They came carrying pictures, hockey cards and the backs of seats from the old Winnipeg Arena.
And five members of the original Winnipeg Jets team from 1972-73 signed them all.
Ab McDonald, Joe Daley, Dunc Rousseau, Duke Asmundson and Bill Sutherland visited the Winnipeg Free Press News Café Thursday afternoon to talk hockey, the influence of Bobby Hull on getting the team off the ground, some of the ridiculous rinks they played in and their legacy four decades later.
There was no shortage of stories from on the ice, in the dressing room and at team parties. Did you know the Jets used to tip back a few drinks with members of the Guess Who?
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Jets first game. They beat the New York Raiders 6-4 in Madison Square Garden. McDonald, the Jets first captain, scored the first goal.
If it weren’t for Ben Hatskin, Bobby Hull and the cast of characters that made up the 1972-73 Winnipeg Jets, would there be a professional hockey team in Manitoba today?
We will never know the answer but there’s no doubt that those trailblazers from four decades ago started something that lives on to this day.
Much was made a few weeks ago over the 40th anniversary of Team Canada’s victory over the Soviets in the Summit Series, but the Jets first game in the WHA on Oct. 12, 1972 against the New York Raiders in Madison Square Garden is just as significant a milestone around these parts.
For many of the players, including Daley, McDonald, Asmundson, and Rousseau, the chance to suit up for the Jets in the rebel league also meant coming home to Manitoba.
Rousseau, a left-winger who scored 16 goals in that inaugural campaign, said it’s nice that some people are commemorating the first Jets team.
"Here are the guys that took a pretty giant leap in their careers back in 1972 and they haven’t really been recognized for it. It’s so long ago but it’s still part of what has come about (with the return of the NHL to Winnipeg)," he said.
You want wacky? How about the arenas some of the WHA teams played in. Hockey fans today have become acclimatized to the fancy rinks that NHL teams call home but facilities were far from uniform in the WHA. For every Madison Square Garden, there was a Cherry Hill Arena in New Jersey, which had a sloped ice surface.
"It was so high in the middle, the short guys almost couldn’t see the other end of the ice," said McDonald, who assured his place in team history by scoring the Jets’ first goal against New York that first night.
The captain said he never really thought about the goal’s significance until people started telling him that he had scored the Jets first goal.
"I’m not exactly sure how I scored it. It was 40 years ago. We won, though, and it was a great start for us. We were playing without Robert Marvin (Hull). He wasn’t allowed anywhere near our bench (because of an NHL lawsuit)," he said.
There was also the St. Paul Civic Center and its clear plexi-glass boards. Visiting players were rumoured to have recommended to teammates on the bench to fall down in certain corners if there was a woman – or better yet, several women – wearing mini-skirts.