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United States Hockey League

Denver Falcons

   The Denver Falcons were the first professional hockey team to grace the state of Colorado.  Their first and only year here was eventful.  A car crash took the life of one player and seriously injured another, the team almost instigated a riot in an away game, but through all that, the Falcons played competitive hockey all through the season. The competitive nature of the USHL was constantly evident as game-to-game the standings could change radically.    Basically, the Denver Falcons were transplants from Minneapolis.  Many of the players played for the USHL Minneapolis Millers the year before.
   Bill Cook, who was considered one of the best right wings ever to play in the NHL, was named head coach July 22, 1950.  Cook was head coach and manager of the Millers for the previous four years and had been chief scout for the Cleveland Baron of the American Hockey League.
   The team broke from training camp on October 9, 1950.  Players such as, George Agar (44 goals the year before for the Millers), Billy Warwick and rookie defenseman Bob Chrystal were considered strong points on a very tough team.  
   "I am certain that the Falcons will be a definite title contender.  Denver is one of the top sports towns in the nation and the fans deserve only the best team that can be assembled," General Manager Lyle Wright said about the Falcons in an Oct 9, 1951 Rocky Mountain News column.
   The Falcons hit Denver and immediately realized being in shape in Manitoba and being in shape in Denver are two different things.  The first workout at the Denver University rink was tough on the team.  

The Falcons 1950/51 Roster

   Before the first game against the St. Paul Saints, the Falcons made a trade for Bing Juckes.

Juckes with the Falcons logo

  Bing was expected to round out the third line.  John Mariucci, who refused to play in Denver, was traded to the Rangers for Juckes.
   5907 were on hand to see the first game against the Saints in the DU Ice Arena.  Billy Warwick scored the first professional ice hockey goal ever as he beat St. Paul goalie Lorne Worsley.  However, St. Paul came back to tie the score in the second period on a shot by Ian MacIntosh.  The Falcons wouldn't be outdone on this night though as they scored two more in the third period, one a 95-foot empty netter towards the end of the game, to ice the opening Colorado professional ice-hockey game 3-1.

Box Score From the First Game

First Period- Scoring: Denver, Warwick (J. Kaiser) 18:18. Penalties- Schwartz, Jackson, McArthur, MacIntosh, Smith, Burman.
Second Period- Scoring: St. Paul, MacIntosh 13:00. Penalties- Fraser.
Third Period- Scoring: Denver, Strain (Burman) 13:39; Denver, Crozier, 19:26.Penalties- Kraiger, Del Monte, Hamilton, McArthur, Richardson, Brown.
Goalie Lou Crowdis was Denver's goalie of record and credited with the win.

   The papers noted that the crowd didn't really know what was happening on the ice.  Rocky Mountain News sports columnist Tommy Thomas wrote: "The fans, most of whom are unfamiliar with the sport, sat on their hands many times when a bit of action should have been roundly rewarded, but they knew what to do when the Falcons scored-and they did it loud and long when victory was assured."
   The next game was against the Saints as well, and this one was notably rougher as both teams exhibited inspiration not shown in the first game.  Carl Kaiser got the first knockout in Falcon history.  Kaiser and Saint Stan McClelan got into a vicious fight that ended soon after Kaiser tagged McClellan with a punch that put the Saint right wing on the ice.  Both teams entered the fray soon after the bout.  Falcon George "Lucky 13" Agar and Saint Don Smith each drew 10-minute misconducts immediately after play resumed.
   Besides winning the fights, the Falcons won the game 3-2.  Jack Giesebrecht scored the winning goal for the Falcons.
   The Falcons went on to win their next two games, all in front of the home crowd.  The first loss was at the hands of the Milwaukee Seagulls at the DU Ice Arena.
   Falcon Goalie Lou Crowdis recorded the first shutout in the season on December 1, 1950 against the Kansas City Royals.  He faced and stopped 25 shots on net in the tilt.  Crowdis also got into the rough action in the night by tangling with Kansas City forward Armand Del Monte, who was banished along with Falcon Joe McArthur for a stick-swinging incident in the third period.
   Perhaps the best scoring forward for the Falcons was George Agar.

George Agar breaks in on Lorne Worsley in the First Game

  Besides wearing the "lucky" number 13, Agar had a shot that was often unlucky for goalies.
Bob Bowie Denver Post Columnist wrote: "How does a goalie feel when he
looks down the rink and sees the best center
in the U.S. Ice Hockey league roaring down on him ready to let the puck
fly at ninety miles an hour?   Brother, you feel
just like a North Korean looking down the barrel of a 105-mm field piece."

