While the Nashville Predators brought the National Hockey League to Nashville, when they began play in October of 1998, professional hockey first took root in Music City in 1962.
The Dixie Flyers joined the Eastern League that season and played in the then brand-new Municipal Auditorium.
They were true pioneers. They traveled on converted school busses from Nashville to Charlotte, Clinton, New York; Jacksonville, Florida; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Knoxville, Long Island, etc. The Dixie Flyers were in business from 1962 through 1971, and won league championships in 1965-66 and 1966-67. John McLellan coached the championship teams and later spent four full seasons as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The history of this team and all that followed was chronicled beautifully by Scott Osborne, who passed away after a brief illness on Dec. 28. He was a Vanderbilt student when the Dixie Flyers started and was the producer and driving force behind Gold Record: 50 Years of Hockey History in Music City, which first aired on Fox Sports Tennessee in 2012. Calling himself the “Hockey Hillbilly,” he wrote about it on an “On the Forecheck” blog:
Hockey was lucky to have someone of his caliber at the controls of that project. Osborne won 11 Emmy Awards during his career, which included time with all four of the major networks.
Two months later, on Feb. 28, longtime sportswriter Harold Huggins passed away after suffering from leukemia. A 1961 graduate of Battle Ground Academy, Huggins was 73. Harold began his career with the Nashville Banner in 1969. His beat at the start? Covering the Dixie Flyers! Harold was elected to the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame last November.
On March 3, the highest-scoring member of the Dixie Flyers (over three-straight seasons: 60, 39 and 53 goal years), Ted McCaskill, died.
Ted got into just four games with the Minnesota North Stars, but he got his break with the creation of the World Hockey Association. There he played two seasons with the Los Angeles Sharks from 1972-74, and finished his career with the North American League’s Binghamton Broome (County) Dusters in 1974-75.
That was a good break for him. Why? Well that was the same league that featured the Johnstown Jets with Ned Dowd, who was keeping a diary and notes of his experiences. Those jottings turned into the cinema classic SlapShot, and Ted was in it – uncredited – but in it.
And pictured in this group shot with Paul Newman on the left:
Scott Osborne, Harold Huggins and Ted McCaskill – three big losses from Nashville’s hockey history in such a brief time. We thank them for their contributions to our memories!