Thursday, June 28, 2007

94-95 Slapshot Vancouver Voodoo Team Set

I don't actually own this set yet. I took the photos from an ebay listing. This seems like such an amazing set that I can't help but write about it now. But first, a little background information:

The Vancouver Voodoo played in the RHI, which stands for Roller Hockey International, from 1993 to 1996. The RHI was, as far as I know, the world's first professional roller hockey league. The League was started by Dennis Murphy (the same man responsible for the American Basketball Association, World Hockey Association, and World Team Tennis) and Larry King (who was also involved in World Team Tennis). According to an article that the man who made this fine RHI website sent me, the two got the idea for the league when they were driving around discussing World Team Tennis. They saw some people playing roller hockey and decided right then to start the new league. Murphy's goal was to make roller hockey one of the top four sports in the world.

The RHI was made to appeal to the younger "extreme sports" generation. The RHI's rules were similar to the NHL with a few significant differences:
  • only five players were on the playing surface
  • minor penalties were 1.5 minutes, major penalties 4 minutes
  • there were no blue lines, just a center line that was used for both offsides and icing calls
  • the RHI used a 3.5 oz red plastic puck (compared to a 5.5oz black rubber puck in the NHL)
  • game consisted of four-12 minute periods
  • there was no overtime: tie games went straight to a shootout
The rules made for a faster, more offensive game. The RHI averaged 16.7 goals per game, compared to the NHL average (at the time) of 7 goals.

The league was mainly stocked with career minor leaguers, US College players, and a few NHL has beens. Most notably, St. Louis Blues goaltender Manny Legace started his professional hockey career with the Toronto Planets in '93, while four time Stanley Cup Champion and Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier ended his professional career playing nine games for the Pittsburgh Phantoms in '94 scoring nine goals and adding thirteen assists. Other notable players include Dave 'Tiger' Williams who suited up for one game in '93 while he was the coach of the Vancouver Voodoo (he scored a goal and got an assist and took a minor penalty), former NHL tough guys Craig Coxe and Link Gaetz, and female goalie sensation Manon Rheaume, who played at least one game for three different teams over four seasons. Actors Alec Baldwin and Matthew Perry were both drafted in the tenth round of the '96 draft, unfortunately neither played a game in the league.

The league started off well with twelve teams competing in the inaugural season in which the Anaheim Bullfrogs would defeat the Oakland Skates to win the first Murphy Cup. The league doubled in size for its second year and things seemed to be taking off for the RHI with games televised on ESPN and celebrities and NHL'ers joining the league as coaches (like former Montreal Canadien Yvan Cournoyer) and owners (like Tony Danza who owned the Philadelphia Bulldogs). Although attendance increased to an average of 4292 fans per game in '94 (from 3768 in '93), seven teams would not return for the '95 season and another three would move cities. The number of teams continued to decrease for each of the next two seasons and in 1998 the RHI went on a hiatus. A new league, Major League Roller Hockey took the RHI's place for '98 season and the RHI's most successful team, the Anaheim Bullfrogs went on to win the first and only MLRH championship.

In 1999, the RHI returned as a single entity league, which means that the league owned all the teams rather than having individual owners in each city (this is similar to how the XFL operated). League commissioner Ralph Backstrom (the former Montreal Canadien who was, coincidentally, also the first person to patent in the in-line skate) blamed the league's former problems on rapid expansion combined with unstable ownership of many of the teams. Eight teams competed in the RHI's final season, with the St. Louis Vipers defeating the Anaheim Bullfrogs for the final Murphy Cup. The RHI officially folded in 2001.

Of the thirty-one franchises that would compete over the six years the league existed, seven would move at least once and eight would not last more than one season. While the RHI may not have left a very long or memorable legacy of great hockey, what they did leave was an amazing legacy of the worst logos, jerseys and team names in the history of professional hockey--and maybe in the history of organized sports altogether.

This is a tough list to make, but here's nine of my favorite RHI jerseys/logos:
#9 - Orlando Rollergators - This looks like a comic book character that a nerdy kid would draw in grade six.
#8 - Florida Hammerheads - It's a good thing they put rollerblades on it just in case you forgot what sport the shark was playing.
#7 - St. Louis Vipers - The final team to win the Murphy Cup is also the first team to use snakes to form the numbers on the back of their jerseys.
#6 - Las Vegas Flash - I guess since no one can really say how you are supposed to draw a flash, this barfy looking logo is as good as anything.
#5 - Toronto Planets - It takes guts to let a kindergarten class design your team's logo.
#4 - Phoenix Cobras - The logo is bad, the jersey colours are worse.
#3 - Vancouver Voodoo - I have one of these jerseys on the wall behind my bed. Every morning I look at it and think about a wonderful time when jerseys like this were still cool.
#2 - Portland Rage - Do you think the same guy designed most of these jerseys? Maybe it was a project for the remedial graphic design class.
#1 - New Jersey Rockin' Rollers - Look at that guy playing guitar on his hockey stick while rollerblading on a CD!!! It blows my mind!

And finally, getting back the cards... I only have pictures of four of them, so here they are:

#2 - Dave 'Tiger' Williams - If only I could get my hands on one of those Vancouver Voodoo ties.

#3 - James Jensen - All the tough years struggling through the minor pro leagues of North America paid off when Jensen tasted victory in back to back years with the Anaheim Bullfrogs in the MLRH, and then the St. Louis Vipers in the RHI.

#21 - Ryan Harrison - At least the all-star game jerseys were ugly too.

#1 - Checklist - Look at the cards in this set! There's a card for voodoo dolls, merchandise and their mascot!

While you're on your RHI kick, I suggest you check out these sites:

RHI Stats - I used this site heavily for information for this post. The guy who runs it, Gary Griffaw, even sent me and article on the league's founding fathers. You may want to skip right to the team logos and jerseys. - Another site with most of the logos.

Anaheim Bullfrogs Commercial - There aren't many RHI videos around, but here's an awesome commercial I found on YouTube talking about the Anaheim Bullfrogs/LA Blades rivalry.