Buffalo Blizzard

The Buffalo Blizzard were a professional indoor soccer team who played in the NPSL (National Professional Soccer League) between 1992 and 2001. The MSL (Major Soccer League, formerly the Major Indoor Soccer League) had hoped that the Blizzard would join them, upping the number of active franchises and making the league a viable concern. The Blizzard turned them down and opted to join the NPSL instead, even though it was a less prestigious league.

The Blizzard were founded and owned by brothers Seymour H. Knox III and Northrup R. Knox, and Robert and Melinda Rich. The Knox brothers also owned the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, whilst the Rich’s owned the minor league Baseball franchise the Buffalo Bisons. The Knox brothers were great philanthropists and heirs to the Woolworths chain of shops. Northrup Knox is also chairman of the Marine Midland Bank. Melinda Rich was the President of the Rich Entertainment Group, and has sat on the boards of many companies and foundations. Michael DeRose was a Limited Partner in the Blizzard, and owned DeRose Food Brokers Ltd, he was also the ex-owner of the Buffalo Braves NBA franchise. Another limited partner was John Bellanti, previously the owner of the Buffalo Stallions MISL franchise, who had made his money in the oil and lube business. He was also named as the team’s President. The ownership group was named the Greater Buffalo Soccer Inc.

Ex-professional player Jim May was named as the franchise’s General Manager and Vice-President .May had played in goal with the Buffalo Stallions in the MISL (Major Indoor Soccer League), and owned the Sportsplex indoor soccer facility in North Tonawanda. Chris Schoepflin was named Community Director.

Their first home arena was the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium between 1992 and 1996, which had a capacity of 16,433. The Blizzard shared the arena with the Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League, and the Buffalo Stampede of the In-Line Roller Hockey League. The arena was owned by the City of Buffalo. The ownership hoped to get an average 8,500 fans to attend per game. The rent for the Auditorium was set at $65,000 per season.

The first Head Coach of the franchise was Englishman Trevor Dawkins, who had been coach of the Cleveland Crunch the previous season. Dawkins wanted a competitive team right from the start, saying that there were enough decent players available. Scotsman David Hoggan was signed from the Cleveland Crunch in a dual role as player and Assistant Coach.

The Blizzards inaugural season was in 1992-1993. This was a golden year for the NPSL as with main competitor the MSL folding, the teams were not in a costly salary war and had all the best players available. The Blizzard were placed in the 7 team American Division, lining up against the Baltimore Spirit, Canton Invaders, Cleveland Crunch, Dayton Dynamo, Detroit Rockers, and the Harrisburg Heat. WMBX-AM covered all 40 Blizzard games on the radio, Clip Smith did play-by-play, and Sean McCrossan did analysis.

Their inaugural roster featured defender Ralph Black, English forward Paul Dougherty, Kris Kelderman, and Buffalo brothers and indoor soccer legends, Randy and Rudy Pikuzinski. Randy was signed in a trade with the Chicago Power that took Chuck Codd, Russ Prince, and Ko Thandabouth to the Power. Other notable names included goalkeeper Jamie Swanner, who had been part of the hugely successful Canton Invaders team in the AISA/NPSL.

The first game for the Buffalo Blizzard was a stunning 15-7 victory over the Denver Thunder in front of 10,953 fans. Rudy Pikuzinski scored 5 goals on his debut.
The Blizzard were strong offensively through the season, but struggled in defence.
After the regular season the Blizzard placed 3rd in the American Division and qualified for the playoffs. They won 23 and lost 17 of their 40 games, scoring 570 goals and conceding 503. In the playoff quarter-finals the Blizzard were paired against the Cleveland Crunch. Despite winning the first game of the best-of-three series 20-13, they lost the final two 12-6 and 13-6 and were eliminated.
The teams leading player was Rudy Pikuzinski who scored the most goals (67), registered the most assists (36) and scored the most points 165. This left him finishing 4th in the leading NPSL points scorer list. He also made the NPSL All-Star team.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,068.

For the 1993-1994 season the Blizzard were again in the American Division, this time without the Detroit Rockers who had been moved to the National Division. The NPSL signed a deal for some games to be aired nationally on ESPN. Peter K. O’Connell was named as Assistant General Manager to Jim May.

New faces on the roster included Argentinian Ernie Buriano. Draft picks included Chris Majewski and Nino Galich.

The Blizzard opened the season on November 6th with a game against the Kansas City Attack. They won, with Dave Hoggan scoring a hat-trick in front of a record attendance for a home Blizzard game of 12,873.
They broke the attendance record during the season when 13,262 fans showed up to see them play the Dayton Dynamo.

