Photo Credit: Chris Maher

On Tuesday, February 16th, 1993, the Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames played to a 4-4 tie in the first and final NHL game to date to take place at Riverfront Coliseum, as well as the city of Cincinnati as a whole. Although the game was scheduled as a neutral-site contest to test if Cincinnati would be viable for an NHL franchise, the game itself would be met with a myriad of issues.

After opening on Tuesday, September 9th, 1975, Riverfront Coliseum (now Heritage Bank Center) hosted the World Hockey Association’s Cincinnati Stingers from the 1975-76 season to the 1978-79 season, where the team reached the postseason in 1977 and 1979, although they would be knocked out in the first round on both occasions. On April 24th, 1979, as the Stingers fell to the New England Whalers 2-1 to end their postseason run, it would also be the final WHA game for the team as well, with the league folding on June 22nd.

Although the team would remain at Riverfront Coliseum after joining the Central Hockey League in the offseason, this attempt would quickly unravel after financial issues forced the team to shut its doors for good on December 18th, 1979. For more than a decade since that date, there had been little chance of hockey returning to the Coliseum any time soon, as the original Cincinnati Cyclones (now Adirondack Thunder) opted to instead play their games at the Cincinnati Gardens when they entered the East Coast Hockey League in 1990. However, this would be flipped on its head before the 1992-93 NHL season.

On April 10th, 1992, the league announced that the upcoming regular season schedule would be increased from 80 games to 84, with two of these extra games for each team to be held at neutral-site venues in a variety of new markets. Out of the 15 cities to host for the 1992-93 season, Cincinnati would be one of them, with Riverfront Coliseum selected to secure its first ice hockey matchup in over 13 years.

Beginning with the game itself, the Flyers came into the matchup in the midst of a trying season, possessing a 19-28-9 record. Despite this, there was still a lot to be excited about on their end, as Philadelphia had acquired forward Eric Lindros, the first overall pick of the 1991 draft, prior to his debut season and had established himself as one of the most talented rookies in the league. As for the Flames, they held a far more intimidating record at 31-19-8, thanks to the play of forward Theoren Fleury, who would go on to finish 1992-93 with 100 points, as well as defenseman Gary Suter, who would eventually finish seventh in Norris Trophy voting for the year.

Starting in net for the Flyers would be backup Dominic Roussel, who would go on to have mixed results in his sophomore season with a 13-11-5 record, although with a save percentage of .881. Meanwhile, Calgary called upon veteran netminder Mike Vernon, already with a Stanley Cup ring from the Flames’ title in 1989, though he too struggled in what would be a suboptimal season, going 29-26-9 while claiming a .887 save percentage.

The first period would be all offense from both sides, with Flames forward Joe Nieuwendyk drawing first blood less than two minutes into the game, before Lindros it up at the 7:15 mark. However, Calgary quickly responded, as Fleury found the back of the net just 57 seconds later.

The teams would swap goals once again, as forwards Ron Stern and Pelle Eklund scored for Calgary and Philadelphia respectively, before Flames forward Gary Roberts restored the two-goal advantage just six seconds prior to the end of the first period, making it a 4-2 game in favor of Calgary.

Before the start of the second period, however, Philadelphia would pull Roussel in favor of regular starter Tommy Soderstrom. Soderstrom, in his rookie season in the league, put together respectable numbers by season’s end at a 20-17-6 record and .892 save percentage and had already earned two career shutouts. As it turned out, this would be just what the team needed following their slow start.

Soderstrom and the Flyers would not allow another goal for the rest of the contest, enabling the team to slowly begin chipping away at the deficit as he stopped all 29 shots that came his way. Forward (and should-be Hall of Famer) Rod Brind’Amour added the only goal of the second, before fellow forward Brent Fedyk evened the game up with the lone power play tally just under five minutes into the third period. Neither side would have the edge for the last 15 minutes of regulation, sending it into overtime.

In overtime, despite a power play opportunity for Calgary as Flyers defenseman Terry Carkner was given a holding call at the 1:48 mark, they would be unable to capitalize as the five-minute OT frame ended with a 4-4 tie.

Although the Flyers improved during the remainder of the season following their trip to Cincinnati, it wouldn’t be enough to avoid a losing record as they finished at 36-37-11 to miss the playoffs. Conversely, the Flames continued their upward trajectory to take a 43-30-11 showing to reach the 1993 playoffs, though the team would have a disappointing postseason, losing in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup finalist Los Angeles Kings.

Despite the competitive on-ice performance, there were several reasons that the NHL never again visited the Coliseum. Likely the most important factor was that players complained of terrible ice conditions, which can not only create an unfair advantage for one team but, more pressingly, also increase the likelihood of injuries. With the league coming off of a player’s strike just a few short months earlier, that along could make them rethink any future commitments to playing at the Coliseum. However, this was just the tip of the iceberg of grievances.

According to postgame articles from the Cincinnati Enquirer, the start of the game was delayed by 37 minutes due to one of the nets being unable to stay connected with the ice surface. Not only that, there were smaller electrical issues that piled on over the course of the game, as the goal lights were not working and the scoreboard shut off at one point in the first period, which led to another delay.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the final attendance numbers would likely be what sank any chance of the NHL returning to the Queen City for the next season, as the Flyers-Flames matchup only brought in 7,973 fans, or roughly half of Riverfront Coliseum’s capacity at the time. With that, when the seven cities were announced for the neutral-site program for the 1993-94 campaign, it came to the surprise of no one that Cincinnati was not on the list.

Riverfront Coliseum would be without pro hockey for four more years, until the Cincinnati Cyclones of the International Hockey League (not to be confused with the original Cyclones franchise mentioned earlier) moved into the facility for the 1997-98 season. Despite the IHL’s closure in 2001, the Cyclones would reform in the ECHL for the 2001-02 season, calling what is now known as the Heritage Bank Center home to this day. However, barring any major renovations or unforeseen circumstances, the NHL will never put another regular season game at the arena in all likelihood.


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