Hockey History: Florida

Hockey history: Florida details the one-year life of the Tropical Hockey League that entertained fans in the south Florida region in the late 1930s.

Palm Trees and Pucks; The Tropical Hockey League in South Florida

This page may inform some of you that there has been a gap in your knowledge of hockey history until now.

Professional ice hockey is a relatively new sporting event in the State of Florida. 

Or, is it?

Both the Tampa Lightning and the Florida Panthers have a history in the Sunshine State that is just more than two decades old. Of course, the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) has a longer history in the area. But that league’s presence in Florida is also relatively short compared to some other regions in the United States. There is however, one league that predates all other professional hockey leagues in the State of Florida!

On December 10, 1938, the Tropical Hockey League played its first game in Florida. In fact this league played all of its games in Florida. And, more surprisingly the Tropical Hockey League played all of its games in one arena.


The Metropolitan Ice Palace:
Making Hockey History

The Tropical Hockey League games were all played in the Metropolitan Ice Palace in Coral Gables Florida. This was probably the only time in hockey history that one area hosted all the teams from the same league. Formerly known as the Coral Gables Coliseum, the arena was located on Douglas Road, between Coral Way and S.W. 8th St. (Tamiami Trail).

Perhaps the reason the Ice Palace hosted all of the games is that this location may have been the only facility in south Florida with an ice making unit large enough to sustain a sheet of ice in a large arena. 

Refrigeration units for ice skating venues were extremely expensive. The ice making machine in the Metropolitan Ice Palace cost about $50,000 to purchase and install. In the last years of the Great Depression, this was not an insignificant amount of money!

The Teams of the Tropical Hockey League

Three of the four teams in the Tropical Hockey League represented communities in the Coral Gables area. 

The Coral Gables Seminoles were in the enviable position of playing all of their games on home ice. The other local teams were the Miami Clippers and the Miami Beach Pirates. The fourth team represented the city of Havana Cuba. There is some debate in the hockey history community as to the name of the Havana team. Some documents refer to the team as the Havana Sugar Kings, while others called the team the Tropicals. At the same time, there is no evidence to suggest that the Havana team ever traveled to Cuba. After all, there was probably no reason for them to make the trip. However, representatives of the Havana business community did make occasional appearances at hockey games.

The Players

The players who skated in the Tropical Hockey League were an interesting group of characters. Some were nearing the end of their playing careers, while others were just starting out in the world of professional ice hockey. Many of the older players had played their career in minor league towns across the United States and Canada. The younger players were perhaps looking for the break that would take them to the pinnacle of their profession, the National Hockey League. 

For whatever reason, the Tropical Hockey League would be the end of the hockey road for many of them and the hope of a career in the NHL would remain an unfulfilled dream for the majority of the players who signed on to play in the Tropical Hockey League.

Most of the players were Canadian, but there were a few who hailed from the United States, mostly from northern and mid-western states.


Names for the Hockey History Books

One thing was for certain. Throughout  hockey history, there have been players with unique names and the players of the Tropical Hockey League were certainly not exceptions to that rule. Many of the players were characters in their own right, with nicknames like “Bullet Joe”, “Knucker” and one of my all-time favorite monikers, “Soggy”. 

 Mike Goodman was the coach, manager, and “Jack of all trades” for the Coral Gables Seminoles. At one point during the season, Goodman took over as the manager of the arena. 

Goodman’s hockey credentials were impeccable. He was a member of the 1920 Canadian Olympic hockey team that claimed the first-ever Olympic Gold medal for ice hockey. As well as a solid hockey reputation he was a speed skating champion and also competed in other on-ice events such as barrel jumping.

 Charles “Knucker”* Irvine played for hockey teams in many minor professional hockey leagues across the United States. He was awarded the most popular player trophy in the Tropical Hockey League. 

*A “Knucker” is a type of water dragon. One wonders if Irvine’s skating prowess was reminiscent of a water dragon skimming across the water’s surface. 

 “Bullet Joe” Simpson, the manager of the Miami Clippers arrived in South Florida after a long and successful career as a hockey player. After playing in the minor professional leagues, Simpson spent six seasons in the National Hockey League with the New York Americans. 

Simpson may also be the only member of the Tropical Hockey League to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

 Bob Dill, from St. Paul, Minnesota, suited up for the Miami Clippers, scoring 5 goals and 5 assists in 14 games. As a 19-year-old youngster, his hockey career was just beginning when the Tropical Hockey League played its last game in April 1939. His professional hockey career took him to the American Hockey League with the Springfield Indians and the Buffalo Bisons. But, in 1943, Dill achieved what only a few other members of the Tropical Hockey League would ever experience, a spot on a National Hockey League roster. For two seasons Bob Dill wore the jersey of the New York Rangers. 

With the end of the war, and the return of former NHL players, who had been serving in the armed forces, Dill’s career skating on Broadway came to an end. He spent the next five seasons playing for his hometown St. Paul Saints in the USHL. He was named to the First All Star team as a defenseman in both 1947 and 1950.

Bob Dill was an all-round athlete. Not only did he enjoy a professional hockey career, he also played ten years in professional baseball with teams in Minneapolis and Indianapolis.