After the 40 game regular season the Blizzard finished 3rd again in the division, and qualified for the playoffs. They won 19 goals and lost 21, scoring 499 and conceding 515. For the second year running they faced the Crunch in the 1st round of the playoffs. They lost the first game 24-16, won the second 16-12 before going down 13-8 in the decider.

Their average attendance for the season was 8,435.

After the season Trevor Dawkins was sacked as Head Coach on June 22nd 1994, along with his assistant David Hoggan. VP Jim May said that he felt the team had “taken a step backwards in the 1993-1994 season”, and that they had underachieved. Dawkins was replaced with 31 year old Peter Skouras. Skouras was a Greek-American and after the NASL folded had spent 5 years playing professionally in Greece with Olympiakos, Diagoras, and Volos (although in 5 years he only made around 15 appearances). Chris Schoepflin was promoted from Community Director to PR Director. Jim May vowed to make the team more aggressive and high scoring, as well as having a younger roster.

For the 1994-95 season the NPSL American Division line-up was unchanged.

The roster included defender Michael Collins, Gino DiFlorio, and Canadian goalkeeper Rob Marinaro, brother of indoor soccer superstar Hector Marinaro. To rival him for the goalkeeping position was Canadian national team player, Pat Harrington. Harrington was signed because the Blizzard had traded Jamie Swanner to the St. Louis Ambush for their goalkeeper Jeff Robben, cash, and a 3rd round draft pick. Robben failed to report for training so they signed Harrington who cobined olaying with being appointed an Assistant Coach (although Robben did end up playing 10 games for the Blizzard that season).

Coach Skouras was saying he now that the squad that take the team to the “next level”.

The Blizzard won their home opener on November 6th 20-14 against the Chicago Power in front of 7,678 fans. Paul Dougherty scored 4, and new signing DiFlorio 3. It seemed their new brand of attacking football was working. In their 3rd game however they were crushed 26-8 (their record defeat) against the St. Louis Ambush and new Head Coach Skouras was fired and replaced by General Manager and Vice-President, Jim May.
May’s first game was a hard fought 22-16 win against the Detroit Rockers in front of 8,475 fans.

In December the Blizzard scored a coup by signing current U.S. international outdoor goalkeeper Tony Meola. He had failed in a tryout with the New York Jets and was looking for a club. In Meola’s debut away at the Dayton Dynamo he looked shaky s the Blizzard lost 13-11, but looked far better in his home debut against the Detroit Rockers. Attendance for his debut was up to 9,283, the biggest so far that season. Also in December the Blizzard signed forward Andy Crawford from the Detroit Rockers, and Gino DiFlorio received a season ending injury when he tore his right Achilles tendon in a game against the Canton Invaders.

In January Meola announced that he had taken a lead role in the off Broadway play “Tony and Tina’s Wedding”, and left the squad on February 17th after 5 more games. One of these games was the record 23-0 win over the Dayton Dynamo. The Blizzard also played one of their regular season games in Massachusetts at the Centrum. The match was seen as a way of the NPSL seeing how soccer fans would respond to NPSL football in the area, perhaps paving the way for a new franchise. When the Blizzard were making their push for the playoffs they signed Nigerian-born U.S. international striker Jean Harbor.

After the 40 game regular season the Blizzard barely made the playoffs, finishing 4th in their division. They won and lost 20 games, scoring 579 goals and conceding 552. For the 3rd year running they faced the Cleveland Crunch in the 1st round of the playoffs, and for the 3rd year running the Crunch eliminated them. The Crunch won the first game 22-10, lost the 2nd 21-19 in overtime, before winning the deciding game 19-15.

English forward Paul Dougherty was the Blizzards highest scorer with 81 goals, 31 assists, for a total of 171 points. He ranked 6th in the NPSL in scoring that season.
Ernie Buriano retired at the end of the season. The Blizzard began looking for a new Head Coach to replace Jim May, who would be kept on as General Manager and Vice-President. Team President John Bellanti said that they were looking for a “top-flight coach”.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,283.

The American Division for the 1995-1996 season was slightly re-jigged. Along with the regular Baltimore Spirit, Canton Invaders, Cleveland Crunch, and Harrisburg Heat, came the expansion Tampa Bay Terror, and the Cincinnati Silverbacks who had moved from Dayton.

Their search for a new Head Coach had not paid off, so Jim May was left in charge for the 1995-1996 season. Peter O’Connell left his position of Assistant General Manager to set up his own business. In the expansion draft the Blizzard lost Mike Britton to the Tampa Bay Terror, who in turn traded him to the Wichita Wings. Goalkeeper John Howard was signed from the Milwaukee Wave in return for cash and a 1st round draft pick. Veteran Argentine defender Oscar Pisano was signed from the Las Vegas DustDevils, having previously played for the Buffalo Stallions.

