Thirty-five years ago last week, Lars-Erik Sjoberg accepted the AVCO Cup for the third time in the previous four years and went for a triumphant skate around the Winnipeg Arena.
The crowd of 10,000 applauded wildly — dozens stormed the ice to celebrate with the players and grab abandoned sticks and other pieces of equipment — but there was a hint of sadness in their euphoria because they knew they were witnessing the end of an era.
The Winnipeg Jets defeated the Edmonton Oilers 7-3 on May 20, 1979, winning the best-of-seven AVCO Cup final 4-2. The victory followed a 4-0 sweep of the Quebec Nordiques in the semis and put an exclamation point on the tumultuous seven-year run of the World Hockey Association.
The Jets were one of four teams "merging" into the NHL the following season, joining Quebec, Edmonton and the New England Whalers. The price of admission, however, was the right to protect just three players from their squads at the time, have the rest of their rosters decimated by existing NHL teams reclaiming former players and draft picks, and then filling out the teams with everybody else’s leftovers.
The Cincinnati Stingers and the Birmingham Bulls did not make the cut while the Indianapolis Racers, who gave a 17-year-old rookie from Brantford, Ont., his first taste of professional hockey, folded after 25 games that season. (The rookie, Wayne Gretzky, was subsequently traded to Edmonton, after Jets owner Michael Gobuty lost or declined — depending on who you talk to — an in-flight game of backgammon to Nelson Skalbania, who owned the Racers.)
Kim Clackson, the enforcer who joined the team the year before, said even though the Jets had lost their captain, Lars-Erik Sjoberg for most of the season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon, veteran blueliner Ted Green and most importantly, the Hot Line of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson was no more — Hull retired just four games into the season after his Swedish linemates were lured away to the New York Rangers — the arrival of several members of the defunct Houston Aeros filled the gap. Forwards Morris Lukowich, Terry Ruskowski, Rich Preston and defenseman Scott Campbell might not have been as pretty to watch but there’s no doubt they were effective.
But the team stumbled during the regular season as the cultures of the Jets and Aeros clashed. Clackson blamed the lackluster performance on coach Larry Hillman, with whom he was feuding over ice time. Eventually, "Clacker" decided he wanted to be traded so he started playing gags on the coach.
"I took his hockey stick and sawed it halfway through and put tape over it. He leaned on his stick at practice and fell over. I put Scotch tape on his blades and he wiped out on the ice again. The guys were roaring," he said.
It got to the point where after a bad storm caused a giant tree branch to crack off and fall on to Hillman’s car, "he had to climb up in the tree to see if I had sawed it halfway though," Clackson said.
The Jets finished the season with a record of 39-35-6, good for third place behind Edmonton and Quebec. Hillman was fired partway through and replaced by Tom McVie, who led the Jets to the last professional hockey championship this city has seen.
1: Joe Daley
Regular season record: 7-11-3
- The only Jet to play all seven season in the WHA and retired as the winningest goalie in league history with 167 victories.
- Runs a sports cards and collectables shop in Winnipeg.
2: Mike Amodeo
Regular season: 64 games, 4G, 18A, 22 points, 29 PIM.
Playoffs: Did not play.
- Rejected a contract offer from the California Golden Seals to sign with the WHA’s Ottawa Nationals.
- Played 19 games with the NHL Jets in 1979-80, played one more year in Sweden and then retired.
3: Barry Long
Regular season: 80 games, 5G, 36A, 41 points, 42 PIM
Playoffs: 10 games, 2G, 3A, 5 points 0 PIM
One of several former Jets players to become a coach (Bobby Hull, Larry Hillman, Bill Sutherland, Rick Bowness.)
Reclaimed by the Detroit Red Wings in expansion draft in 1979-80. Returned for the ’80-81 season. Went on to become a scout under former Jets GM John Ferguson with the San Jose Sharks.
4: Lars-Erik Sjoberg
Regular season: 9 games, 0G, 3A, 3 points, 2 PIM. (Missed most of the season with a torn Achilles tendon.)
Playoffs: 10 games, 1G, 2A, 3 points, 4PIM
The first Swedish-born captain on a WHA (1975-76) and NHL (1979-80) team.
Sjoberg retired after one season in the NHL and then went on to become a scout with the New York Rangers. He died in October 1987, after a lengthy battle with cancer.
5: Kim Clackson
Regular season: 71 games, 0G, 12A, 12 points, 210 PIM.
Playoffs: 9 games, 0G, 5A, 5 points, 28 PIM.
Signed with Winnipeg after refusing a team-wide 15 per cent pay cut in Indianapolis and declaring himself a free agent.
Reclaimed by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the expansion draft. Now a real estate broker for CBRE in Pittsburgh.
7: Scott Campbell
Regular season: 74 games, 3G, 15A, 18 points, 248 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 0G, 2A, 2 points, 25 PIM
Campbell was a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues but opted to sign with the Houston Aeros.
One of three players protected by the Jets in the expansion draft. Forced to retire because of a chronic asthma condition. Now works in the IT field in southern Ontario.
8: Terry Ruskowski
Regular season: 75 games, 20G, 66A, 86 points, 211 PIM.
Playoffs: 8 games, 1G, 12A, 13 points, 23 PIM.
The Jets and the Minnesota North Stars were the only teams he played on where he wasn’t captain. Wearing the "C" for the Houston Aeros in the WHA and the Blackhawks, L.A. Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins, he was the only player in major professional history to captain four different clubs.
Reclaimed by the Chicago Blackhawks in the expansion draft. Played 10 NHL seasons
10: Peter Sullivan
Regular Season: 80 games, 46G, 40A, 86 points, 24 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 5G, 9A, 14 assists, 2 PIM.
