The Indianapolis Checkers came into Indianapolis during a low spot in the city’s hockey history. After Nelson Skalbania sold Wayne Gretzky to Edmonton and closed the doors on the Racers midway through the 1978-79 season, Indy fans would easily be forgiven for turning their backs on the game. But the New York Islanders – at the time, one of the NHL’s premier franchises – saw opportunity in Indy and decided to move their Central Hockey League franchise to the city. President Bill Torrey said, “when hockey treats Indianapolis right, Indianapolis will treat hockey right.” Yes, and yes. The Checkers were an entry in the Central Hockey League for five seasons — from 1979-84. In all, they were owned by the Islanders and operated as the top farm team for the NHL’s preeminent dynasty, which won four Stanley Cups and went to the Cup final all five years during their ownership of the Checkers. Because of the Isles’ stability in the NHL, the core of minor-league players also stayed together and had much success. The Checkers won CHL titles in 1982 and 1983, and finished as the league’s runner-up in 1984. They were the premier franchise in the league – and were one of two teams to survive it, joining Salt Lake in going to the IHL the following year, helping that league’s transition from a Double-A into a top minor league.
Choosing a Checkers all-time team was difficult because of the quality of play in those five years. Note, this counts only the CHL team. The IHL team (1984-87) will be covered in the next post. But, continuing our celebration of 75 years of hockey, here is the Checkers’ all-time team.
Kevin Devine: No player has suited up in more games for an Indianapolis-based hockey team than Kevin Devine, but the bulk of his career in Indy — which started as a Racer and finished with the Checkers in their IHL days — came as a member of this team. He was the Checkers’ captain, and one of the emotional leaders of the team. He played a franchise-record 388 games, and was third in goals (123), assists (136) and points (259). In addition to captaining two championship teams, Devine also won the CHL’s Iron Man Award in 1981. Devine tallied at least 20 goals in all five Checkers seasons, with a high of 28 in 1980-81. He had eight goals in the 1982 championship run, and 11 points in the 1983 playoffs. He was also someone who could protect his teammates, accumlating triple-digit penalty minutes each year. He had 969 during the CHL Checkers run, and over 1,100 for his career in Indianapolis.
Donald “Red” Laurence: Laurence came to the Checkers in 1981, and immediately became the team’s top scorer. His presence helped give the team an extra offensive boost to go to three consecutive Adams Cup Finals and win two of them. He had been a veteran of 79 NHL games, and had won back-to-back titles in Salt Lake in 1980 and 1981. He joined the team after playing with coach Fred Creighton with the NHL’s Atlanta Flames, and produced identical 43-goal, 55-assist seasons in 1981-82 and 1982-83, winning championships both years. He was a second-team All-Star in 1983, and won the league’s Iron Man award that year. Laurence followed up with 41 goals and 37 assists in 1983-84, giving him 127 goals, 147 assists and 274 points in three seasons as a Checker, all second in team history. He did so in 226 games, leading the team in scoring in all three of his seasons with the CHL Checkers. Laurence also performed in the playoffs – he had a team-high 10 goals and was second on the team with 15 points in 1982, and a team-high 22 points in 1983. His nine goals and 13 points also led the team in playoff scoring in the 1984 runner-up year.
Garth MacGuigan: MacGuigan was always there in the blue and orange. His 385 games are second-most in team history to Kevin Devine. He was the team’s all-time leader in goals (151), assists (199) and points (350). He had two 37-goal seasons — in 1980-81 and again in 1982-83. He tallied 75 points in both 1980-81 and 1981-82 – with a career-high 51 assists in the latter year. He scored at least 24 goals and had at least 62 points in all five of his seasons with the CHL Checkers. MacGuigan played briefly with the Islanders, as well, but found his home in Indianapolis. He also had four goals and seven assists in each of the two Adams Cup championship runs. MacGuigan retired after playing the 1984-85 season with the IHL version of the Checkers. MacGuigan was a second team All-Star in 1981.
