- WRHL CHAMPIONS:
- 1993 EXPRESS
ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 17 /PRNewswire/ -- At a press conference held here today, plans were unveiled for the formation of the first World Roller Hockey League (WRHL),
created to move street hockey on to the playing fields of the world through organized, televised roller hockey team competition.
Founded by David McLane, a pioneering force behind professional wrestling in the 1980s, the WRHL will develop,
produce and promote professional roller hockey through the performance and marketing of WRHL teams and team merchandise.
The new league also will establish the first official rule book of professional roller hockey and become the sanctioning body. McLane's partner in WRHL creation is former Miami Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti.
Walt Disney World/Disney-MGM Studios will host the WRHL competition, constructing a rink and stadium specifically designed for the new league at the Walt Disney World/Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park in Orlando. There, up to 33 WRHL games will be taped in May 1993 and broadcast weekdays on ESPN from June through August of this year.
"We intend to take in-line skating to an exciting, new dimension," said WRHL founder McLane. "This is roller hockey as 'America's New Game' -- all-American, clean fun that the entire family can enjoy by watching."
Eight WRHL teams will be created this spring through the recruitment of 80 roller hockey players from existing amateur leagues and national tryouts held in the Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York and Orlando metropolitan areas.
Tryouts will begin Wednesday, March 17, at the Holiday Skating Center in Orange, Calif. and Friday, March 19, at the Sherman Square Entertainment Center in Reseda, Calif. Other tryout locations include the Roller Gardens in Minneapolis; The Rink-Montvale in Montvale, N.J.; and the Walt Disney World/Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park in Orlando. Specific tryout dates for these locations are yet to be determined.
Selected players will form 10-member WRHL teams named the Wave, Blast, Turbos, Express, Titans, Aztecs, Fury and Typhoon. The teams will compete in two divisions and 28 regular season games, with the two best teams from each division competing in a "Best of Five" play-off tournament to determine the WRHL champion.
Cheerleading tryouts also will be held for men and women in Los Angeles and Orlando this spring. WRHL cheerleaders will be the first all in-line skating dance troupe.
"In-line skating has become very popular among young adults and children," said Steve Bornstein, ESPN's president and chief executive officer. "We believe that the WRHL telecasts will boost our late- afternoon weekday lineup."
The WRHL will follow its inaugural season with an exhibition tour. The tour will present player clinics, trade events, in-line skate races, and roller hockey tournament and exhibition programs.
The WRHL is the latest evolution in the burgeoning in-line skating industry, which today is estimated to exceed $300 million in annual sales. In-line skates were originally introduced in 1980 as an off- season training device for hockey players and are now used by more than 6.2 million Americans. Roller hockey itself is a relatively recent phenomenon, played in a similar fashion as ice hockey, in parking lots, skating rinks, basketball and tennis courts.
Some of the Players and Staff:
T.v. Announcers: Jim Davidson, Lisa Feinberg
Scott Rupp (Team NA)
Myles Hart (Team NA)
Daryn Goodwin (Team NA)
Paul Chapy Consultant
Pierre LaRouche (WRHL Commssioner)
David McLane (WRHL Founder)
Roh Bhala (Team NA)
Jeff Furlong (Team NA)
Kurt Walstein (Team NA)
Scott Zwygart (Team NA)
Kevin Houle (Team NA)
EPSN to broadcast games of World Roller Hockey League (WRHL) starting in June 1993; 28 regular season games and best of 5 playoff series. Season starts April 29, games played at newly constructed roller hockey stadium on studio lot at Walt Disney World/MGM Studios in Orlando Florida. League founded by David McLane of Indianapolis, IN. His partner is Nick Buoniconti, former NFL linebacker of the Miami Dolphins and co-host of Inside the NFL on HBO, who helped secure the deal. Tryouts to start March 4, 1993 and continue in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York and Orlando. Press conference scheduled for February 9, 1993.]
