“We’re not marketing fighting on our hockey team.”
Those were the words of Tim Scott, Vice-President of Sales and Marketing of the Manitoba “Fighting” Moose back in 2000, as told to the Winnipeg Free Press, in response to the instant backlash to an ad that the Moose had placed in the Free Press.
The ad in question was designed like a fight card and couldn’t help but remind hockey fans of the scene in Slap Shot when Reggie Dunlop was in Joe McGrath’s office going over a similar ad with the heading of “Aggressive Hockey is Back in Town.” Dunlop suggested, among other things, putting a picture of a groin injury and a “For Sale” sign on the ad, since the fight-happy Charlestown Chiefs were scheduled to fold at the end of the year.
The Moose were in no less trouble than those fictional Chiefs. Their lease was expiring at the Winnipeg Arena and despite having recently rattled off ten wins in a row and sitting comfortably in first place, attendance and fan interest were bottoming out. Crowds were regularly announced in the 6-7,000 range, but, in reality, there were less than 4,000 actually in the building. Many of the Moose’s fans had apparently doused themselves in some leftover invisible paint that Wile E. Coyote had ordered from the Acme catalog as part of one or more of his futile schemes to catch the Road Runner.
Two weeks earlier, Mel Angelstad, the Moose’s fighter, got into a scrap with Chris Neil of the Grand Rapids Griffins after Neil had tried to pick a fight with Moose captain Brian F. Chapman. Sensing an opportunity to capitalize on a potential rematch between the two heavyweights, the Moose placed this ad and printed off 2,000 posters of Angelstad to be given away that night.
Fighters came and went, but there were none like Mel Angelstad. Known as “Mad Mel” or the “Angler,” Angelstad was unquestionably the biggest “celebrity” fighter in the game at the time. He tracked his fighting numbers the way a sniper would track his goals and would boast with pride about his annual totals of 30-40 fights in a season.
He also understood better than anyone that sports was an entertainment business and there was no bigger showman than Mel Angelstad. After taking care of business on the ice, he would tip his helmet and beam his child-like smile at his admirers on the other side of the glass. While he was with the Moose, most of those admirers were the Moose’s preferred demographic, the 8-12 year old boys who were pounding on the glass yelling, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
As the Moose had hoped, the ad did generate plenty of attention, but, as was commonplace during that era, it was very negative attention. The Moose were forced to hastily backtrack and reworded the ad the following day to instead promote the opposing power plays and penalty killing units.
“We realized right away it wasn’t an accurate reflection of what we’re all about. So we said, ‘Let’s change it,’” said Moose owner/president/general manager/head coach Mark Chipman to the Free Press.
But it was an accurate reflection of what the “Fighting” Moose were all about.
During their five seasons in the IHL, the Moose had more fights than points in the standings and they had led the league in number of fights the previous season. “Fight! Fight! Fight!” was easily the most common chant during those years. By contrast, I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times that I heard a “Go Moose Go” chant.
This was but one of many colorful, zany stories from an otherwise forgettable era of hockey history in Winnipeg that few fans saw.
Hmmm, maybe someone should write a book featuring all those stories.
And maybe someone is doing just that.