Even though we’ve never had an NHL franchise (and probably never will, unfortunately), Milwaukee could, and by all means should, still be considered a certified hockey town. The city boasts an abundance of hockey bars and has been home to a few professionals over the years. We have countless club teams and plentiful pond play when weather permits. For more than 50 years, Milwaukee has also been the home of the Admirals, a veteran of the American Hockey League and longtime Nashville Predators affiliate that originally started as an amateur team way back in 1970 before pre-AHL stints in the United States Hockey League and International Hockey League.
Even before the Admirals came into existence, Milwaukee was actually home to a few semi-professional and minor professional teams, as well as other organizations in leagues that were higher than amateur but sub-NHL-caliber. Since we’re entering the relatively quiet portion of the sports calendar, we figured now might be a good time to look back on some bygone Milwaukee hockey teams.
The city’s first flirtation with professional hockey came in 1948, when the Milwaukee Clarks first took the ice as a member of the International Hockey League (an alternative to the American Hockey League farm system). The team—named after Clark’s Super Gas, its sponsor and inspiration for the organization’s orange and blue colors—was primarily composed of Canadian talent and coached by former Maple Leafs player George Boothman. Boasting short-tenured NHL wing Red Carr as their leading scorer, the Clarks went 16-15-1 in their first/only season of IHL play in 1948-49. They wound up in the amateur Eastern Hockey League the following season, where they managed a 19-24-8 mark before folding after the 1949-50 season.
Milwaukee Sea Gulls
The end of the Clarks quickly gave way to the Milwaukee Sea Gulls, which joined the United States Hockey League in the 1950-51 season. Founded in 1945, the USHL was the post-World War II return of the American Hockey Association, which ended in 1942 on account of the international conflict. Bearing the same distinct colorway and the same sponsor as the Milwaukee Clarks, the Sea Gulls managed a disappointing 20-38-6 record in their one and only season of play, with Hank Blade (fresh of his 24 career NHL games with the Gulls’ parent team, the Chicago Blackhawks) acting as one of the team’s few bright spots. The USHL ended in 1951, promptly killing the Milwaukee Sea Gulls in the process.
Following one hockey-less year in the wake of the Sea Gulls’ conclusion, the city found its way back into IHL play with the birth of the Milwaukee Chiefs. Sadly, the franchise’s run was as brief as it was bad. In two seasons, the Chiefs had a combined record of 28-90-6, handily missing the playoffs both years before quietly fizzling out.
After the Chiefs, the city went without a hockey team for five whole years before the Milwaukee Falcons swooped in and brought IHL play back to town once more (along with the badass logo you see above). Sadly, the Falcons managed only one complete season, a rough 24-42-1 campaign in 1959-60 that landed them in third place in their division. They chased that unsavory season with a downright dreadful 1-15-1 start to 1960-61 before abruptly folding just 17 games in.
Last and absolutely 100% least on this list of pre-Admirals hockey teams is the not-so-mighty Milwaukee Metros, who played just NINE GAMES in the USHL in the 1961-62 season. The Metros managed a 2-7 record during that brutal blip—allowing an abysmal 83 goals in the process—before the franchise folded due to financial trouble. The unsatisfying end of the Metros would usher in the longest span between pro (or pro-adjacent…something above amateur and club, okay? Spare us the pedantic comments!) hockey teams in Milwaukee since the Clarks came to town in the late ’40s.
In 1970, an independent team known as the Milwaukee Admirals sprouted up. Since then, the Ads have worked their way up the ranks to the USHL (1973-77), IHL (1984-2001), and finally to its current spot as one of the finest hockey destinations in the American Hockey League, where they’ve been since the 2001-02 season. Countless players have spent time in Milwaukee en route to accomplished NHL careers. Unfortunately, the NHL remains unwilling to take root in Milwaukee. However, there’s still a long history of high-caliber ice hockey in the city, and it doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon.