Sunday, 21 August 2011

POTUS He Was Not

A quick glance at the image to the left may have you believing that Gordie Howe was presenting a uniform to the President of the United States like championship teams do today. Except he wasn't. So what was Gordie Howe doing with a jersey that had the name "President" on it? Well, he was accepting his new responsibilities with the WHA's Houston Aeros in 1975. The 47 year-old Howe was made club president in 1975 after having brought the Avco Cup to Houston, and then he promptly signed on to play another season with the Aeros. Imagine playing against one of the top players in the WHA in Gordie Howe, and taking a beating at the hands of the Aeros' new president! It happened a lot in 1975-76 because Howe took to the ice in his new role!

A Sports Illustrated article from October 20, 1975, written by Jerry Kirshenbaum, explains how the Houston Aeros were blessed with amazing talent and backed by owners who wanted to win. Building the 15,000-seat Summit on the strength of the Aeros' popularity, Howe's return only bolstered the Aeros' presence in the city.

The article goes to show how the three year-old league was still making life hard for the NHL.

"If only because of the diluted quality of the expanded and reexpanded NHL, the WHA is closer to parity of talent than the upstart AFL was at a similar stage or than the ABA is even today. The WHA might have pulled closer still had Minnesota succeeded in its $4 million bid for Bobby Orr. But the Fighting Saints did grab 35-year-old Dave Keon, the Toronto Maple Leafs' alltime scoring leader, and wooed Henry Boucha away from their arch-rivals, the Minnesota North Stars. Boucha is still bothered by the eye injury suffered in the Dave Forbes fracas, but his defection is a big blow in the raging interleague battle between Minnesota's two pro hockey teams."
Could you imagine what Bobby Orr's legacy might be like had he signed on to be a Fighting Saint rather than a Bruin? Orr would have had no problem scoring in either league at the clip he did, but his exploits in the WHA would have been swept under the rug like the vast majority of WHA records. Orr in Minnesota... it almost happened!

Another thing that surprised me was that the Boston Bruins and New England Whalers went head-to-head in competing for fans in Boston.
"The one team besides Houston to win a league title—in the '72-'73 inaugural season—the Whalers finally gave up trying to buck the Bruins in Boston and moved last year to Hartford, Conn., where empty seats in the new 10,507-capacity civic center Coliseum were gratifyingly few."
The NHL's Hartford Whalers may never have been had the team not moved before the start of the 1975-76 season. I can't imagine why the Whalers would have wanted to compete, but clearly their move to Hartford was beneficial. Could this be one of the reasons there was so much animosity between the two teams whenever they played in the 1980s and 1990s?

I found the following line to be a very interesting one:
"As part of his commendable campaign to overhaul the Racers, resourceful Jim Browitt sent a couple of marginal players to a Swedish club in exchange for Goalie Leif Holmquist in hockey's first intercontinental trade."
Indianapolis completed the first player trade between a North American club and a European club in 1975. How cool is that? History in the making!

Mr. Kirshenbaum even adds a little comedy to the article, despite the matter being entirely true.
"The speedy Nordiques remain deficient in muscle, but newcomer Gord Gallant should get them out of the 98-pound-weakling class. Gallant arrives from Minnesota, where he led the WHA with 203 penalty minutes before making himself expendable by punching Fighting Saint Coach Harry Neale."
That's right: he punched his coach. The story of Gord Gallant's punch isn't really that glamorous. Gord Gallant was a fan favorite in Minnesota because he had an extremely short fuse on the ice, and fought anyone and everyone. One night, he was out past curfew that Neale had instituted, and Neale had called his room. Gallant, knowing he was in hot water, went down to Neale's room with his short fuse lit, knocked on the door, sucker-punched the coach, and then destroyed Neale's room. As a result, Gallant's days in Minnesota were predictably over.

One last comment that I thought was totally hilarious considering who said it was from Toronto Toros owner John Bassett Jr.
"Meanwhile, the suspicion lingers that the Toros trained in Sweden only because Owner John F. Bassett Jr. wanted to spare Torontonians the sight of the team. Of the decline in ticket sales, Bassett says, 'You can't blame subscribers for canceling, not with the garbage product they put up with last year.'"
That's HIS team he's talking about! You kind of want your own fans to like your team so they, y'know, buy tickets and stuff, but Bassett said exactly what most Toros attendees were thinking. It takes some nerve to call out your whole team in training camp about how poorly they played last season.

Anyway, there are some more WHA highlights for a lazy Sunday. The "President" jersey is a pretty interesting development when you consider that only the POTUS receives a uniform like that. On the other hand, Gordie Howe, for all he did in Houston, could have probably won a Texas Governorship if he had really wanted.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

BurghFan said...

The Bruins were, by far, the hottest ticket in Boston in the early '70s. It's not surprising that the WHA would try and go after the excess hockey demand. (The Bruins also moved their AHL team, the Braves, to the Garden during this period to take advantage of all this interest.) The Whalers never gained any traction in Boston, and when the Bruins let Orr go to Chicago a few years later, they lost their solid sellout.