Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The WHA will never die

Not so long as people keep contributing memorabilia to hall

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The WHA hasn't been in this much demand since it folded nearly 35 years ago.

Shortly after a story appeared in the Free Press about the Hockey Fall of Fame in Toronto being on the hunt for game-used items from the WHA, such as sticks, pucks and jerseys, as well as ticket stubs and photographs, the founder of the WHA Hall of Fame has come forward to let people know he has never stopped searching for memorabilia from the rebel league.

"The idea of preserving and promoting the history of the WHA isn't something we're just getting to. It's been 24 hours a day for 10 years. It's what we do," said Timothy Gassen.

The WHA Hall of Fame is located in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn.

Winnipeg is arguably the most important city and franchise in the WHA's history, said Gassen, who grew up in Indianapolis as a rabid fan of the Racers. The other two key franchises in his mind were the New England Whalers and the Houston Aeros.

'I think the Hockey Hall of Fame is doing the right thing in trying to establish the WHA as a bigger part of what they display or promote'

-- former Jet Bill Lesuk

"The enduring legacy of the WHA Jets era is every day we see a great playoff game," he said.

Craig Campbell, manager of the Hockey Hall of Fame's resource centre and archives, said the WHA had a big impact on professional hockey.

"It's historically significant in its contribution to the game. As such, we want to document that story with single pieces and collections," he said.

Now the HHOF is independent from the NHL, there are no conflicts of interest with what's on display, he said.

Bill Lesuk, who played left wing for the Jets from 1975-76 until 1978-79, winning three Avco Cups along the way, said he is happy that the WHA is finally getting the recognition it deserves.

"The league was only around for seven years but because of the WHA, the NHL started treating its players better. (The NHL) didn't have a monopoly on player contracts and there was a bidding war. It was a competition, which is good for every market."

Lesuk, who calls Winnipeg home, also played parts of nine seasons in the NHL.

His teammate, Joe Daley, who played all seven seasons for the WHA Jets, said he's going to do what he can through to help out both halls of fame.

"Tim has gone to great lengths to carry on the history of the WHA. He has put in a lot of effort , time and his own money to bring continuing glory to the WHA," he said.

"I think the Hockey Hall of Fame is doing the right thing in trying to establish the WHA as a bigger part of what they display or promote."

Daley said WHA artifacts can be difficult to get because many players have chosen to hold on to much of what they compiled from 1972-79, back when collecting memorabilia wasn't nearly as popular. An untold number of items have also been lost over the years, he said.

When longtime Jets fan Lesley Cass heard the Hockey Hall of Fame was looking for WHA items, she dug out an old souvenir album and donated it.

It's full of ticket stubs from the Jets final playoff run, newspaper articles and her own personal pictures of all the players in street clothes after the final game and during the championship parade a couple of days later.

Former Winnipeg sportscaster Peter Young is considering donating some of his memorabilia. He has a jersey that Lars-Erik Sjoberg wore during the WHA's final season in 1978-79 as well as sticks autographed by Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe.

"I would considering donating it if there's a credit where it came from," said Young. "How often do you get a game-worn jersey from the captain of the Jets from 1978?"

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2014 C2

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