Bruce Affleck: Likely the most decorated Checker of all-time. Affleck played only two full seasons for the Checkers, but he made an outsized impact. In 1980-81, he had eight goals and 50 assists in 58 games and was named a First Team All-Star and the CHL’s top defenseman. The next two seasons, he started the year in Europe and returned to Indy for the playoff push. In 1981-82, he had 18 points — a goal and 17 assists — to lead the team in playoff scoring. The following year, he had 18 assists in the postseason and was named the Adams Cup playoff MVP. In 1983-84, he came back to the Checkers full-time, had 13 goals and 40 assists in 54 games, and cleaned up in the postseason. Affleck was again a first-team All-Star, again given the Bobby Orr Trophy as the CHL’s top defenseman, and shared the Tommy Ivan trophy as league MVP with Tulsa’s Jon Vanbiesbrouck. Affleck was a veteran of 280 NHL games when he joined the Checkers.
Mike Hordy: The only Checker to be named a CHL All-Star in three different seasons, Hordy was a rock on the blueline, He had 31 goals and 129 assists in 213 games as a Checker. He played three seasons for the team, from 1979-82. He was a CHL second team All-Star in the first two years, and a first-team All-Star in 1981-82. While a strong defensive defenseman, he was a good passer who came alive in the 1982 playoffs. He had four goals and six assists in 10 games that playoff year, and averaged nearly a point a game during the regular season, with 17 goals and 66 points. He was the team’s highest-scoring defenseman in both 1980-81 and 1981-82. Hordy left the Checkers in 1982 to play in Europe, and retired two years later.
Kelly Hrudey: While a few Checkers – Gord Dineen, Greg Gilbert, Billy Carroll, Roland Melason and Gerald Diduck among them – had fine NHL careers, none had quite the NHL career of Hrudey. He matriculated for two seasons in Indy, and they were spectacular. He joined the team in the 1981 playoffs as a rookie, making his debut that spring after a strong junior career in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Hrudey was the Checkers’ primary starter the next two seasons, and backstopped the team to two Adams Cup championships. In both 1982 and 1983, he was named a First Team All-Star, and shared the Terry Sawchuk Trophy with teammate Rob Holland for allowing the fewest goals. In 1982, he was also the CHL’s playoff MVP after backstopping the team’s run through the postseason, going 11-2 with a 2.42 GAA in a high-scoring era. In 1983, Hrudey won the Tommy Ivan Trophy as the CHL’s most valuable player, going 26-17-1 with a 3.04 GAA. As a Checker, Hrudey played in 104 regular season games, going 56-38-6 with three shutouts. He was 20-5 between the pipes during the two championship runs. He went on to play in 677 NHL games with the Islanders, Kings and Sharks. He was the winning goaltender in the 4OT “Easter Epic” with the Islanders in 1987, and backstopped the Kings’ run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993.
Fred Creighton: What more can be said for Fred Creighton, who replaced Bert Marshall as the Checkers’ coach in 1981, and promptly led it to new heights. In his three seasons as the Checkers’ head coach, his teams went 126-97-9 in the regular season, and a stunning 24-13 in the playoffs (including six wins in seven series) from 1981-84. The Checkers rolled through the 1982 playoffs, going 11-2 and downing the Dallas Black Hawks in six games in the final. The next year, the team ran away with the CHL title, winning 50 games and then beating both old nemesis Salt Lake and Birmingham in the postseason to win the Adams Cup. In 1983-84, he guided a rebuilding and younger Checkers team to a surprise win over Mike Vernon and the Colorado Flames in the opening round of the postseason to put it back in the league final. Creighton remained in Indy another year after the CHL went under, becoming the team’s general manager in 1984-85, its first year in the IHL (he would take on a coaching role in the opening round of the playoffs and nearly pull off an upset over heavily-favored Peoria). Creighton was twice given the Jake Milford Trophy as the CHL’s Coach of the Year, in both 1982 and 1983.
