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 Team and League History



    This franchise was previously known as the Birmingham South Stars, who played one season in the Central Hockey League in 1982-83. Click the South Stars logo below to learn their story.

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July 1983

    Atlantic Coast Hockey League logoIt is announced that the team's President, Mike McClure, would be traveling to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to discuss the possibility of moving the team to the Atlantic Coast Hockey League. "We're not counting out the Central League. Yet we know, budget-wise, the only way to go economically is the ACHL," McClure said. According to Central Hockey League President Bud Poile, there is a possibility Birmingham could return to the CHL but the latest that decision could be made would be July 26th. 

Compounding the problem is the National Hockey League's Minnesota North Stars have pulled their support from Birmingham, due to poor attendance. The North Stars are in talks with the CHL about taking over the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles, who are in limbo due to an ownership dispute. If the North Stars decide to support the Golden Eagles, the South Stars will try and talk to the NHL's St. Louis Blues about buying the team. 

Both McClure and Poile admit the South Stars' chances of staying in the CHL are doubtful due to the distance Birmingham is from the other teams. The franchise layout in the ACHL would lower Birmingham's travel costs considerably. Also, the break-even point in the ACHL is 2,000 fans per game, as opposed to 3,000 in the CHL.

All teams in the ACHL are independent, which means they have no NHL parent club to support them with money and players. With the wealth of retired hockey players from past Birmingham teams, this should pose no problem. "Of course, the caliber is not going to be what the Central League was," McClure said.

The ACHL is the former Eastern Hockey League, which folded in 1981. To take it's place, the EHL's owners formed the ACHL. With only 5 teams last year, the league looks to grow to 10 or more teams before the next season starts. "The league at this point is looking tremendous, and we'd love to have Birmingham in our league for a number of reasons," said Rick Dudley, owner of the ACHL's Carolina Thunderbirds. Dudley is also in charge of the ACHL's expansion plans.

    McClure announces the South Stars would be joining the ACHL for the 1983-84 season. They will become the league's 7th team. 

The South Stars still have a number of issues to settle; $70,000 worth of debts, negotiating a lease with the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center coliseum, player contracts and a fight with Nashville over the South Stars nickname. McClure is confident the team name will remain South Stars and was surprised the conflict with the Nashville South Stars wasn't an issue in negotiation with the ACHL.

While the ACHL is an independent league, teams are free to develop working agreements with NHL teams. McClure said he would like to get players from Vancouver, Washington and St. Louis.


August 1983

    It is announced that South Stars head coach Gene Ubriaco, last season's CHL Coach of the Year, has been named head coach of the American Hockey League's Boston Skipjacks.   
    McClure says the team has lost the battle for the right to use the nickname South Stars and will instead call themselves the Birmingham Bulls. 

McClure also said that the future of the Bulls depended on their rental contract with the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. "There isn't much we can do until we have a lease arrangement. We're within the same universe on terms. They are concerned with the cost of keeping ice in there, and we're concerned with keeping our costs at a minimum. If hockey draws a decent number of people, we can both benefit. I still believe hockey can make it in Birmingham. If I didn't, I wouldn't be going to all this bother. The sport has been unstable since the World Hockey Association ended. What hockey needs in this city is one year on the books without aggravation," McClure said.

Coliseum Director Casey Jones is also hopeful an agreement can be worked out. "We'd love to have hockey back. But there are certain costs we have to cover. People don't understand how expensive it is to keep ice on the floor. It costs us $400 a day to keep ice down. It's an expensive procedure. We got all our money from the hockey team last year. We want hockey," Jones said.


September 1983

    McClure officially announces there will be a hockey team in Birmingham and it will play in the ACHL. "This is the Atlantic Coast League's fourth year, and it has made strides every year. The quality of play is going to surprise a lot of people. Actually, it may be better than the Central Hockey League. The CHL is strictly a developmental league. The Atlantic Coast League is not restricted to young players. We're expecting good hockey. This time, with the lower travel budget, the numbers look much better. We need about 2,200 fans to break even. I think we can get that. With the players we'll have, everything makes more sense than before," McClure said.

McClure also named Dave Hanson as the Bulls head coach. Hanson, who is only 29, has no prior experience as a head coach. He played with last year's CHL champions, the Indianapolis Checkers. He is also a former Birmingham Bulls player. "I've been interested in coaching for a while now. Glen (Sonmor, former Birmingham Bulls head coach) told me once he thought I had the character for it. I think this is a good opportunity for me to start. Birmingham is my home, and that makes it even better. I know what it takes to win. I've played on a lot of winners," Hanson said.


October 1983

  1983-84 Atlantic Coast Hockey League  
  Birmingham Bulls  
  Carolina Thunderbirds  
  Erie Golden Blades  
  Mohawk Valley Stars  
  Nashville South Stars  
  Pinebridge Bucks  
    McClure announces that due to delays in finalizing the team's finances, the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Board has evicted the Bulls from their offices in the Coliseum. The Bulls will not be allowed to use their offices until they pay the $50,000 Coliseum rental fee. Also, there has been no ice put down for the team to practice on.