Street Hockey Magazine, April/May, 1993
The World Roller Hockey League (WRHL)
Roller Hockey’s Going to Disneyworld
By John Black
David McLane has inked a deal with ESPN and the Disney people to bring you a different variety of professional roller hockey. My latest information is that the league will operate from May 30, 1993, at Disneyworld in Orland, Fla. These dates are non-conflicting with RHI’s season. The eight-team league will feature a non-checking format with each team skating four players and a goalie. The games will be played on an outdoor arena with the floor being provided by Sport Court. The players were selected from tryout camps in Los Angeles, Orange County, Calif., Minnesota, New York and Orlando. The players will be flown to Orlando where they will receive free room and board at the Disney Contemporary Hotel. Players must remain at Disneyworld for the first week. Thereafter, the players may request to fly home and return for further games. A series of 33 games will be televised by ESPN beginning on July 21, including the best-of-five championship series. The WRHL is also planning a 10-city tour in July of 1993 which will involve clinics and exhibition games. The premier players from the WRHL season will be selected for the tour.
Street Hockey June/July ‘93
History in the Making
Professional Roller Hockey Hits the Big Time
By Jeff Alexander
McLane, an Indianapolis native and former professional wrestling promoter, has high expectations for the WRHL and the sport of roller hockey in general. “This is going to be the sport of the ‘90s,” McLane said. Murphy… also feels the sport and RHI will be a success. “We all know that roller hockey is one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S. and Canada,” Murphy said. “It’s just a matter of time before roller hockey is received as one of the leading professional sports in North America.”
Paul Chapey, Director of Player Development for the WRHL, said he chose players with years of roller hockey experience in amateur leagues. He also selected players having solid ice hockey experience in NCAA Division I and II, as well as semi-pro, International Hockey League or American Hockey League experience. Chapey feels the league and the sport of roller hockey will only get better by enhancing it with high quality players. “We’re going to expose it so the game looks great and creates interest,” he said. “Not only for the WRHL, but for RHI also.”
The idea for creating the WRHL first hit McLane nearly three years ago on a visit to Los Angeles, where he first heard about the sport. “I immediately thought it had the potential for being a national sport,” he said. “I wondered why someone hadn’t organized it yet to bring it to the professional level.”
McLane called his friend and co-founder of the league, former Miami Dolphins linebacker Nick Buoniconti, who gave his approval. McLane then took his idea to the people at Walt Disney in Florida. He got an agreement from Disney to build the new roller hockey stadium on the MGM/Disney studio lot. John Story, Walt Disney World publicist, said the company likes what the sport has to offer. “Anytime that anyone comes to us with a legitimate televised project, we’re excited about it,” he said. “When we found out that it was going to be a clean sport, we said, ‘Hey, this is perfect for Disney.’ So we got on board.”
McLane then went out searching for television coverage. His search landed him with Steve Bornstein, president and chief executive officer of ESPN. The idea immediately delighted Bornstein, who signed a one-year contract with McLane for ESPN to cover all the games. As for long-term goals, McLane sees the sport and league becoming more and more popular. One reason he feels that audiences will pick up the sport is that it can be played outdoors and doesn’t require ice. Adding a tremendous boost to the sports’ rise in popularity will be the impact ESPN has on broadcasting the games world-wide through their satellite network. “We’re going to have a significant television market that will make everyone stand up and take notice,” McLane said.
The two leagues both stand firm on disallowing high-sticking and fighting of any kind. The WRHL has written into its rules the right to suspend a player or players from the league plus forfeit any potential financial earnings if the player choose to fight. There is also no blind-side checking allowed in the WRHL. Checking can only occur when a player is going for the puck and is initiating contact with the puck.
The WRHL games consist of three 12-minute periods while RHI’s games will have four 10-minute quarters.
Street Hockey Aug Sep ‘93
The WRHL Rides the Express Train
The first season of World Roller Hockey League is a success, and the Express are the best.