Neil Hawryliw: Hawryliw was a big scorer for the early Checkers, playing for the team from 1979-82. He had 26 goals in 1979-80, but his best year came in 1980-81, when he had 37 goals and 42 assists in 80 games, being named a CHL First Team All-Star that year. He also had 20 goals in 58 games in 1981-82, the first championship season. His 83 goals are sixth-most in team history, and his 158 points are seventh-most.
Charlie Skjodt: Skjodt scored at a point-a-game pace from 1979-82, with 87 goals and 129 assists in 213 games. He had a big 40-goal, 55-assist season in 1981-82, finishing second on the team to Red Laurence in scoring that year. Skjodt also had 71 points in 1980, and 21 goals in 59 games the following year. He was fourth on the Checkers in goals and points, and fifth in games played. Skjodt would return to Indianapolis, both to play two seasons in the IHL, serve as an assistant for the IHL Checkers, and later, as the head coach of the USHL Indiana Ice in two different stints.
Steve Stoyanovich: Another player who joined the Checkers just prior to their run of back-to-back Adams Cups, Stoyanovich was a 40-goal scorer during both of the team’s championship years. He joined the team as s rookie out of RPI in 1981, and had 83 goals and 73 assists in 159 games from 1981-83. He ranks fifth-most in goals and eighth-most in points, despite playing just two full seasons with the team. Stoyanovich was a first-team All-Star in 1983. Stoyanovich also had 24 playoff points in the two Adams Cup runs, including 15 in 1982.
Gord Dineen: Dineen only played a season and change in Indy because of his stellar play, which earned him a callup to the Islanders and a 528-game NHL career. Dineen made the most of his short time in Indy, winning both the CHL’s trophies for top defenseman and most improved defenseman in 1983, as well as being named a first-team All-Star. He had 10 goals and 47 assists in 73 games as a professional rookie in 1982-83, and contributed 12 points in the 13-game Adams Cup run. The next year, he played just 26 games for the Checkers before being called up to the Isles, and would play extensively in the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1984. Dineen had 14 goals and 60 assists in 99 games as a Checker. He would play for the Isles, North Stars, Penguins and Senators during his NHL career.
Darcy Regier: Another perennial Checker, Regier played all five seasons for the team. His 377 games are the third-most among Checkers players — behind Kevin Devine and Garth MacGuigan. He was a solid stay-at-home defenseman who had an outstanding offensive season in 1982-83, with three goals and 28 assists. He earned first-team All-Star honors in 1983, and was named the league’s Iron Man in 1980. He had 13 goals and 93 assists in his tenure as a Checker, winning two championships. He remained in Indy and was the first head coach of the IHL Checkers in 1984-85, and later became an NHL general manager.
Rob Holland: Holland was an NHL veteran when he was signed in 1980-81 to stabilize the Checkers goaltending as Roland Melanson was being called up to the Islanders. Holland was the veteran who teamed with youngster Kelly Hrudey to backstop the Checkers’ 1982 and 1983 titles. He was a second team All-Star in 1983, and shared the Terry Sawchuk Trophy with Hrudey in 1982 and 1983, going 39-22-2 during those two seasons. Holland became the full-time starter in 1983-84, and backstopped the team in its run to the Adams Cup Final. Holland would remain the Checkers’ goaltender for two seasons in the IHL.
Forwards: Alex McKendry (1st team AS 1980), Dave Cameron (2nd team AS 1981), Ron Handy (2nd team AS 1984), Glen Duncan, Dave Simpson, Dave Cameron, Greg Gilbert
Defensemen: Tim Lockridge, Kelly Davis, Randy Johnston
Goaltenders: Jim Park, Richard Brodeur (1st team AS 1980), Roland Melanson (1st team AS 1981)
Some photos linked via St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, Hockey Manitoba & HockeyDB.com