During the season Mike Gosselin joined from the Cincinnati Silverbacks in a trade for Matt Kmosko. Todd Pettigrew was signed from the Canton Invaders for a 3rd round draft pick. The Blizzard featured in their highest ever scoring contest in December, when they beat the Cleveland Crunch 28-21 in front of 5,588 fans. Also in December Rudy Pikuzinski was suspended by the Blizzard for 3 games for “conduct detrimental to the team”. The Blizzard lost these three games. Goalkeeper Rob Marinaro was sold to the Harrisburg Heat for cash, as he had slipped to 3rd choice behind Pat Harrington and John Howard.

A mid-season audit showed the Blizzard owed the Memorial Auditorium $61,000 in 3 seasons worth of ticket surcharges. The Blizzard broke their attendance record when 13,354 fans came to watch them play the Harrisburg Heat on a School Kids Day promotion. On March 26th, President John Bellanti confirmed he was in negotiations to purchase the team. Also in March the Blizzard acquired 2 players from the Canton invaders, English defender Denzil Antonio, and Argentinian forward Marcelo Carrera for cash and future considerations.

The Blizzard won 21 and lost 19 of their 40 regular season games, scoring 562 goals and conceding 586. They again qualified for the playoffs and were again facing their nemesis, the Cleveland Crunch, in the 1st round of playoffs. Consistently, they went out after 3 games, losing 25-15 in the first game, winning the 2nd to keep them in it 20-17, before winning the decider 17-11.

The Blizzard’s leading goal scorer was the again the Englishman Paul Dougherty with 50 goals. Argentine Marcelo Carrera was the leading points scorer with the team, making 43 assists and scoring 125 points. Andy Crawford set a team record by scoring in 26 consecutive games. Defender Rudy Doliscat and Canadian midfielder Mauro Biello were named on the NPSL All-Rookie team.

After the season finished Paul Dougherty left the Blizzard and the NPSL to move to the CISL (Continental Indoor Soccer League) with the Houston Hotshots. The CISL was a summer league. He had played 149 games and scored 221 goals.

Their average attendance for the season was 6,364.

In the off-season co-owner Seymour Knox III died in Boston from cancer. The Blizzard persuaded the City of Buffalo to lower their rent at the Memorial Auditorium by $15,000 per season after arguing that the team was losing money and the rent was too high. Rent was now set at $50,000 per season.

For the 1996-1997 season the NPSL was split into two conferences with two divisions in each. The Blizzard were placed in the North Division of the National Conference, alongside the Detroit Rockers, Edmonton Drillers, and the Toronto Shooting Stars. The Shooting Stars were an expansion franchise and the Drillers had just moved from being the Chicago Power.

The ownership changed before the season, with President and co-owner John Bellanti leading an ownership group (Blizzard Inc.) who bought the franchise from the Knox Brothers and the Rich family. Bellanti was the owner and CEO of Battenfield Grease & Oil.

Jeff Eisenberg was named as the team’s new President, having moved from being the Vice President for Sales at the Buffalo Sabres.

Jim May was replaced as Head Coach by Gary Hindley, and May returned to his previous positions of General Manager and Vice-President. New owner Bellanti put the pressure on Hindley saying that the 1996-1997 season was not a rebuilding one, and that he wanted to “win, win now, and win big”. Hindley signed a two-year contract with an option for a 3rd.

The Blizzard changed their home arena for this season, moving to the HSBC Arena after the closure of the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, where they would play until they folded in 2001. The Arena’s capacity was 18,690 and the Blizzard shared it with the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL, the Bandits of the National Lacrosse League, the Buffalo Destroyers of the Arena Football League, and the Buffalo Wings of the Roller Hockey League. The Arena was owned by the City of Buffalo and Erie County, New Jersey.

A key signing for the Blizzard was striker Doug Miller, who would alternate between the Blizzard indoors and the Rochester Rhinos outdoor. He would go on to play 165 games and score 208 goals.

The Blizzard started poorly, losing their first 4 games for the first time in the team’s history (although they were 4 away games. The played without much visible spirit, enthusiasm, or skill and even lost 20-5 against the expansion Toronto Shooting Stars franchise. The Rockers broke their all-time attendance record again, with 13,903 fans turning up to see them beat the Detroit Rockers 16-11 in their home opener. They won their next 3 games before going down to the St. Louis Ambush at home in front of 6,016 fans. The teams had brilliant home form, but were woeful away from the Marine Midland Arena.

