Note: This is the first in an occasional series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Fairgrounds Coliseum and the dawn of the Indianapolis Capitals. Our first series will devise an all-time team for every hockey team to play in Indianapolis.
In the beginning, there were the Indianapolis Capitals. The team that brought hockey to the city in 1939 was, for much of its 13-year reign in the Circle City, one of the AHL’s premier clubs. The Caps were the Detroit Red Wings’ top farm team, and as a result, were the training ground for much of the core of the Wings’ early-1950s dynasty. Owing to the days of the six-team NHL and the scarcity of jobs, a number of Hall of Famers passed through Indy — including three goalies, Terry Sawchuk, Harry Lumley and Glenn Hall. Not only that, but Marcel Pronovost, Alex Delvecchio, Syd Howe, Herb Lewis and (for one game) Ted Lindsay also made their way through Indy. A look at a Caps roster from any point in the team’s history would be a who’s who of hockey. The team won championships in 1942 and 1950, and was wildly popular in the post-World War II years. In the late 1940s, crowds topping 9,000 and even 10,000 at the 8,100-seat Fairgrounds Coliseum were the norm. However, the onset of television led to significant declines not only in the Caps’ attendance, but all of minor-league sports, and the team folded in 1952 after a rare last-place season with a young team. That wasn’t unusual to Indy — of the 11 AHL teams in 1948-49, only five would be in the same markets five years later.
The All-Time Capitals team is based on performance in Indianapolis, not in the NHL, so players like Delvecchio (who played in Indy for seven games), Sid Abel (who played 21 games in Indy) and Howe (who played here briefly at the end of his illustrious career) are not included.
Les Douglas: An original Capital, Douglas always found his way back to Indy. He had 15 goals in 54 games in the team’s first year, 1939-40, and was among the team’s top scorers in 1940-41 and 1941-42 — playing the interim year primarily in Detroit. He set an AHL record for points in a playoff year, tallying 17 in 10 games to lead the Caps to the 1942 Calder Cup championship. Douglas’ best years came after WWII, when he returned to the Capitals and had two high-scoring seasons. He led the AHL in scoring in 1945-46, with 44 goals, 46 assists and 90 points. The following year, he had 57 assists and 83 points and was a Second Team All-Star a year after being named to the First Team. He continued to be a productive scorer after leaving Indy in the summer of 1947. Douglas was small, at 5-10, 158, but a big scorer.
Enio Sclisizzi: The perennial Capital. A popular winger from Milton, Ontario always brought an engaging personality and a high-scoring game to the team. Enio joined the Caps in 1946 and played the last six seasons with the team. His 314 games rank second all-time amongst Caps skaters, as do his 125 goals and 155 assists. He is the team’s third-leading scorer all-time, eclipsed only by the other two forwards on this list. Enio was an AHL First Team All-Star in 1952 after a 58-point season with the Caps. Four of his six seasons in Indy produced 20 goals. He scored 30 in 1950-51, and had 29 goals and 67 points in 1947-48, earning an extended call up to Detroit the next year. Enio only played 81 NHL games (but became known as the guy Foster Hewitt called “Jim Enio” because he couldn’t pronounce his last name), but he was a mainstay in Indy.
Cliff Simpson: One of the great AHL players of all-time. Simpson became one of the first players in hockey to tally a 100-point season when he put up a 48-62-110 line in 1947-48. Unfortunately, he was the runner-up in the AHL scoring race to former Capital Carl Liscombe. Simpson played briefly for the Caps before WWII in 1942-43, and came back on a tear. He had 21 goals in 1945-46, followed up with 42 goals and 78 points in just 54 games the following year, and then his 110-point season. Simpson followed with 25 goals in 1948-49 before finishing his career with three seasons in St. Louis. He was a crafty 5-11, 170-pound center who could finish. Nobody scored more goals in a Caps uniform (136). He ranks third all-time on the team in assists (145) and second in points (281). His 244 games played for the Caps are fifth-most in franchise history. He was an AHL Second Team All-Star in 1947 and a First Team All-Star the following year.
