Checkers (IHL) All-Time Team

This is the fifth 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.  Previous entries: Capitals, Chiefs, Racers and CHL Checkers. The next entry will feature the International Hockey League’s Ice.
The Indianapolis Checkers were in a tough spot in 1984. While the New York Islanders, who had owned the team throughout its five-year existence, had pledged support to the team, their league fell out from under them. The Central Hockey League disbanded in 1984, leaving the Checkers and the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, the two strongest franchises in the league, homeless (the league was already operating a homeless team that had been based in Tulsa, teams in Billings and Denver also folded). They found a home in the International Hockey League, a Midwestern league that had been primarily a “AA” circuit whose teams were affiliated with CHL squads. However, the “AA” status of the league caused the Islanders to sell the team and move their top affiliation to Springfield, Mass. and the AHL.
Enter Indianapolis businessman Al Savill, who led an ownership group that purchased the team late in the summer of 1984. The Islanders maintained their affiliation – albeit a secondary one – and the Checkers also picked up secondary affiliations from the Boston Bruins and Minnesota North Stars. In many ways, the Checkers’ days in the IHL were few, but they were important, as they helped the circuit transition from a midwestern “AA” bus league to a coast-to-coast circuit that was the equal to the AHL as a top minor pro league. The Checkers would last just three years in the IHL, and they fit two eras. The first, 1984-85, was a transition from the CHL. A lot of familiar faces remained, former defenseman Darcy Regier became the coach, ex-coach Fred Creighton stayed on as GM (and later coached the team at the end of the year). In 1985, Savill sold the team to Larry Woods, who moved the team to Market Square Arena, changed the logo to a blue-and-orange exploding checkerboard with a script font, and hired Ron Ullyot as head coach, as Creighton had headed to Springfield. The North Stars became the primary NHL affiliate.

While the Checkers’ three-year history in the IHL (1984-87) didn’t produce a playoff series victory, they did have some memorable performances. Here is the All-Time Team, with a first team listed for the three years of the franchise’s history.

Forwards

Ron Handy:  He had played for the Checkers in the CHL, and would later come back to play a season for the IHL’s Ice, but Handy came to Indy as a free agent in 1986 determined to set the world on fire. He did, with a memorable season. In 82 games in 1986-87, Handy had 55 goals and 80 assists, a 135-point season that remains the highest-scoring year in Indianapolis hockey history.

Bob Lakso: Nobody scored more IHL goals a Checker than Lakso, who scored 26, 41 and 39 goals in the three Checkers seasons. He had 106 goals and 122 assists in 213 games with the team. Only one other player, Marc Magnan, played more games. Lakso returned to the city after the “hiatus” year in 1988 and scored 38 goals for the first IHL Ice team. Lakso’s best year with the Checkers came in 1986-87, when he had 39 goals and 55 assists. He also had a strong playoff career, with nine goals and six assists in 17 games with the Checkers. Lakso scored at least 25 goals in all but one of his nine full professional seasons.

Charlie Skjodt: Another former CHL Checker, Charlie came back to the Checkers in 1984 and was a point-a-game scorer. In 151 games from 1984-86, he had 61 goals and 99 assists. He had a 33-34-67 line in 1984-85, and followed with 28-65-93 in 1985-86. The following year, he served as an assistant coach to Ron Ullyot.

Defensemen

Mike Nepi: Nepi led all Checkers defensemen in games played (149), assists (45) and points (59). He had nine goals and 24 assists in the 1985-86 season, his first with the team. Nepi was also a difficult player to play against, taking 306 minutes in penalties.

Pat Ribble: He played 76 games for the Checkers over two seasons, with 16 goals and 35 assists. The former number is tops among IHL Checkers defensemen. Ribble was a veteran of 349 NHL games when he came to the Checkers near the end of a 13-year pro career. He joined the team from Salt Lake midway through the 1984-85 season, and played the following year with the team. He had 24 points in 24 games in 1984-85, and had a 6-21-27 line in 52 games the following year.

Goaltender

Mike Zanier: The primary goaltender in the 1985-86 season, Zanier also played the following year. His 61 games are most in the team’s three-year history. He was 21-10-0 with a 3.32 GAA in 1985-86 over 47 games. He also played 14 games teaming up with Jon Casey in 1986-87. In total, he was 27-18-0 with a 3.58 GAA as a Checker.

Coach

Ron Ullyot: There were only four coaches in Checkers history, and three came the first year – Darcy Regier, Moe Bartoli and Fred Creighton. Ullyot came to the team in 1985 and coached the team in its final two seasons. The son of a legendary IHL coach, Ullyot led the team to its only winning season in 1985-86 (41-35-1-5) and posted a 78-73-1-12 record over his two seasons with the team.

Honorable mention
Forwards: George Servinis, Byron Lomow, Marc Magnan, Todd Bjorkstrand, Gerry Minor
Defensemen: Peter Laviolette, Todd Carlile, Tim Lockridge, Phil DeGaetano
Goaltenders: Rob Holland, Jon Casey