Came to Winnipeg after a stellar career with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, the Montreal Canadiens’ farm team, but never got a shot at the big club.
Played two NHL season with the Jets. Now a scout with NHL Central Scouting.
11: Kent Nilsson
Regular season: 78 games, 39G, 68A, 107 points, 8 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 3G, 11A, 14 points, 4 PIM.
Drafted by the Toronto Toros, general manager Gilles Leger made a side deal with the Jets enabling Nilsson to come to Winnipeg in 1977 to play with six other Swedes.
Reclaimed by the Atlanta Flames in the expansion draft. Went on to win a Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers in 1987.
12: Morris Lukowich
Regular season: 80 games, 65G, 34A, 99 points, 119 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 8G, 7A, 15 points, 21 PIM.
Lukowich opted to sign with the Houston Aeros in 1976 instead of the Pittsburgh Penguins because of the chance to play with Gordie Howe.
A nationally competitive squash player, Lukowich teaches goal scoring to young players in Calgary and elsewhere through his company, Max Goal Scoring.
15: Glenn Hicks
Regular Season: 69 games, 6G, 10A, 16 points, 48 PIM.
Playoffs: 7 games, 1G, 1A, 2 points, 4 PIM.
Starred for three seasons with the Flin Flon Bombers.
Reclaimed by the Detroit Red Wings in the expansion draft, Hicks went on to play on a line with Czech star, Vaclav Nedomansky.
16: John Gray
Regular season: 57 games, 10G, 15A, 25 points, 51 PIM.
Playoffs: 1 game, 0G, 0A, 0 points, 0 PIM.
Had his best season with the Phoenix Roadrunners.
Retired after the 1978-79 season. He played 363 games in the WHA, scoring 146 goals.
17: Bill Lesuk
Regular season: 79 games, 17G, 15A, 32 points, 44 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 1G, 3A, 4 points, 6 PIM.
Was a member of the 1970 Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins.
He retired after the ’79-80 season with the Jets and eventually became the team’s director of scouting. He later held the same post with the Chicago Blackhawks. Lives outside of Winnipeg.
18: Bob Guindon
Regular season: 71 games, 8G, 18A, 26 points, 21 PIM
Playoffs: 7 games, 2G, 1A, 3 points, 0 PIM.
He was the playoff MVP during the Jets’ second AVCO Cup run in 1978.
He is a senior manager for Old Dutch in Montreal. In 2005, he sold his three miniature AVCO Cups for a total of $4,300.
19: Roland Eriksson
Regular Season: 33 games, 5G, 10A, 15 points, 2 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 1G, 4A, 5 points, 0 PIM.
Led all NHL rookies in scoring in 1976-77.
Returned to Europe following the 78-79 season and finished out his career in Sweden and Germany.
20: Willy Lindstrom
Regular season: 79 games, 26 goals, 36 assists, 62 points, 22 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 10G, 5A, 15 points, 9 PIM.
One of two NHL Jets to ever score five goals in a game vs. Philadelphia in a 7-6 victory on March 3, 1982. (Alexei Zhamnov is the other.) Scored the last Jets WHA goal.
Became first player to win an AVCO Cup (Jets 1976, 1978 and 1979) and then a Stanley Cup (Edmonton in 1984 and ’85).
21: Rich Preston
Regular season: 80 games, 28G, 32A, 60 points, 88 penalty minutes.
Playoffs: 10 games, 8G, 5A, 13 points, 15 PIM.
Playoff MVP in 1979.
Reclaimed by the Blackhawks in the expansion draft.
22: Lyle Moffat
Regular season: 70 games, 14G, 18A, 32 points, 38 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 3G, 1A, 4 points, 22 PIM.
A one-time baseball prospect, Moffat tried out for the Montreal Expos.
After retiring in 1981, Moffat stayed with the Jets for a number of years as their community and media relations director. He now works for Pattison Outdoor Advertising in Victoria.
23: Paul Terbenche
Regular season: 68 games, 3G, 22A, 25 points, 12 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 1G, 1A, 2 points, 4 PIM.
One of seven players whose contracts were purchased from the Houston Aeros, which folded in the summer of 1978.
After he retired in 1981, Terbenche worked for the Brookside Youth Centre in Cobourg, Ont., for 25 years. He died two years ago at age 66.
24: Paul MacKinnon
Regular season: 73 games, 2G, 15A, 17 points, 70 PIM.
Playoffs: 10 games, 2G, 5A, 7 points, 4 PIM.
Signed as an underage free agent by the Jets in the summer of 1978.
Reclaimed by Washington Capitals in the expansion draft. Played parts of five seasons there.
26: Steve West
Regular season: 18 games, 3G, 11A, 14 points, 6 PIM.
Playoffs: 6 games, 2G, 3A, 5 points, 2 PIM.
His name was erroneously omitted from the players’ names engraved on the AVCO Cup.
His daughter, Sommer West, competed for Canada in softball at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
30: Gary Smith
Regular season: 11-3-2
While a member of the Vancouver Canucks in the mid-1970s, he was introduced to owner Frank Griffiths Sr.’s wife and after being informed that her father was Dr. Ballard of the dog food company fame, he reportedly said he "could see the family resemblance from the can."
After giving up the last goal in WHA history to Dave Semenko, he retired after the 1979-80 season, splitting time between Winnipeg and the Tulso Oilers.
35: Markus Mattsson
Regular season: 25-21-3.
Traded to Quebec in February, 1978 and reacquired a month later. He was one of three players protected by the Jets prior to entering the NHL.
As a member of the Los Angeles Kings, he ended Wayne Gretzky’s 51-game point streak in 1983-84.