Hugh Millar: The only Capitals defenseman to be named to the AHL All-Star Team multiple times, Millar was a mainstay of the Caps’ blueline from 1945-48. He had a big year in 1946-47, with 18 goals and 30 points, significant numbers for a defenseman. In 1945-46, he had 26 assists and 32 points in just 50 games, and then put up a 44-point year in 1947-48, his final minor pro season. Millar was named an AHL All-Star in all three of his years with the Caps, to the second team in 1946 and 48 and the first team in 1947. His 106 points in 175 games with the Caps are the most by a defenseman on the team.
Marcel Pronovost: Pronovost didn’t stay in Indy long. But his stay was memorable. He would play for five Stanley Cup champions and become one of the premier offensive defensemen of his day. He came to the Caps at the start of the 1950-51 season, after playing the previous year with the lower-level Omaha Knights. In just 34 games, he had nine goals and 23 assists, and was so effective on the blue line that Detroit called him up midseason, beginning an NHL career that saw him play 1,206 games and eventually be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Pronovost’s play in Indy was so impressive that he was named an AHL Second Team All-Star despite playing just a half-season in the league.
Terry Sawchuk: Before he became the greatest goaltender in the NHL’s first half-century, Sawchuk matriculated in Indianapolis for two seasons, backstopping the Capitals from 1948-50. He played 128 games for the Caps, went 69-37-12, had a 3.07 GAA, and backstopped one of the most incredible playoff runs in AHL history. In 1950, he — and the Caps — went 8-0 in sweeping their way through the playoffs, including a four-game whitewash of the heavily-favored Cleveland Barons in the Calder Cup Final. Sawchuk introduced his famed “Gorilla Crouch” to hockey in Indianapolis, and his play was so impressive that the Red Wings traded fellow future Hall of Famer Harry Lumley to clear room for Sawchuk, who would win five Stanley Cups in his 20-year NHL career. He was an AHL first-team All-Star in 1950.
Herb Lewis: Lewis was the Capitals’ first coach, and had a tremendous amount of success in four years with the team. He coached them to an AHL division title in 1939-40, and then a division title and Calder Cup championship in 1942. The “Duke of Duluth” was one of the NHL’s fastest skaters in the 1930s, and brought a speedy, attacking mentality to Indianapolis. His teams went 106-86-32 during his tenure as the Caps’ coach. In addition to winning a Calder Cup in 1942, the team returned to the league’s title series the following year. Lewis remained in Indianapolis and was active in the community for the remainder of his years.
Fred Glover: Considered one of the greatest AHL and minor-league players of all-time, Glover began his long AHL career with the Capitals from 1948-52. He had two outstanding seasons with the team. In 1948-49, he tallied 35 goals and 48 assists. The next year, he had 22 goals and 29 assists, but came alive in the playoffs, where he tallied nine points in eight games. In 1950-51, he had his best season with the Capitals, with 48 goals and 84 points, finishing fifth in the league in scoring and earning First Team All-Star status. That earned him a callup to Detroit for much of the following season, but Glover found a home in Cleveland after the Caps folded in 1952. He retired as the AHL’s all-time leader in games played, goals and points, although he’s been eclipsed in all three categories. His 16 20-goal seasons in the AHL are a league record. Glover is fourth all-time on the Caps list in goals (110) and points (229) in 202 games.
Pete Leswick: Pete had two very productive seasons with the Caps from 1945-47, scoring 29 goals in each year and tallying 149 points in just 114 games. He was another player who had a long minor pro career, most of it spent in Cleveland after his time with the Caps.
Earl “Dutch” Reibel: Dutch joined the Caps as a rookie in 1951-52, and immediately turned heads in the AHL. He had 33 goals and 34 assists in 68 games to provide a bright spot on an otherwise struggling team — one filled with youth as the Red Wings were turning over the farm system. Reibel was named the AHL’s Rookie of the Year, and parlayed his season in Indy into a productive six-year NHL career.
Al Dewsbury: Dewsbury played 159 games with the Caps from 1946-50. He had 15 goals on the 1950 Calder Cup championship team, and in total, had 83 points as a member of the Capitals. He was a second team All-Star in 1950, and carried himself to a 357-game NHL career after his tenure with the Capitals.
