On January 30, 1956, professional ice hockey debuted in North Carolina. A week earlier, a fire destroyed the home arena of the Baltimore Clippers, an Eastern Hockey League team. Charlotte representatives convinced the team to play five of their remaining home games at the Charlotte Coliseum. The Clippers’ Charlotte debut, in which they played the New Haven Blades, drew 10,363 people to the 9,500 seat venue with more than 3,000 being turned away at the gate.
An article in the Charlotte Observer described the response: “Thousands of people who didn’t know a goalie from a dasher board lined up their cars a mile or so on Independence Boulevard and all the other streets around the Coliseum, trying to get into the place.”
The crowd sang “Dixie” before the opening face-off and cheered the Clippers on to a 6-2 victory. The city’s enthusiastic response prompted the Clippers to relocate to Charlotte permanently the following season, and they soon changed their name to the Charlotte Checkers. Hockey historian Jim Mancuso calls the relocation of the Clippers “the birth of professional hockey in the South” and credits it with paving the way for the expansion of other hockey leagues into the southern market.
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