The Spokane Oldtimers Hockey Association was formed in 1974 by a group of Spokane hockey heroes, including founding member Vern Kneeshaw. Their goal is to support and promote the game of ice hockey and to assist individuals and charitable organizations of the Inland Northwest through fellowship and fundraising activities. They provide grant opportunities for hockey players and teams each year. The organization fields three hockey divisions. The Masters’ Division is the flagship division with several original skaters who helped form the organization in 1974. Players in the Masters Division are over 50 years old. The Grinders Division was created in the 1990s when the Oldtimers membership grew too large, requiring two teams. The Grinders had the younger players while the older players stayed on the Masters. The Jets Division is the newest group of skaters, and the team honors the legacy of the Spokane Jets from the 1960s and 70s. The Masters players have a special locker room filled with vintage memorabilia, including jerseys, photos, sticks, and awards that honor the heritage of Spokane hockey.
3rd Line Hockey brought a tournament to Spokane in June 2023, the first time a draft-style tournament had visited the hockey hotbed in the Northwest. Playing in the Eagles Ice Arena, players wore vintage-themed jerseys commemorating the town’s history and the arena. The Jets took the top prize, beating out the Comets, Flyers, and Chiefs for the Gold Banner. I’m still determining how 3rd Line Hockey can top this inaugural tournament in 2023, but I’m excited to see what’s coming in Spokane in 2024. Don’t be a clown; join the rest of the Hockey Carnies at the Eagles Ice Arena.
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