Hal Jackson: Hal joined the Caps in a midseason trade in 1940, and turned out to become one of the most significant figures in local hockey history. He played 145 games with the Caps over the next four seasons, and played 219 games for the Red Wings. He settled in Indianapolis and was instrumental in founding the Indianapolis Youth Hockey Association. On the ice, he had 16 goals and 46 assists for the Caps in a very low-scoring era. He had seven points in 10 games in the 1942 Calder Cup championship run.
Joe Turner: Turner was the next Red Wings great when he joined the Caps in 1941. He was spectacular with the Capitals, posting a 2.50 GAA in 52 games, and backstopping four shutouts. The Caps went 34-15-7 that year, largely due to Turner’s goaltending, and won the Calder Cup. His life would be cut short when he was killed in action during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. The IHL named its championship trophy in his honor.
Ott Heller: The last coach in Caps history, he led the team from 1948-52, winning a Calder Cup championship in 1950. Heller’s teams posted a 134-110-32 record in those four seasons, and he coached several Hall of Famers, among them Terry Sawchuk, Glenn Hall, Alex Delvecchio and Marcel Pronovost. Twice, his players (Sawchuk in 1949 and Earl Reibel in 1952) were named AHL Rookies of the Year. Heller was a player-coach throughout his tenure, suiting up in the majority of games.
Adam Brown: While his son would be known as the last goalie to ever play without a mask, Adam made quite an impact in Indy, as well. In just a season and a half with the Caps from 1941-43, during a low-scoring era, he had 115 points in just 84 games. In 1942-43, he had 34 goals and 85 points in just 55 games, leading the AHL in scoring and being named a first team All-Star. Brown would go on to play 391 NHL games.
Connie Brown: Another original Capital, he played with the team from 1939-43, winning a Calder Cup title in 1942. He was the leading scorer on the 1941-42 championship team with 19 goals and 53 points in 44 games. The year before, he also led the Caps in scoring with 44 points in 50 games. Brown tallied 153 points in 126 games over his four years, quite a feat for playing in a very low-scoring era.
Rod Morrison: Nobody pulled on a Caps uniform more than Morrison, who was the team’s captain for much of his tenure. Morrison joined the team in 1943-44, but returned after WWII in 1946 and played 319 games with the Caps. He became a significant scoring threat for the team in 1948-49, when he had 22 goals and 51 points. He followed up with a 27-goal, 58-point season to help lead the Caps to the Calder Cup title in 1950. He retired after tallying 47 points in 1950-51.
Doug McCaig: McCaig played parts of four seasons with the Caps – 1940-42 and again from 1945-47. His best year came in 1941-42, where he had 12 points in 44 games, and then tallied seven points in 10 playoff games to lead the Caps to a Calder Cup title. A rugged defenseman, McCaig had 129 penalty minutes and 29 points in 109 games with the Caps, but his play on the blue line earned him second team All-Star status in 1942.
Benny Woit: Another perennial Capital, Woit played more games on the team’s blue line than anyone, with 207 games with the Caps from 1948-51. He had 24 points in the Calder Cup championship year of 1949-50, then followed up with a 30-point season in 1950-51. Woit played much of the 1950s with the Red Wings, playing 333 NHL games and winning two Stanley Cups.
Harry Lumley: Another Hockey Hall of Fame member, “Apple Cheeks” became a Capital as a 16-year-old in 1943 due to a shortage of goaltenders (and hockey players) in wartime. He was 30-23-20 in 73 games with the Caps. He had a respectable 2.83 GAA in 1943-44, then was red-hot the following year. With a 2.21 GAA, he got a midseason call to Detroit, beginning a 17-year NHL career that saw him play 803 games.
Johnny Sorrell: When Herb Lewis stepped down in 1943, the Caps didn’t take long to find a replacement. Sorrell coached the Caps from 1943 through the midpoint of the 1945-46 season. In 146 games, he had a 63-53-28 record.
Forwards: Sid Abel, Tony Bukovich, Alex Delvecchio, Joe Fisher, Syd Howe, Ron Hudson, Bill Jennings, Rod Morrison, Bill Thomson
Defensemen: Al Dewsbury, Alvin “Buck” Jones, Red Kane, Max Quackenbush, Sandy Ross, Gordon “Moose” Sherritt
Goalies: Glenn Hall, Red Almas
Coaches: Tommy Ivan