As the New York Islanders get set to open their first season on Atlantic Avenue, the Brooklyn Historical Society is presenting a new exhibit that tells the story of the first NHL franchise that tried to conquer the borough — the Brooklyn Americans.
The exhibit tells the tale of the time Brooklynites experienced the heartbreak of losing a professional franchise more than a decade before the Dodgers would move to Los Angeles.
The story started with William “Big Bill” Dwyer, a bootlegger who bought the franchise in 1924, and ended with Mervyn “Red” Dutton’s failed attempt to relocate that franchise from Madison Square Garden (where the team was known as the New York Americans) to the spot where Barclays Center now sits.
“It was a team originally founded and owned by a bootlegger, and not some guy in the liquor industry — a bootlegger,” Steven M. Cohen said at the opening reception for the exhibit on Tuesday. “People talk about the original six and the great era of the original six, but in truth, the Americans were the seventh team of the original six.”
Brooklyn’s own Stan Fischler, known as “The Hockey Maven” for his vast knowledge of the NHL, was on hand to tell the tale.
“The whole business about the Americans hit me when I first heard about them,” Fischler said. “I remember reading a quote about [player/manager] Bill Dutton: ‘He was happiest when the games [were] thunderous and bodies were flying.’ That really got to me, because that was why I had become passionate about hockey. He helped me launch my career of loving hockey.”
According to Fischler, the Americans shared Madison Square Garden and were then located at Eighth Avenue and 49th Street in Manhattan for 16 years. Dutton took over the team in 1936 and tried to move it to Brooklyn before the 1941-42 season. That move never happened, but the players did wear jerseys with “Brooklyn” blazed across the chest that year, and they practiced at the Ice Palace on Atlantic and Bedford avenues.
Unfortunately, the team would suspend operations due to World War II. Once the war was over, the NHL decided, with persuasion from the New York Rangers, that there would be no move to Brooklyn.
The Americans never actually played an official game in Brooklyn, but their story lives on in the halls of the historical society.
“The story of the Brooklyn Americans…is a short story that most people don’t know; and it’s part of our job to open up parts of history that people may not have known,” said Deborah Schwartz, president of the Brooklyn Historical Society. “People are excited, and it’s very understandable. When you hit upon a story as colorful as this one, with so much intrigue, it’s a fabulous story.”