With Nashville painted in gold as the Predators playing in the Stanley Cup final, we go back to the early days of hockey in Nashville with the Dixie Flyers.
The Dixie Flyers were a minor league team that played in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL) from 1962-1971. They were Nashville’s first hockey team. They played their home games at the Municipal Auditorium which had recently been completed. Their name came from the “Dixie Flyer” train which used to come through Nashville. The railroad was still in existence when hockey came to Nashville in 1962.
Their first game was played on October 27, 1962 when they lost 2-0 to the Knoxville Knights. The Knights would become one of Nashville’s biggest rivalries.
The most successful seasons on the ice for the team were in 1965-66 and 1966-67 when the Dixie Flyers won back-to-back titles under head coach John McLellan. McLellan went on to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League (NHL). The Dixie Flyers only missed the playoffs once in their nine seasons in Nashville.
In the 1965-66 season, the Dixie Flyers swept Knoxville in three straight games then cruised past Charlotte in four straight. In the EHL’s Walker Cup final, the Dixie Flyers dominated the Long Island Ducks in four games to take the title. The Dixie Flyers repeated as champions the next season as they once again defeated Knoxville and Charlotte before dispatching of the Jersey Devils four games to one in the Walker Cup finals. Nashville returned to the Walker Cup finals two years later as they battled Clinton for the Walker Cup but lost in seven games. Only two goals separated the teams in the series.
In October 1968, Nashville and Jacksonville played the first hockey game in Georgia at the Macon Coliseum in Macon, Georgia.
Hard times came for the franchise in their final seasons in Nashville as attendance dropped to 2,000 to 3,000 fans and finances continued to mount. There was a story that there was some dissension in 1970 when the players defied an ultimatum from the team’s president and general manager and participated in a strike. The EHL suspended all 14 players. The turmoil and financial problems eventually caused the team to fold.
The most notable players for the Dixie Flyers were Ted McCaskill, Marv Edwards and George Standing. McCaskill played in four games with the Minnesota Northstars of the NHL, and later with Vancouver and Phoenix of the World Hockey Association (WHA). Edwards played with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and California Golden Seals. Standing played one season with the Minnesota North Stars.
The Dixie Flyers paved the way for eventually bringing the Nashville Predators to the Music City.