Milwaukee Admirals: History of the Lost Early Years

This article was originally published in October, 2012.

The Milwaukee Admirals are celebrating their 35th year of professional hockey, though their beginnings are traced back further than just 35 years.

In 1977 the Milwaukee Admirals joined the International Hockey League and became a professional hockey team. That was the year that the ‘Skating Sailor’ made his debut as the Admirals’ logo. But the team itself was formed seven years earlier.


The Origins of the Milwaukee Admirals

Milwaukee AdmiralsIt had to be a chilly night on January 25, 1970 when the Milwaukee Wings first took the ice against the Madison All-Stars. The night only got colder for the future Admirals as they would lose the game to Madison 17-7. Though the fans couldn’t be too upset, the admission was free. Later, however, ticket prices would jump to $1.50 for adults and 50 cents for kids under 16.

There couldn’t have been much to expect from a team that gathered it’s first roster by taking out an ad in the January 7, 1970 issue of the Milwaukee Journal, looking for “men 18 and over interested in playing amateur hockey” and inviting them to try out.

The loss came largely at the hands of Madison’s Jim Craig and Mark Fitzgerald who each netted five goals. Milwaukee only had four practices before their first game though, so the ice was slanted.

Magnus Hellberg, Milwaukee Admirals
Magnus Hellberg of the Milwaukee Admirals. (Ross Bonander / THW)

The roster was filled with characters that sports writers dream of. Duke Nettle wore number 12 and was considered a fan favorite. Not because he was a leading scorer but because he was the resident goon. Jim Paull wore 14 and also worked as a linesman in the league. Warren “Reed” Fansher was the team’s General Manager and played one shift in the team’s first game. Number 11 was donned by Paul Doud who did his best Reggie Dunlop impression as a player/coach. Bruce Ingersoll would skate hard for Milwaukee but later on hang up those skates and take up a pen as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.

Milwaukee Admirals Find Their Footing

The team would eventually find it’s footing and the Wings would take their first win almost a week later when they would top their neighbors, the Milwaukee Winter Club, 10-8. The Wings’ inaugural season would end with a respectable 8-7 record.

Milwaukee Admirals
Filip Forsberg with the Milwaukee Admirals. (Ross Bonander/THW)

Milwaukee would go on to change their name the following year as a result of an ownership change. Original owner, Reed Fansher sold the team to a group of investors. One of which, Erwin J. Merar, was also the owner of a local appliance store. Nobody predicted that a popular line of appliances sold in Mr. Merar’s store, the Admirals, would end up on hockey jerseys.

The Admirals would join the United States Hockey League at the start of the 1973-74 season, and the change would be a struggle. The season ended with the Admirals in the last place position in their division, winning 11 games and losing 35.

The Admirals Head to a New Home

The Admirals seemed to be quick learners and it wouldn’t take long for them to find their footing as they would end up taking home the USHL championship in 1976 after sweeping the play-offs with seven straight post-season wins. That off-season the Admirals’ ownership changed hands again and former Chicago Blackhawks announcer Lloyd Pettit and his wife Jane took over at the helm.

Milwaukee Admirals

The USHL was undergoing some changes itself as it was becoming a strictly amateur league. This meant that the Admirals were out on their own to find a new home. They found one in the International Hockey League in the 1977-78 season.

The Admirals would stay in the IHL until the league ceased operations and joined the American Hockey League in 2002.