Wednesday, 18 August 2010

WHA Reunion

The greatest line arguably in Winnipeg Jets history is pictured to the left. Bobby Hull was the superstar, but the two European talents made him that much better. Hull, Anders Hedberg, and Kent Nilsson took the WHA by storm as they shot the lights out, and their signings put Winnipeg on the hockey map. These three men racked up an amazing 1310 points between them during their reign of terror on the WHA, and the three men reunited in Winnipeg today for the first time since the 1978-79 season.

“The coach said, ‘Bobby, go with the Swedes,’” Hull told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun, choking up at the memory. “I never saw two kids come out of the corner like they were shot out of a cannon like these two guys. And we went up the ice and, bing-bang-bing, it was in the net.”

Hull was the first major NHL superstar to jump ship to the WHA when the rebel league began. He joined the Winnipeg Jets in 1972, and promptly scored 51 goals and added 52 helpers in a mere 63 games for the upstart Jets. Two seasons later, Hull would record an astounding 77 goals and 65 assists in 78 WHA games.

Hedberg's first professional hockey game came in 1974-75 with the Jets. While he was a relative unknown as a Swedish player, his talents on the ice soon made him a household name. In his rookie season with the Jets, Hedberg recorded 53 goals and 47 assists in 63 games. Two seasons after recording 100 points as a rookie, Hedberg put up his highest point total of his career when he notched 70 goals and 61 assists in 1976-77 in just 68 games.

Nilsson was the last to join the Jets out of the three superstars, and came over to Winnipeg with Hedberg after having drafted by the Toronto Toros. Nilsson was a solid, consistent scoring threat for the Jets as he posted two straight seasons of 107 points. Nilsson would go on to play in the NHL, most notably for the Calgary Flames, but would never experience the same success as he had as a member of the "Hot Line" in Winnipeg.

"It’s probably the best decision I’ve ever made in my lifetime, to come with Anders and be able to play with Bobby," Nilsson said to Friesen. "It was unbelievable to step on the ice with this old man."

It's not uncommon to see players getting together after their careers are over to reminisce about the "good ol' days", but the reunion of these three men is long overdue in the city where they played their greatest games. This reunion, however, was the result of some hard work by film director Tim Gassen.

Gassen is an Indianapolis, Indiana native who followed the WHA as a kid. His newest film is a documentary about the WHA which features the Winnipeg Jets. For Gassen, this reunion was enough of a reward for his new film which debuts Friday in Winnipeg.

"It was a surreal moment," Gassen told Friesen. "I’m not from Winnipeg. But I felt this incredible swell of pride for the people of Winnipeg. They’re here. They are so excited to be here. We could have done this in Toronto or a couple of other places. But they wanted to do it here."

"Being together means so much," Hull added. "I don’t think it matters where we are. You saw how emotional I got. And I don’t do that very often. I’m 71 years old. And I’m on the back nine. I’m not going to get many chances to be with three guys that made my life worth living back in 1974."

If it means anything to Mr. Hull, I, as a hockey fan, appreciate these three men getting back together after such a long period of being apart. And hockey fans in Winnipeg should appreciate the work these men did for their great city!

If you're in Winnipeg and are interested in going to the film premiere on Friday, please call the Amadeus Steen Foundation for more information at (204) 475-4744.

The WHA era in Winnipeg might be the greatest era of hockey in the city's history, and it's nice to see the men that made the Jets what they were back in each other's company in the city that loved them so dearly.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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