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Original Jets to reminisce about WHA days

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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 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 World Hockey Association (WHA) on Oct. 12, 1972 against the New York Raiders in Madison Square Garden is just as significant a milestone around these parts.

Five members of that squad -- Ab McDonald, Joe Daley, Dunc Rousseau, Duke Asmundson and Bill Sutherland -- will visit the Winnipeg Free Press News Café on Thursday at 5 p.m. to discuss life in the wild and wacky WHA. Fans are welcome to ask questions or get memorabilia signed.

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? Hockey fans have become acclimatized to the fancy rinks of today's NHL teams 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 to fall down in certain corners if there was a woman -- or several women -- wearing mini-skirts.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 10:28 AM CDT: Changes time to 5 p.m.; corrects typos

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