   He led the Minneapolis Millers in 1949/50 to the Loudon Cup.  He also led the team in goals (44).
   The season saw the Falcons bounce around the standings.  At some point in the season they occupied first place and fifth place, and all positions in between.
   Late in the season, the Falcons were stuck in fourth place behind Tulsa.  The top four teams moved on into the playoffs, so every game was important.  On March 1, the Falcons, just two points out of third place, played the third-place Tulsa Oilers.  The game was played with the intensity inherent in a playoff race.  The teams entered the third period tied at one a piece.  Denver opened the third period scoring on a goal by defenseman Bob Chrystal.  The game-winner was from oft injured Bill Warwick.  Although the Oilers would get a goal with 4:10 remaining, that's as close as they would get.   During the third period, Falcon Carl Kaiser and Oiler Davidson were involved in a brutal tussle.  Carl Kaiser then went and punched an Oiler fan in the box seats, cutting the spectator, Dean Williams.  Besides having a 10 minute misconduct penalty tacked on to his sentence, Kaiser was arrested by Tulsa police.  Kaiser would make it back to the team in time to take on the St. Paul Saints later in the week.

The Tulsa Daily World account of the brawl

   Tragedy also haunted the Falcons.  Billy Warwick was injured and Johnny Holota was killed in an auto wreck.  Johnny Holota was a late-season pick up for the Falcons and had tallied seven points (3 goals 4 assists) in 11 games.   In his last game with the Falcons, Holota got the game tying goal in the third period of a game against Omaha.  He also picked up an assist.

Box Score from Holota's Last Game

First Period- Denver, Kraiger (Warwick, Agar) 9:51; Omaha, McLean (Hay, O'Grady) 17:58; Omaha, Bruneteau (Taylor, Coburn) 19:00.Penalties- Fraser, Coburn, Bert, Giesebrecht.
Second Period- Denver, Juckes (Holota, Chrystal) :45; Omaha, Durham (Hay) 18:23.Penalties- Chrystal, McLean, McLeod, C. Kaiser, Fraser, Hay, Warwick, Agar (misconduct).
Third Period- Denver, Holota (Kraiger, C. Kaiser) 9:23; Denver, Juckes (Brown, Agar) 14:37; Denver, Richardson (Agar) 16:37.No Penalties

   Everybody came to the aid of the Holota family.  Holota had an expectant wife, Bernice and two children.  The Falcons voted to give Bernice Holota Johnny's full share of the playoff money.  Hal Jackson, former teammate of Holota's in Indianapolis, sent a letter to each of the teams in the three ice circuits asking for a dollar from each player to help Bernice.  When Joe Primeau, Maple Leaf head coach, read the letter to the Maple Leafs, each of the Leafs donated $5 a piece to the fund.
The Denver Post stated:
"Hockey is a game
played on ice, but there's nothing cold about
the hearts of the men who play it."

   The playoffs started March 21.  Unfortunately for the Falcons, they ended up in fourth place, which meant that they had to take on the Loudon Cup favorite Omaha Knights.
   Things started bleak for the Falcons.  They opened the series in Omaha and got trounced 4-1.  Jack Giesebrecht got the only goal for the Falcons.  O' Grady, two goals, Coburn, and Bruneteau got the goals for Omaha.
   Injuries were hurting the Falcons.  Ken MacKenzie, Yogi Kraiger and Joe Kaiser were injured in the first game.  Cal Stearns and Nick Tomiuk were acquired on an emergency basis from Kansas City to help fill in the loss of the three Falcons.  Lou Crowdis made 40 saves in the second game but the Falcons still lost 4-3.  The Falcons were returning to Denver down 2 games to nothing.    In Denver, the Falcons would turn it around.  Tomiuk and Stearns, the loanees from Kansas City, each tallied two points (1 goal and 1 assist a piece) and Carl Kaiser got the other goal in a 3-1 Falcon win.  Francis O'Grady got the only Knight goal on the power play.
   Game four was over early.  Giesebrecht, Tomiuk and Agar scored in the first 13 minutes of the game to give the Falcons all the goals they would need.  The Falcons ended up winning 7-2 in front of the hometown fans.  Omaha's chances were seriously hurt after defenseman Jim Hay was laid out by a crushing check by Falcon Fritz Fraser, leaving the Knights with only three defensemen to finish out the game.  Hay was helped off the ice with just 3:50 gone in the first.  This incident enticed both teams to pick up the rough play but that didn't seem to hurt the offensive efforts of the Falcons.
   The stage was set for Game 5 back in Omaha.  The Falcons would lose this one 5-3, ending their season and their stay in Denver.

Lou Crowdis keeps the puck out in this scrum.