The Cincinnati Mohawks, The Queen City's First Hockey Team

January 17, 2019

Cincinnati Mohawks

Before the Cyclones and the Mighty Ducks, before the Stingers and Swords, hockey fans in the Queen City rooted for a team called the Cincinnati Mohawks. The most successful, on the ice at least, of the city’s seven hockey teams, the Mohawks won the Turner Cup, the championship trophy for the International Hockey League (IHL), a record 5 times in a row.

The team started in the American Hockey League (AHL) in 1947 as the Washington Lions, resurrecting the name of a team that played in the nation’s capital from 1941-1943 before disbanding due to World War II. The Lions weren’t very good and lost a lot of money. Owner M.J. Uline, who owned the team’s arena as well as the Washington Capitols of the Basketball Association of America, thought about dissolving the club after the 1948/49 season. Instead, though, he sold the team to a group from Cincinnati.

In 1949, the team, renamed the Mohawks, hit the ice at the Cincinnati Gardens. Their on-ice performance didn’t improve much that first season, as they finished with the worst record in the 10-team AHL at 19 wins, 37 losses, and 14 ties. The following season they improved to 28-34-8, but that wasn’t enough to lift them out of last place in the Western Division. The finally reached the playoffs in their third season and beat the Buffalo Bison in the first round 3 games to 0 before succumbing to the Providence Reds 3 games to 1 in the second round.

In 1952, following a change in ownership, the Mohawks accepted an offer to join the growing IHL winning the first of their 5 Turner Cups in their first season in the league. In order, the Mohawks dispatched the Grand Rapids Rockets, Johnstown Jets, Troy Bruins, Toledo-Marion Mercurys, and the Indianapolis Chiefs in each of their title appearances.

Originally, the Mohawks only planned to play in the IHL for one season while the new ownership team settled in. They were expected back in the AHL in 1953 but wound up staying in the IHL, likely encouraged by their successful first year in the circuit.

The team finished first overall for the 1957/58 season but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Louisville Rebels. However, for all that success on the ice, the team had trouble drawing fans. An overtime loss on March 19, 1958, was the Mohawk’s last game in the Gardens before being eliminated from the playoffs the following night on the road in Louisville. The team did not return for the 1958/59 season.

Pro minor league hockey returned briefly to Cincinnati in 1963 when the Indianapolis Capitals of the Central Professional Hockey League moved into the Cincinnati Gardens. The Capitals had played the first nine games of the 1963/64 season in Indiana before their arena was heavily damaged by a gas explosion. Renamed the Cincinnati Wings they stayed in the Queen City until the end of the season after which they moved to Memphis.

It would be another six years before the Swords, of the American Hockey League, would become Cincinnati’s next hockey team.


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