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Between 1976 and 1978, the NHL had a franchise known as the Cleveland Barons. There have been two other teams (1936 to 1973 and 2001 to 2006), both of the AHL that shared the name Cleveland Barons but the NHL franchise is more popular by virtue of playing in a stronger league. The NHL Barons played their home games at the Richfield Coliseum.
How did the Cleveland Barons Start up?
The city of Cleveland had tried many times to acquire an NHL franchise and the successful AHL Cleveland Baron franchise had applied severally to join the NHL. However, the league rebuffed their approach because it had no desire to expand. The city’s lucky break however came in 1976 when the California Golden Seals were relocated from Oakland and landed in Cleveland. It was renamed Barons after the AFL franchise which had relocated to Jacksonville in 1973.
The Cleveland Barons in Competition
During their short lived existence, the Barons were one of the worst teams in the league. Owing to delays in finalizing the details of the relocation, the Barons retained much of the Golden Seals’ roster which was certainly not one of the better ones in the league. The team opened the 1976/77 season with a 2-2 draw against the Los Angeles Kings on October 6, 1976. Their first win came three days later, a 6-3 defeat of the Washington Capitals. The Barons alternated between short spurts of good form and relatively longer winless streaks. At the end of the season the team ad a 25-42-15 record which put them last in the Adams Division.
Majority owner sold his stake to minority owner George Gund III who injected capital into strengthening the team’s roster. They began the 1977/78 season with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of the Kings before putting together a four game winning streak. After a 1-9-2 run, the Barons shocked the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on November 23, 1977. However, the resurgence did not last as they lost three straight games immediately after. Further strengthening of the roster midway through the season seemed to pay dividends as they beat the Maple Leafs, the Islanders and Sabres- three of the best teams in the league- in the midst of a 7-5-1 run that saw the Barons creep towards playoff places. However, momentum swung the other way as they won just once in the next 21 games to finish the season in last place again with a 22-45-13 record.
Cleveland Barons most Notable Moments
The 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on November 23, 1977 was certainly a great moment for the Barons. The Canadiens won the Stanley Cup both seasons while the Barons were rooted to the bottom. In ten attempts against the Canadiens, that victory was the only one the Barons had to savor as they were outscored 47-18 over two years by the Canadiens.
Cleveland Barons most Notable Players
Forward Dennis Maruk top scored for the Barons in both their seasons in Cleveland. He scored a total of 74 goals and 85 assists over the two seasons in what were the early years of a stellar career.
Mie Fidler was one of the best scorers for the Barons, contributing 33 points in his rookie year before improving to 51 points in 1977/78.
Goaltender Giles Meloche was a decent player and would have had much more impressive numbers were it not for the mediocre players who played ahead of him. He won 19 games and 16 games respectively in the two seasons.
Other impressive Barons include Al MacAdam, `Wayne Merrick and Kris Manery.
What Happened to the Cleveland Barons?
The Cleveland Barons played in one of the coziest stadiums in the league. The Richfield Coliseum was brand new when they started playing there and had a capacity of 18,544 fans, the largest in the league. Problem was no one came to see the Barons play. During the 1976/77 season the average turnout was just 6,194 people and this dropped to 5,676 the following season. This was actually lower than the attendance in Oakland. The fact the team was so inept in play was the main factor but the distance to the stadium, located in the Richfield Suburb, a one hour drive from the city center certainly discouraged fans. Due to the low revenue, the team ran into financial trouble early in their stay.
In February 1977, the Barons had to ask the NHL and NHLPA for a $1.2 million loan to help them pay their players. After the 1977/78 season, the Gund brothers tried to purchase the Richfield Coliseum in order to get out of the lease that was stifling their earnings but were rebuffed. In order to save the franchise from collapse, the league approved a merger with fellow strugglers Minnesota North Stars, effectively ending the Barons Franchise. The Gunds would later undo the merger when they were granted an expansion franchise for San Jose in 1991 renaming their half of the North Stars the San Jose Sharks. Cleveland city has not had another NHL franchise since the Barons left.