The Brooklyn Americans, the sole foray into the world of major league hockey in the borough before the announcement on Wednesday of the semi-imminent arrival of the New York Islanders, were many things during their brief existence.
A tough act to follow was not one of them.
For the Americans, known to their long-suffering partisans as the Amerks, Brooklyn was the last exit on a rather sad journey.
The team was formed as the New York Americans in 1925, the second United States team to join the National Hockey League after the Boston Bruins. The team played at the brand-new Madison Square Garden, where it was such a draw that the Garden went and got itself another team, the Rangers.
But the Amerks were pretty consistent losers, racking up three winning seasons in their first 15 years, and they were plagued with financial problems, especially after the end of Prohibition cut into the main business of the team’s owner, a bootlegger named Bill Dwyer. In 1935, Dwyer put the team on the market. No one wanted it. He walked away. The league took over the team.
In 1941, the Americans’ manager, Mervyn Dutton, known as Red, was still struggling under the weight of inherited debt and found himself selling players to raise cash. The league threatened to drop the team.
Dutton’s brainstorm: move to Brooklyn. There was no arena big enough, so the team had to play its 1941-42 home games at the Garden, but Dutton hopefully renamed the team the Brooklyn Americans and switched the practice space from New Jersey to the Brooklyn Ice Palace, at Atlantic and Bedford Avenues, to build up buzz.
“If the Brooklyn idea attracts the support expected of it,” The New York Times wrote, “the club would build an arena in Kings County when the war ends and essential materials are readily available.”
Excitement was high. “I wish to report that a great void in my life has now been filled,” one wag from Manhattan wrote in a letter to The Times in November 1941. “For years, I had languished in the wintertime with no accursed Brooklyn team at which to sneer.”
But despite a few highlights – the Americans beat their housemates, the Rangers, in February that year — the new name did not bring about the desired improvement. The Brooklyn Americans finished last, with a record of 16-29-3.
In September 1942, with the war depleting rosters further and the Americans down to four players, the league suspended the team. (The players‘ contracts were to be sold, though The Times noted, in an indication of the relative status of major league hockey in the 1940s, “it is unlikely that Pat Egan, veteran defense man, will give up a shipyard job to return to the ice.”)
The league left the door open for the Americans to be revived after the war, but it never happened. No arena was built. In 1956, the Ice Palace was rented out to a scenery-design company. The site, a mile down Atlantic Avenue from the Barclays Center, is now a parking lot.