As you're aware, I love hockey history. There are countless stories that have gone down in history that have been forgotten where today's hockey culture could learn a lot. I'm not sure why the NHL fails to recognize the efforts put forth by a number of players in the WHA, but it is what it is at the Hockey Hall of Fame, and I'll leave it at that. The stories that come out of that league about the way things were done behind the scenes, though, are close to being stories presented by Rod Serling on The Twilight Zone. Today is one such story, and it was reported in Sports Illustrated on May 28, 1979 by Reyn Davis. Enjoy the article, and I'll pick up some of the interesting points below.
- "Joanne Hull was screaming at her husband: 'Why would you ever want to live in Winnipeg and play for that fat Jew?'" Wow. I'm not sure how many players' wives would negotiate with their husbands that way today, but Joanne Hull made it clear that she was not happy about Bobby Hull's dealings with Ben Hatskin.
- "[I]t will live again next season when New England, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Quebec—the four hearty survivors of the 32 teams that at one time or another belonged to the "other" league—join the NHL". I'll be honest when I say that I didn't know that there were 32 franchises that once played in the WHA. And here we sit today with the NHL at 30 franchises and "struggling". Deja vu, anyone? More on this below.
- "Lured from the Boston Bruins by a $2.7 million contract with the Philadelphia Blazers, Sanderson played just six games for Philly before he became persona non grata because of his frequent disappearances". Sanderson was thought to be a big-time player in the same mold as Hull, but it seemed as though he didn't care about hockey in the least.
- "One team had four names—New York Raiders, New York Golden Blades, New Jersey Knights and San Diego Mariners. Norm Ferguson was the captain and player representative of all four clubs. 'I remember the day I signed with the Raiders,' Ferguson says. 'It was April Fools' Day of 1972.'" 'Nuff said there, I suppose.
- "When the Golden Blades couldn't meet their second payroll in 1973, the franchise was placed in receivership by the league and whisked off to Cherry Hill, N.J., just a step ahead of the bailiff." You are reading that correctly - the Golden Blades lasted exactly one two-week pay period before relocating. Ouch.
- "There were no showers in the visiting team's dressing room, so the opposition had to dress at the Holiday Inn two miles up the road." This is in regards to the Cherry Hill Arena that the New Jersey Knights played in. No showers? That's inexcusable.
- "Five Crusaders had their cars stolen out of the parking lot at the Arena, Wayne Muloin and Tom Edur both losing new Thunderbirds on the same night. Steve Thomas, the Crusaders' trainer, who often had to work at the Arena late at night, was mugged three times one winter." Who would want to see hockey in Cleveland with that kind of track record? Forget taking your kids to the game!
- "A good travel agent was as valuable as a 40-goal scorer." The WHA travel schedule was simply brutal compared to the NHL of today. Because most WHA franchises were in "outposts" compared to their NHL brethren, the comment above proved true.
- "[T]hose Jets are the last professional team to have beaten the Soviet National team". Those Jets are the 1977-78 Jets, regarded as perhaps the best team to have ever played in the WHA. Bobby Hull, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Ulf Nilsson, and Anders Hedberg brought fans to their feet every time they were on the ice.
That's a pretty extensive list of teams that met their ultimate demise, considering that the WHA only existed from 1972 until 1979. As seen above, the New York Golden Blades only lasted two weeks before moving to New Jersey, while the Ottawa Civics only lasted one game before moving to Denver to become the Denver Spurs.
All in all, the WHA was a pretty crazy era in hockey, and it's full of great history. Thanks to Sports Illustrated's vault, we get to read about it and relive the insanity a little more.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!