Cincinnati Mohawks: The greatest team nobody has ever heard about
Before the Big Red Machine won back-to-back World Series in 1975-76, before the University of Cincinnati Bearcats won two straight NCAA basketball titles in 1961-62, there were the Cincinnati Mohawks.
The minor-league Mohawks, which won five consecutive International Hockey League championships(1952-53 through 1956-57), "is considered to be the greatest team in IHL history," says Eric Weltner, a Greater Cincinnati advertising executive and filmmaker.
Cincinnati's forgotten franchise will be celebrated with his film, The Mohawk Monopoly, premiering Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 25-26, at the Woodward Theater.
"This was the most accomplished team in the history of the IHL, and in this city and region, and nobody knows them," Weltner says.
When the Cincinnati Gardens opened in 1949, the arena's owners brought the American Hockey League's Washington Lions here and renamed them the Mohawks. After three seasons in the AHL, the Mohawks switched in 1952 to the IHL. Mohawks dominated IHL teams in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Toledo and other Midwest cities by winning six regular season titles and five Turner Cup Championships.
Thanks to an affiliation with the NHL's powerful Montreal Canadiens, the Mohawks were stacked with terrific young talent from the Montreal Junior Canadiens. Future NHL stars who skated for the Mohawks — and interviewed in the film — include Herbert "Buddy" O'Connor (Mohawks player-coach in 1952-53); Don Marshall, who won five Stanley Cups with the Canadiens; New York Rangers center Phil Goyette, who won four Stanley Cups; and defenseman Lou Marcon, who also played in the WHL and AHL.
Weltner also tracked down player-coach Billy Goold; right wing Bryan McLay, who coached five seasons in Muskegon after playing 18 seasons; and 20-year IHL veteran Glenn Ramsay, a Toledo hockey legend who played two seasons here.
"Glenn Ramsay played the second-most games in IHL history. A lot of people say he was the best goal tender who never played in the NHL," Weltner says. The Newport resident grew up in Gahanna watching the IHL Columbus Owls. The lifelong hockey fan, player, coach and historian produced a film about the Owls called International Incidents in 2020. He's a 1986 Ohio University graduate.
The Mohawks amazing success contributed to their demise.
"This team was so good, some of the other teams wanted to banish the Mohawks from the league. It was not unusual for them to hang double-digit losses on the other teams — 17-1, 16-0, 12-1, 11-2. They suffered at the box office because winning became so common place," Weltner says.
The Mohawks suspended operations after the 1957-58 season due to financial loses. Then the team disbanded. The IHL folded in 2001.
The filmmaker's biggest challenge was crafting a 75-minute film after finding only four minutes of film showing the Mohawks playing, and never finding any radio play-by-play. He tells the story with photographs, computer-generated motion graphics and interviews.
Weltner's production team included Matthew Davis, editor and visual effects; Austin Gorrigan, re-recording mixer; and Randy Campbell, sound design.
Player-coach Goold, McLay and Ramsay will attend the premiere parties this weekend, along with a few rival players.
"I really wanted to get this story out and do this while they could enjoy it. They did something that few teams have ever done," Weltner says.
The reception begins at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Woodward Theater, 1404 Main St., Over-the-Rhine. The screening starts at 1:30 p.m.
Tickets are $10 at the door or $8 in advance from cincyticket.com,MOTR Pub, the Woodward Theater box office, MOTR Pub or Shake It Records in Northside.