 Arthur “Soggy” Green skated on a forward line for the Havana Tropicals. After his season in the Tropical Hockey League he returned to his hometown of Calgary Alberta. His nickname was “Soggy”. One can only speculate, but it would be interesting to know how this moniker came about!

 Tony Anderson, of the Coral Gables Seminoles, was born and raised in Duluth Minnesota. He enjoyed a hockey career that spanned more than a decade. During that time, he skated for teams in Duluth, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Oakland California. The right-winger unfortunately never skated in the NHL. But he could claim membership on championship teams twice in California and once in Florida. Warm weather and hockey must have been a special antidote for him!

 John Jay Mikolich, from Hibbing Minnesota, played left wing for Havana notching 5 goals and 4 assists in 12 games. After the Tropical Hockey League folded, he returned to his hometown and played for the Hibbing Monarchs of the USHL. He left hockey to serve in the United States armed forces. Tragically, he died on January 27, 1943 in a bomber training crash in New Mexico.

 Tom Doherty, who hailed from Chicago, played center for Havana in the Tropical Hockey League. Unfortunately, little else is known about the rest of his hockey career.


The Games

The league opener was played on December 10, 1938. The newspaper reports of that first game of the season seemed to pay more attention to the entertainers present than on the game story, which saw the Clippers defeat the Pirates by a score of 4-3.

Other than the lead sentence of the story, which gave the final score of the game, the first two paragraphs in a local paper reported the following details:

Ice hockey really ‘arrived’ in Miami last night to the tune of band music, beautiful girls, champion skaters and a big crowd of cash customers at the Coral Gables Coliseum.

Betty Lee Taylor played the organ, Caesar La Monaca and his band turned out and a good crowd of Miami citizens howled their approval as every sort of hockey was turned loose in 60 minutes of slashing play that pleased everyone present.


Hockey Education Using
"Slow Motion"

"Slow Motion" has been a part of sports for a long time. But if you check hockey history books, you may be surprised that there is no mention of its use in the Tropical Hockey League. Read on, to find out why there is this omission.

Recognizing that most of the spectators at the hockey games did not know much about the sport, the league tried an innovative way to instruct them about the finer points of the game. They used “slow motion” demonstrations during the intermissions.

These “slow motion” demonstrations did not entail the use of video machinery or any other technology that had not yet been invented. Instead, the players went through all of the motions of a passing play or a penalty in “slow motion” while an announcer described what was happening on the ice.

Although the hockey game was supposedly the reason why spectators attended the games, game reports and advertisements promoting upcoming games often paid more attention to the intermission activities, than they did the teams that were scheduled to play!

These between-period activities included speed and figure skating demonstrations and, on at least one occasion, a fashion show featuring the latest styles in fur coats.

A young teenage figure skater by the name of Hazel Franklin seems to have been a regular attraction at most of the hockey games. In fact, the youngster’s figure skating prowess drew almost as much ink from the local sports writers as the hockey players!

1938-1939 Season


Home ice advantage seemed to benefit the Coral Gables Seminoles. They won 12 games and lost only two matches. The Seminoles skated to the league championship with a 10-point lead over the second place Miami Clippers who managed only a .500 record with 7 wins and 7 losses.

The Miami Beach Pirates finished two points behind the Clippers and four points ahead of the last place Havana Tropicals.

To mark the end of the Tropical Hockey League’s first season, a parade was held on April 2, 1939. The University of Miami band led the procession, which included many city councilors, as well as members of several civic service clubs.

The parade ended at the arena. To cap off the festivities, the league featured an all-star game between the best of the league and the league champion Seminoles. During the game trophies were handed out. “Knucker” Irvine was presented with a trophy in recognition of his selection as the league’s most popular player. 

Lee Makarsky of the Seminoles won the league scoring championship with 14 goals and 20 assists. These totals were nine ahead of his teammate Harold Johnson and Havana’s “Soggy” Green. 

At the end of the game, players, dignitaries, and fans, all gathered in the lobby of the arena for a barn dance.


One Season Wonder

When the final buzzer sounded in the last game of the 1938-39 hockey season, it signaled not only the end of a game, but also the end of the season, and sadly, the end of the Tropical Hockey League.

Why did the league fail after only one campaign in sunny south Florida? There are lots of possibilities: 


 The Second World War was on the horizon, and as hockey players from other leagues joined the military, players from the lower level professional and semi-professional leagues such as the Tropical Hockey League were recruited to fill their vacant roster positions.

 Because hockey was new to the South Florida region, perhaps it just did not become popular enough to sustain four teams, especially with only one arena.

 Perhaps the late starting time for games (9:00 pm) may have not been “family friendly” for attracting younger fans.

 The advertisements that promoted the games but featured the intermission activities in larger and bolder print than the actual hockey teams may have given the wrong message. Was the hockey game the main attraction? Or, was it the intermission activities?

Whatever the reason it would be many decades before the Everblades, Lightning, and Panthers took to the ice and brought hockey back to south Florida.


The information used in this article came from a collection of materials, including newspaper clippings held at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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Hockey history: Florida details the one-year life of the Tropical Hockey League that entertained fans in the south Florida region in the late 1930s.

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Hockey history is full of surprises, amazing stories and athletes who never cease to surprise. It is more than just stories about the NHL, it is tales from the minor leagues, the bush leagues, and much more. And, it is not just a Canadian story.


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