During the season the Blizzard signed English veteran striker Steve Kinsey, initially on a series of 15 day contracts, before signing for the whole season. Argentinian striker and indoor veteran Carlos Salguero was brought in as Assistant Coach, and played in one game for the team. He was also to be the Director of the summer soccer camps for the Blizzard.

Gary Hindley was sacked in March and replaced until the end of the season by General Manager and Vice-President, Jim May. Hindley had a 16-16 record in his time as Head Coach, and had not fulfilled owner John Bellanti’s charge to win immediately and big. May’s first game in charge was a record breaking 37-5 win over the Columbus Invaders in front of 8,748 fans.

The Blizzard finished their 40 league season topping their division for the first time ever, this putting them straight into the National Conference semi-finals. They won 21 of their regular season games, conceding 19, scoring 545 games and conceding 469. For the first time in the playoffs they weren’t paired against the Kansas City Attack. They lost in straight games against the Attack 18-12 and 13-11.

The Blizzard’s leading goal scorer was Doug Miller with 53 goals and the most overall points, 114 (13th in the NPSL). Gino DiFlorio registered the most assists with 33. Canadian goalkeeper Pat Harrington led the lead in goalkeeping stats, conceding an average of only 9.76 goals per game.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,974. Their lowest attendance was the 4,346 fans who turned up to watch the playoff decider against the Kansas City Attack. This was the 3rd lowest attendance in the Buffalo Blizzard’s history.

After the season Argentine Carlos Salguero was appointed Head Coach on a permanent basis and retired from playing. Rudy Pikuzinski was named to a dual player/Assistant Coach role. They said that their first job was to find the team more goal scorers. In the front office, Kimberly Venti was named Director of Communications, and Claudio Ferrara Director of Administration.

The Blizzard signed a deal with radio station WNUC to broadcast all of their home games in the 1997-1998 season. Mike Schopp was named as the play-by-play announcer.

For the 1997-1998 season the line-up of the North Division changed, with the Montreal Impact replacing the Toronto Shooting Stars.

Newcomers on the roster included goalkeeper Bill Andracki, forward Jimmy Glenn, and indoor veteran Nassim Olabi.

For the new season the Empire Sports Network announced it would televise the Blizzard’s home debut opener against the Montreal Impact.

They signed defender Thor Lee on a seasons loan from the Anaheim Splash of the CISL.

Like the season before the Blizzard were unbeatable at home, but suffered the worst opening away run in the team’s history, winning 1 and losing 6 of their opening 7 away games. The Blizzard broke their all-time attendance record again when a mammoth 15,644 fans turned up to see the play the Philadelphia Kixx. The match was spoilt when they lost 13-11.

After the 40 game regular season the Blizzard topped the North Division for the 2nd season running, winning 21 games and losing 19. They scored 495 goals and conceded 504, and went straight into the National Conference semi-finals in the playoffs. Yet again they fell at the first hurdle, this time to the Wichita Wings, losing in straight games 19-16 and 15-14.

The Blizzards leading player was Rudy Pikuzinski who scored 53 goals, made 38 assists and scored a total of 139 points, placing him joint 7th in the NPSL that season.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,834.

Carlos Salguero was sacked after the season over a disagreement over whether he would appear at the Buffalo Blizzard’s summer camps. Jeff Eisenberg resigned as President to concentrate on other things. Jim May gave up his role of General Manager to Michael Ferguson, who was also named Vice-President. Ferguson had previously been GM of the minor league Jamestown Jammers baseball team. May became Vice-President of Soccer Operations.

The North Division for the 1998-1999 season consisted of the Blizzard, the Detroit Rockers, and the Edmonton Drillers.

At the start of September Carlos Salguero’s successor was named, ex-head coach of the Cincinnati Silverbacks, George Fernandez. In the press conference Fernandez said that he had joined because of the “job security”, regardless of the fact that the Blizzard had got through 4 head coaches in 5 seasons. He signed a 3-year deal with the Blizzard. Before the Silverbacks, Fernandez had coached the Anaheim Splash in the CISL.

The Blizzard also signed a substantial one-year shirt sponsorship deal with the food promotion company the RMI Group. Shirt sponsorship deals were quite uncommon in American sports.

Rudy Pikuzinski, who was rumoured to be retiring, signed a new 2-year deal. In some roster changes Canadian Marco Rizi did retire, and Evan Whitson opted to sit out the season for personal reasons. In came defender Ricky Rodriguez, who had played for Fernandez at the Splash. Forward Bernie Lilavois was signed from the defunct Silverbacks, and in came midfielder Danny Barber.