By Jeff Alexander
Before the start of the World Roller Hockey League (WRHL) season, the league had several things it thought would make hockey in the summer hot. It had a hot new sport. A hot location in Orlando, Florida. Hot weather. And, a hot television contract with ESPN. All they needed were some hot players, hot games and hot playoffs. No problem. The Express made sure there was plenty of heat as they went on to be the league’s Cinderella team, coming a fourth-place regular season finish, and then having to battle through three playoff games to win the inaugural WRHL title in dramatic fashion. In their first season, playing in front of roller hockey enthusiasts and sports fans alike, the WRHL has found instant success. Success has meant big crowds attending the games, a national television contract, and, most importantly, fast, exciting games. David McLane, president and founder of the WRHL, said the first season was better than he imagined.
“We couldn’t have planned for better games,” he said. “The play was fabulous and the games were exciting. Most of the games went down to the final seconds of the third period to determine the winner.”
Entering the playoffs, the Express faced an uphill battle steep enough to scare a mountain goat. First they had to play a qualifier game against the Fury, as the teams finished in the regular season tied in fourth place, with three wins a piece. The top four teams from the eight-team league advanced to the playoffs. The Express, who started to gel in the second half of the season, won the qualifier game handily, by a score of 9-4. Stephan Desjardins started an incredible playoff run scoring two goals and assisting on two more, while Pat Brisson, a member of the NHL players association, added two more goals and an assist.
That left four teams: The Express, Blast, Titans and Typhoons. The first round was single elimination followed by a best-out-of-five final series.
The Titans (4-2 during the regular season) took a chance in their first playoff game by starting Tom Gazley, a goalie who had played only one period in the season. They took on the Typhoon (who were 5-1 during the season). It paid off as Gazley stopped 86 percent of the shots on goal and sparked his team to a 7-4 win and a trip to the finals. Roby Bryden added a hat trick for the Titans.
The Express then faced the favorites, the Blast. The Blast had yet to lose a game (7-0) and had the league’s two top goal scorers during the regular season, Dave Shute and Jim Hau, along with the leader in assists, Bryan Brandt (a college hockey All-American from the University of Colorado).
The Express goalie, Jason Maxwell, who had never played on inlines prior to the WRHL season and had had the worst goals against average during the regular season, came up big in the playoffs, stopping 88 percent of the Blast’s shots. Still, that was only good enough to keep the game tied at 6-6 and send it into a sudden-death shootout. A trip to the finals hinged on trading penalty shots.
The Express’ Brisson went first, but had trouble controlling the puck and was stopped by Blast goalie Jeff Woosley. The Blast’s Shute then took a good shot, but Maxwell came up with a great save. Erik LeMarque went next and scored for the Express, but Hau returned the favor for the Blast on their next attempt.
Then Desjardins scored his fourth goal of the game with a slap shot that beat Woosley. “I took a slap shot because we were having trouble controlling the puck. So, instead of trying to stickhandle and then deke the goalie, I figured I would just blast it. The goalie got a piece of it, but it squeezed through the five hole,” Desjardins said. The Blast had the last shot for the tie, but Maxwell came up big with a save on Brandt and the Express were off to the finals against the Titans.
In the finals, the Express train could not be derailed. The Express took the first game of the best-of-five series 9-7, with Desjardins and Brisson each getting a hat trick. Ron Dugay [sp], a former NHL All-Star player who is now a commentator for the Tampa Bay Lightning, served as a playmaker for the Express, picking up eight assists in the playoffs. Desjardins said of Dugay [sp], “I think Ron’s professional (ice) experience proved to be the one major attribute for the team. He made so many subtle, key plays, plus he helped the team’s attitude tremendously. He gave me many tips on improving my defensive play. I really learned a lot from him.”