"We have a commitment for the money, but it is taking a while for our backer to complete arrangements. The Civic Center's Board's decision is to keep us out until the money is in their hands. At the moment, we don't have it," McClure said.

Jones replied, "The contract they signed required a $50,000 deposit delivered by September 30. They didn't do it. They kept saying they'd have the money on Monday. Then it was going to be Wednesday. An accountant (for the un-named major investor) called and said the earliest would be Friday. Now they say it might be ten more days. After the problems of last year, the Board simply said, 'put up the deposit and you can move in'. And that's where it stands. We're ready. We want hockey. Hockey has been good to us in the six years we've had it."


McClure addresses the team's future by saying, "The league is getting concerned now. They want to know what we're going to do. Frankly, I don't have an answer for them. We can open on the road if we have to. We might be forced into playing some home games somewhere else. I just want to get the money and get started. I believe we can make hockey be successful if we can just get it going." 

If financing is not found soon, the Bulls could be forced to play their first few home games at their practice facility (the Oxmoor Ice Lodge) or possibly in the city of Huntsville.


The ACHL informs the Bulls that their deadline to obtain proper financing is the 19th. "I have one last guy. He's not looking at profit or loss, but what the hockey team can mean to the city. He wants to do it emotionally but realizes there are better ways to invest his money. I won't give up. The sad part is Dave is putting a good team together. The rest of the league is (asking) 'How can he do that?' But the rest of the league is solid, and doesn't want something on a maybe basis. The league is in a bind, and I understand that. They have to know something Wednesday (tomorrow). The Coliseum Board won't wait. Recalling the things that have happened - WFL, Central Hockey League team folding and the indoor soccer team that was supposed to be here - they want their money up front."

    The ACHL will give the Bulls another day to gain financing. "We had a conference call meeting with the league and they gave us until noon (tomorrow) to get our financing together. I believe hockey is good for the city. It would be a blow if it disappeared from the sports scene. I would think it'd be a great blow," Hanson said.   

McClure announces he has obtained the necessary funding for the team. Discussions lasted for two and a half hours past the league's deadline, however. An anonymous investor has agreed to post the $50,000 deposit required by the Coliseum Board. Due to the late agreement, no ice has been put down and the Bulls will have to reschedule their home opener until next week.  

"Dave and I were in meetings all day and finally got everything resolved. We're very happy with the financial support we're going to have for years to come. We just have to take what we have and do a considerable marketing and promotional job and be very visible in the community. We have to recreate the enthusiasm that was here before when John Bassett first brought hockey to Birmingham," McClure said. 

McClure refused to name the team's investor saying, "He wants to remain behind the scene, and that's how it is."


The unidentified backer has suddenly recalled his $50,000 deposit, leaving the Bulls future in doubt. McClure blamed a newspaper article for the change of heart. "He feels he was being made to look like a fool. We are back to square one, looking for another backer. We have two people who are willing to go into partnership with our original backer. That is, they'll put up half the money if he'll come back and put up the other half," McClure said.

ACHL Commissioner Ray Miron is in town and is involved with the negotiations.

The Mohawk Valley Stars are also in town, waiting to see if they will have an opponent to play against the Bulls.


The league will give the Bulls until the end of the week to obtain their financing or they will be forced to shut them down. McClure is optimistic and said they "had a couple more investors agree to share some of the load."

"The league decided today to let them play three games and see what happens. We need more time. It could have come to the point where we said, "We haven't got it solved, so that's it.' But we'd like to have Birmingham in the league. It's a big a city, with the best building in the league. We can't just say 'Forget it.' Birmingham has had some good years in hockey, some not so good. I thought we would like to give it a chance. However, if I thought there'd be only three games played, I'd never have let them play a game," Miron said.


Miron announces that the ACHL has officially suspended operations of the Birmingham Bulls franchise due to their inability to obtain proper financing. Miron said the club's failure left the league with no alternative. 

A last-ditch effort was made last night when Birmingham Stallions owner Marvin Warner was approached. "I was contacted. I feel very badly about the situation. But the Stallions are a very important enterprise, and the limited time I have to devote in this area must be toward the Stallions. I hate to see anything leave Birmingham. It's unfortunate. Were we further along ourselves, we might be in a position to help," Warner said.

Another rumored prospect, Thomas Falls, owner or a local janitorial service, withdrew yesterday. 

McClure still refused to name any potential investors. "I'd just rather not get into it. I'll take the blame. I just regret, due to our inability to get the proper financial support that we have no choice but to suspend operations."

Miron said the Bulls never posted their performance bond of $20,000 or their $5,000 franchise fee.


Hanson says the Bulls had even tried to contact actor Paul Newman at the last minute to test his interest in financing the team. A few years ago, Hanson played a minor role in the movie "Slapshot", which starred  Newman as the fictional team's head coach. "Yeah, we attempted to contact Paul. I got to know him when we shot the movie in Johnstown, PA, and he's a great guy. He just might have gone for it," Hanson said. However, Newman could not be reached before the ACHL suspended the team's operation.

McClure blamed a large part of the team's failure on the cost to keep ice frozen in the Coliseum. "It's a major-league building, and the financial demands are too great for minor-league hockey," McClure said.

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Last Update: May 20, 2012