In their first home game of the season the Blizzard beat the St. Louis Ambush 21-14.
During the season defender Michael DiNunzio came out of retirement to sign a series of 15 day contracts. Forward Bernie Lilavois was traded to the Harrisburg Heat for Jim Hesch and Byron Mitchell.

The Blizzard finished the 1998-1999 season 2nd out of three teams in the North Division, winning 22 games and losing 18. They scored 573 goals and conceded 560. This put them into National Conference semi-finals in the playoffs, where they were paired against the St. Louis Ambush. They went out again at the first hurdle, winning the first game 16-13, but losing the next two games 12-10 and 12-11.
Doug Miller was the team’s leading player, scoring 92 goals (highest in the NPSL that season), making 23 assists and scoring 194 points, placing him 2nd in the NPSL for that season. Miller made the 6-man NPSL All-Star team.

Their average attendance for the season was 7,068.

For the 1999-2000 season the Blizzard moved into the American Conference, and were placed in the Central Division, lining up against the Cleveland Crunch and the Montreal Impact.

Doug Miller, after his showing the previous season, was rewarded with a new 4-year contract.

The Blizzard’s home opener was against the Montreal Impact in front of 10,412 fans. The season started abysmally for the Blizzard losing 6 out of 7 games at one point. Early defeats were caused by injuries with the Blizzard only having 11 fit players, but the results didn’t improve when the players came back. Team legend Rudy Pikuzinski was released and promptly retired. He said that Fernandez sacked him because his negative attitude was affecting the other players. The Blizzard acquired forward Brad Smith from the Baltimore Blast for future considerations.

At the end of February, George Fernandez was sacked, and replaced by Englishman Paul Kitson for the final 12 games of the regular season.

They finished bottom of the 3 game division, and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in their history. In their 44 game season they won 19 games and lost 25, scoring 495 goals and conceding 617.

Their average attendance for the season was 6,587.

Although he failed to get them into the playoffs, John Bellanti was very happy with Paul Kitson during his 12 game spell and said he would be in charge for the next season. Kitson won 5 and lost 7 of his games in charge.

Mike Ferguson resigned his dual role as General Manager and President to concentrate on other interests. The Blizzard signed two new players, Dewan Bader and Travis Roy.
The last season of the franchise 2000-2001, was played in a re-formulated NPSL. The NPSL was split into two Conferences, with no Divisions. The Blizzard were in the 5 team American Conference, lining up against the Baltimore Blast, Cleveland Crunch, Harrisburg Heat, and the Philadelphia Kixx.

Ex-player Ernie Buriano was named as Assistant Coach, and Mike Ferguson took up a GM/Vice-President of Business Operations role with the Wichita Wings.
The first half of the season was terrible for the Blizzard, winning 7 and losing 13 of their 20 games. However, in the second half of the season they turned it around with a 15-5 record to reach the playoffs.

The Blizzard won 22 and lost 18 in their 40 game regular season, placing them 2nd in the Conference and sent them into the playoffs. They scored 513 goals and conceded 464. Matching their previous years playoff record they went out in the Conference semi-finals to the Baltimore Blast 9-8 and 18-13.

The Blizzard’s leading player was Doug Miller – he scored 47 goals, made 27 assists, and scored 118 points.

Their average attendance for the season was an all-time low for the franchise, 4,635.
After this season the NPSL collapsed, with the league claiming it was no longer financially viable. Six of the strongest franchises formed the new MISL, but the Blizzard folded when owner John Bellanti declined to apply to join the new league.
Randy Pikuzinski who had played in every season for the Blizzard was signed in the dispersal draft by the Harrisburg Heat, but opted to retire instead.

In total the Blizzard played 364 regular season games, winning 188 and losing 176, scoring 4,688 goals, and conceding 4,720. In the playoffs they played 21 games, winning 5 and losing 16. They scored 275 goals and conceded 349. They never made it past of their first playoff series in any season. The Blizzard were known as the “.500” club referring to their middling record in every season, roughly equalling games won and lost.

The Blizzard’s all time leading appearance maker was Randy Pikuzinski with 352 games. Leading goal scorer was his brother Rudy, who scored 317 times over 8 seasons.

Their total regular season attendance over 9 seasons was 63,238, making for an all-time average of 7,028 fans per game. The highest individual season average was 8,435 in 1994-1994, and the lowest was 4,635 in their final season, 2000-2001. Their record attendance for a single game was the 15,644 who saw them play the Philadelphia Kixx in the 1997-98 season.

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One thought on “Buffalo Blizzard

  1. Good read but not one mention of the teams most consistent player over all the years…he played in the most consecutive games ever..if you know all this you should have given him his due! He is truly an unsung player.

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