Brisson scored his second hat trick to lead the Express to an 11-5 win over the Titans in game two. LeMarque also had a hat trick and Maxwell continued to shine in net, keeping his playoff save average at 85 percent. The Titans were beginning to show the wear and tear of the regular season and the playoffs. They had lost their regular-season scoring leader, Ken Stelmach, due to an injured knee and Chris Delabbio played in the finals with torn ligaments in his ankle.
Still, the Titans were able to hang tough thanks to the play of Rob Bryden, who finished the playoffs with five goals and two assists, and team captain Terry Shook, who added four goals.
The third game of the finals was played cleaner and more conservatively than the last two. Still, Desjardins found holes in the Titan defense and continued his playoff hot streak scoring two more goals, giving him 13 in the five playoff games.
That was all the Express needed as they won the game 4-2 and the championship series 3-0.
Desjardins commented, “In the beginning of the season we played so poorly that everyone (on our team) was really down on each other. You have to remember that half our team had never played on inlines before, including our goalie. We definitely needed to improve our attitudes and to work harder. So we stopped pointing the finger at each other, practiced harder and stayed focused. And what can you say about Jason Maxwell, he ended up being the best goaltender in the league. As you can see, all of our effort paid off. It was great to come back and win the way we did.”
Many of the players in the WRHL said getting to play professionally was exciting and they are optimistic about the future of the league.
“The consensus among all the players is that this thing is going to take off, it’s going to skyrocket,” Typhoon player/coach Steve Trudnowski said. “Everyone’s had a great time. It’s been one hell of a party.” The WRHL games, which were played at a stadium located on the Disney/MGM Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida, had great attendance. The stadium which seats a capacity crowd of 200 people and has a Sport Court surface, was filled four times a day on game days, mostly by guests touring the studios.
“We had repeat business,” McLane said. “People that came in and watched these games on one day and returned to watch the next day, which is very encouraging.”
Fans were able to witness up close the taping of these games by ESPN. Broadcasts of this season’s games will continue to run through the rest of August. Air times are Monday through Friday at 4 and 5 p.m. Eastern time.
Michael Waggoner, a senior marketing representative for Walt Disney, says the Disney Company is delighted with what the WRHL has to offer.
“We’re extremely pleased,” he said. “I was amazed at the level of play and the professionalism that was out there. I keep looking for the bad side. I keep saying, ‘O.K., where’s the fly in the ointment here?” But I haven’t found it.”
That is not to say the WRHL’s first season went off without a hitch. They did experience some equipment, flooring, personnel and weather problems (most of which were rectified before the season was over).
Naturally, some problems are to be expected in a new sport venture of this magnitude. But, overall, these blemishes did not tarnish the WRHL’s first season. Having pleased their sponsors, Franklin Sports and Disney, along with ESPN, it looks as if the WRHL’s future is as bright as the Florida sun.
Q&A With WRHL President David McLane
Talk of starting a professional roller hockey league might have sounded like lunacy to hockey purists. This wouldn’t be real hockey, and why would people pay to see it?
But World Roller Hockey President and founder David McLane believed roller hockey would be a fast and exciting sport that people would want to watch. And he found plenty of people who believed he was right.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of starting a professional roller hockey league?
A: While living in Los Angeles in 1990, I observed a man standing on inline roller skates in his driveway hitting a ball against a garage door with a hockey stick. I was so taken by this act that I backed my car into the gentleman’s driveway and asked him what he was playing. After questioning him, I asked him if roller hockey games were presented on television, would he watch? His reply was the reason I started the WRHL.
Q: You were able to get ESPN to broadcast the entire WRHL season and play-off series. How were you able to go from your original idea to actually forming the league?
A: It is important to understand that to successfully start the WRHL and get the league to the point where it now enjoys the broadcasting of games on ESPN, including sponsorship by Franklin Sports, and Coca Cola’s PowerAde along with having the games hosted at the Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park, it took the endless help of many people. First, a family friend, the founding partner of the Florida law firm Adorno & Zeder, Jon Zeder, introduced me to former All-Pro NFL linebacker Nick Buoniconti. After sharing my concept with Nick, he introduced me to the President of ESPN, Steven Bornstein. Through Nick’s efforts, and Mr. Bornstein’s belief in the concept, ESPN agreed to take a shot and broadcast the first season of the WRHL.
