In the zone

Local author creates buzz about Dayton’s hockey history

By Sarah Sidlow

Photo: Dayton Gems goalie Pat Rupp (right) played one game with the Detroit Red Wings and played with the 1964 and 68 US Olympic hockey teams.

Hockey fans are a unique breed. They travel great distances to pack noisy, drafty arenas—often trekking in the dark, as winter days do not provide the lingering sunlight afforded to springtime baseball or fall football. They relish in the rhythmic swishing of skates on ice, punctuated by the occasional whistle, a crushing check into the boards or the ultimate prize: the goal buzzer. Dayton is not necessarily a hockey town. Instead, it focuses its fan-energy on college football and basketball, and even Major League Baseball and two NFL teams.

But Dayton does have a hockey history, and it’s lucky to also have a hockey historian, local author Chuck Gabringer. His book, “Hockey In Dayton,” opens up the vault to all of Dayton’s hockey nostalgia—its friends and its rivals. With a stunningly curated collection of historic photos, programs and documents, Gabringer paints a straightforward and detailed picture of the progressive march of Dayton’s hockey history.

Gabringer recently took some time to speak with Dayton City Paper about his project. Here are some of the highlights:

This book is very image-heavy. I’m amazed at the curatorial job that was required to collect all of these images, and that they were even available. 

Chuck Gabringer: In the end I had probably physically looked through about 17,000 pictures. Overall, I had more than enough to tell the story. When you think about it, trying to cram all those 65 years of hockey into 120 pages, it was challenging. Like a good movie, there was a lot of stuff that was left on the cutting room table.

I guess this is one of those things that you might call a life ambition or a life goal because I’ve been working on it for so long and my friends have been hearing me talk about it for so long… [When] the opportunity presented itself, I just had one of those moments where you just go, “You know, either you’re going to do something with all this stuff you’ve collected over the years or you might as well put it out to the curb for the garbage guy, so what are you going to do?”

The template also provides a real interesting look at the evolution of hockey in general. Do you think that there’s a component of Dayton’s history that showcases the overall evolution of the sport?

CG: Absolutely. Particularly with the Dayton Gems, they were caught in the middle between hockey as it was and really what changed hockey.

The first expansion in the National Hockey League happened in ’67. There’s a section where I talk about the World Hockey Association coming to Dayton. Dayton was a charter member of the WHA in ’72 and that blew hockey up. From the old WHA came the Edmonton Oilers, came the Winnipeg Jets, came the Calgary Flames. The Cincinnati Stingers who played in the WHA in the late ’70s were almost admitted to the NHL, but weren’t. And wow, wouldn’t that have changed hockey. We wouldn’t have waited until 2000 to get the Blue Jackets! All of that stuff was happening in those core Gems years of the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. So, you’re absolutely right: Dayton was a microcosm of that change. The Gems are our story of hockey in the town—they’re our story of hockey in the sport—but they’re also a part of a period of time in Dayton that a lot of things changed around here.

There are a couple of parts in the book that speak to the community aspect of the beginnings of hockey in Dayton—one in particular about players and fans congregating at Marion’s Piazza after Dayton Gems games. Can you speak about the community outreach that started with these early teams?

CG: Particularly in the days of the Gems, [General Manager] Lefty McFadden was a particularly well-connected individual. So he had these guys named Hockey Hawks who were basically businessmen from around the community who he elicited to help him sell season tickets. Lefty used his business community contacts to get those types of things done. What’s really interesting is that when you start talking about Marion Glass and Marion’s, is that players the Gems from the mid-70s will still talk about how much fun it was going to Marion’s. And when they do come into town for something or when they have to pass through town for something they will stop at Marion’s and get a pizza.

It sounds like there’s a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor that you’d like to revisit before another 20 years has passed. Is there more to come?

CG: Well I think yeah, I think what I would like to do is to go back and write what I wanted to write about the Gems. I’ve always been interested in history and [when you get the]opportunity you do to capture something like this as a piece of a town’s history, and in this case Dayton’s history, I think you have to do it. So I think [the way] probably to settle my soul would be to write the book of the Dayton Gems to put the Gems in more of a detailed historical context and also bring out more of the changes in hockey and the social changes and the changes in Dayton and what Dayton was like back then. So many stories that players told that again didn’t make it—because on a good story, you don’t want to shortchange it, particularly a hockey story.

“Hockey in Dayton” is published by Arcadia Publishing and is available at local retailers, online bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing at

Reach DCP freelance writer Sarah Sidlow at

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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