Amazing Journey: 5.1

Drinking Beer When A Hockey Game Broke Out

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There was nothing in my life bigger than beer
There was nothing in my life bigger than beer
 

~ The Who

You may have noticed that my senior year at Tremper High School was quite memorable for a number of reasons. Coming to mind are my assorted adventures while working at Burger King, my inebriated excursion down the railroad tracks, the palm reading incident and Kenosha Flyers hockey games.

I’m not quite sure why the guys I hung around with starting going to Flyers games back in 1974, but I am glad that we did. Our motley group included my brother Mike, Glenn Evenson, Keith Panasewicz, Bill Nichols, Dave Proeber, Kurt Vergenz, Doug Becker and myself.

The Flyers played in the Continental Hockey League. The CHL was a semi-pro hockey league that was in existence from 1972 until 1986. The league had humble beginnings. It began as almost a recreational league in Chicago and was made up of former youth league players, but over time, the talent in the league improved.

The mid to late ‘70s were a time of relative stability for the CHL. A core group of teams – Chicago Wildcats, Chicago Wildcats, Peoria Blades, Kenosha Flyers, and Springfield Kings were the mainstays of the league.

Other teams, such as Madison Blues, Pekin Stars and Rockton Wheels, came and went. But, for the most part, the teams were relatively stable and the players were the same from year to year.

The 1974-1975 season was the first year we started following the Flyers. That inaugural year of attending Kenosha Flyer games was special for many reasons, the biggest being the team winning the Walmar Cup, the CHL’s version of the Stanley Cup.

Besides my brother, Doug and Kurt, the rest of us were all seniors in high school. Typically, the games were on Saturday night with an occasional Sunday afternoon tilt. Admission was only a couple of bucks, so we were able to attend most of the home games.

Our group was usually located at the very top of Kenosha Ice Arena, just to the right of center ice. My brother and I were both fairly artistic so we made several large posters that we attached to the wall of the arena right above us.

The uniforms, modeled after the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL, were white, black and orange, so that was the basic palette for our signage.

Two of the posters that immediately come to my mind are “Kelly’s Heroes” and “Alfie’s Army.” The first was for goaltender Paul Kelly. He rented an apartment in Kenosha, worked at the arena’s pro shop, and even attended the same church that I did, St. Mary’s on 39th Avenue. We got to know Kelly pretty well. In fact, Glenn and I even traveled with him for a road game in Peoria.

The second poster honored winger Alfie Morrison. He was older, good-sized, had jet-black hair, and wore black horn-rimmed glasses when he played. He was a decent player, but not too physical. That is until the playoffs started. Talk about kicking it up a notch! Morrison became a beast, destroying anyone foolish enough to be in his path.

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Sometime after the holidays, it was announced that that the Flyers were forming a fan club. The club would meet at various watering holes after designated home games and dues would be collected. The fact that the players would be attending these get-togethers made it a no-brainer…we had to join the Flyers Fan Club!

I can even remember some of the “administrators” of the fan club. The president was Floyd Hart. “Big” Mike Soens and his wife, Juanita also served as officers, although I’m not sure what their titles were.

I do know that Juanita had a thing for Gene Stoney. Stoney was a defenseman that also served as coach of the Flyers. Stoney was of American Indian heritage, tough as a pit bull, a bit crazy and was rumored to bring a gun with him on road trips to Peoria. And Juanita thought the world of him.

Because a majority of the players were from northern Illinois and the Chicago area, it was decided that the first fan club meeting would be at the Quonset Hut in Waukegan. This way it would be on the way home for most of the players. The Quonset Hut was a tavern that served outstanding pizza and Italian sandwiches. It sounded good to us.

Yes indeed, it sounded good to us because we were going to get to hang out with the Flyers players after the game. Another reason that it sounded so good to us was because it was going to be at an establishment that served pizza and BEER!

Yes, once again I realize we weren’t “legal” yet, being only 16 or 17, but we enjoyed an occasional cold adult beverage whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Needless to say, four or five of us made the 30-minute trip south for the inaugural Flyers Club meeting. We paid our dues, listened to Floyd Hart pontificate about the purpose of the club, and sat in awe of being in the presence of the players we had just cheered on to victory.

Then came the pièce de résistance. After ordering a pizza, the waitress asked us what we would like to drink. As usual, I was the largest member of our group, so I put as much as bass as possible could into my voice, and belted out, “Give us a pitcher of Pabst.”

And it worked! The server didn’t blink and left to get our pizza and beer. Finally time size mattered in a positive way! Perhaps this fan club would be okay. Well, at least for the time being it was.

After a short time, Hart and his cohorts decided to move the meetings to Sullivan’s, a Kenosha saloon located right around the corner from the Ice Arena on Highway 50.

We weren’t quite sure why they made the switch, but as long as we could get beer, what did we care? Besides we didn’t have to drive to Illinois.

Then we found out why the fan club chose to move the meetings to Sullivan’s. For a nominal fee, the bar would put out a buffet for the club members and players to enjoy. Well, the fee wasn’t so “nominal.”

Being high school kids with limited financial resources, we questioned the amount. We were told that the price had to cover the cost of the Flyer players; they ate for free.

Suddenly we weren’t so star-struck with these guys. As a group we decided to drop out of the official Flyers Fan Club. We didn’t have a secret crush on Gene Stoney like Juanita Soens did.

As far as we were concerned, the players could buy their own grub. We were content to “admire” them from the top of the bleachers in the Kenosha Arena. Besides, we were resourceful; we knew plenty of places to pick up a cold one after the game.

At this time in my life, it was fun being Paul Vagnoni. I was one of the gang just by being myself. This segment of my amazing journey was going along quite pleasantly. For now…

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