Q: How did Franklin Sports become involved and what were their feelings about the WRHL’s first year.
A: Franklin Sports actually called the WRHL after the league was officially announced by Walt Disney World in February 1993. When you want to talk about true visionaries, real pioneers, guys that are willing to invest in dreams, I suggest you interview the people of Franklin Sports and the company’s president, Larry Franklin. When I met with Larry Franklin, I was immediately taken with his ability to see the future of roller hockey. Larry understood the dynamics of what the WRHL could be and Larry was willing to step up to the plate and invest in the WRHL. I think Franklin is more than pleased with the inaugural season of the WRHL. Like all of us, Franklin was able to learn a lot about the specific needs of the world’s best roller hockey players.
Q: Was the level of play what you had expected?
A: From viewing the WRHL tryouts, I knew that the level of play was going to be top notch. I was particularly impressed with the level of preparation by the selected WRHL players. I anticipated some potential problems with players overheating and dehydration in the Florida heat. But, to the players credit, no one suffered terribly from the extreme heat, which reached over 100 degrees at times on the playing surface. The players were undoubtedly conditioned beyond that of typical athletes.
What I found interesting in watching the games was that players with former professional ice hockey experience did not necessarily have a playing advantage over the players that had exclusively played roller hockey. This observation illustrated that, although ice and roller hockey are similar, roller hockey is an exciting game that will develop over the next few years with the marquee players that have played roller hockey exclusively.
Q: You changed several rules from ice hockey, such as four-on-four play and eliminating checking. You also changed the size of the goals and the look of the hockey uniforms, risking criticism from hockey purists. What type of game did these changes create?
A: The most exciting hockey games anybody has ever seen. People want to see a competitive athletic event that creates and maintains an aggressive offensive attack which results in scoring. The WRHL delivers high scoring, fast action, energetic play without endless fighting in an atmosphere that is fun and entertaining. All the skeptics have to do is watch one WRHL game on ESPN to know that the WRHL offers the best in sports entertainment.
Q: What suggestions would you have for players interested in trying out for the WRHL next season?
A: Get involved with as many roller hockey programs as possible. Undoubtedly, the players with the best chance of joining the WRHL next season are those with the most experience and best skills.
Q: When you look back on the first season of the WRHL, what will you remember most?
A: Our last weekend we were hit with powerful rains that forced us to alter the WRHL schedule of games. In order to have a chance of playing the games, the court manufacturer, Sport Court, and the Disney staff, was assisted by a group of individuals that did not have to participate in the drying of the court, but volunteered solely on true sportsmanship and love of the game.
Here were the Titan’s Robert Picard, Terry Shook, coach John Lynch, the TV crew, Dynocom Sports and some 20 other players mopping up a wet rink on their knees from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. just so the games could go on. This unity is what I’ll remember most about the WRHL’s first season. This act of teamwork exemplified the spirit and teamwork that the WRHL founded and that will continue to develop. Before ending this interview, I would like to add some thanks to all those people that helped make the WRHL possible. Although I can’t mention all the people, special thanks goes out to ESPN’s Jim Allegro, Steve Risser, Jim Noel, Josh Krulewitz and Dennis Deninger, CME’s Bob Safford; Disney’s Michael Wagonner, Lori Wilson, Bob Lamb, Phil Holmes and Jeff Blackman; Sport Court’s Terri Whitmore; Franklin’s Scott DeGrasse; the WRHL’s uniform and apparel designer Karin Glass of Indianapolis, and the best TV crew I have ever seen, Alan Gibby’s Dynocom Sports.
“The World Roller Hockey League (WRHL) sponsored by Franklin Sports and televised in its first season by ESPN, set out to make a big splash in the roller hockey world. Dreamed up by David McLane, a former pro-wrestling promoter, eight teams competed from May 5 to June 1 at the Disney-MGM Studios Them Park near Orlando, Florida. But from the start, things were just a little bit, well, Goofy.
The games were to be played on an experimental plastic surface made by Sport Court Inc., of Salt Lake City, Utah, but the players slid all over the court as if they were skating on banana peels instead of inline skates. Players who could normally make a hockey stop on a wood floor in six inches slid 20 to 25 feet when they tried to stop on the Sport Court. Before any games were played, the flooring was ripped out and replaced with a tennis court surface. That too was jettisoned after a few games and replaced with a second Sport Court surface – one that finally did the job.
Dan Wolman of Sport Court said the company shipped the WRHL the initial surface as a test product. “The court’s playability was fine,” Wollman said, “But the ability to stop was the problem, and that can be improved with softer wheels. We’re looking to develop the perfect outdoor surface, so this gave us a chance to give it a shot and get some feedback.” They got feedback all right; the players hated it. And they countered that they had every wheel imaginable – including soft ones.
The protective gear supplied by Franklin Sports was a problem as well. Players felt it wasn’t sturdy enough for professional roller hockey. “You could have easily broken your hand wearing the Franklin gloves,” said one player, who asked that his name not be used.
Scott DeGrasse, products/promotions manager for Franklin Sports, was taken aback by the complaints. “Those guys are unbelievable,” he said. “The original gloves didn’t have a rigid thumb guard; that’s the only thing that was wrong with them. We presented the gloves to the players, there was a safety concern that was brought to my attention, and the problem was resolved before they even got on the rink. You have to take into consideration that some of the players were sponsored by our competitors.” DeGrasse added that some players actually went back to using the original gloves because they were cooler in the Florida heat.
Another problem was the Franklin puck – it bounced, and players said it was difficult to control. As a result, the scores were too low, so the goals were widened one foot from NHL-regulation size 4’ by 6’ to 4’ by 7’. Still, members of the San Diego Koho Hosers (who were to play with the Express) quit the tournament in frustration.
Jim Hatch, captain of the Hosers, said that the initial scoring drought was not due to the size of the nets, but occurred because the players could not skate, pass or shoot effectively using the Sport Court surface and the bouncing puck. “We left because we knew that the hockey was not going to be its best under the conditions they had. I’ve been involved with roller hockey for five years, and I couldn’t stay and watch the game take a step backwards.”
Terry Shook of the Titans, who was the Team USA captain in Roller Hockey International last year, was more forgiving. “The RHI was just as unorganized when they started out,” Shook said. “There were a few things the WRHL overlooked, but David McLane was in a rough spot: on one hand, Franklin was the sponsor, and they were putting out 500 grand. And on the other hand, he had to please ESPN because they were running the whole thing for the next three years. He had to walk a find line. Next year I would almost guarantee that this thing will be three times as smooth. The WRHL ran into every obstacle they could possibly run into – the floor, the equipment and the weather (it rained several days, messing up the tournament schedule because it was held outdoors). I think Sport Court is to blame for not testing the product before they put it down there.”
David McLane of the WRHL was unavailable for comment, but many of the players said that the organization is heading in the right direction for next year. Pat Brisson, a Hoser player who stuck around to play with the Express, the eventual champions, said that because the league is brand new, problems are to be expected.
“The first week was more of an R&D situation for the WRHL,” Brisson said. “David McLane wasn’t expecting all the problems that came up. He sold the deal to ESPN – he had the right idea, but he doesn’t know anything about a puck or a stick or in-line skates. He’d never been to a hockey game. So you have to understand where he’s coming from. Toward the end of the competition, it was great, it was fun and everybody had a great time. Next year if they have a better surface, a different puck and different equipment, it’s going to be much better.”