Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A glide down memory lane

Chronology of pro hockey in Winnipeg

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Bust out the photo albums, those old VHS tapes -- heck, even the tins of 8mm film -- and the dog-eared old hockey cards of Ulf and Anders, Ducky and Bosch, Pokey and the Bandit.

The NHL is back and, while we toast the return of the premier hockey loop on the planet, it's also the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect about this burg's engrossing relationship with pro hockey, from 1972 and the birth of the Jets through the NHL years to the void the Manitoba Moose so ably helped fill.

So, pull up a chair and help us reminisce, relive past glories and take a stroll down memory lane with a timeline of pro hockey in Winnipeg...

 

THE WHA YEARS (1972-79)

Nov. 1, 1971 -- The World Hockey Association -- the brainchild of California lawyers and American Basketball Association founders Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson -- is formed.

Headline in The Free Press: 'Benny Gives 'Em An Earful In Big Town' At a WHA formation meeting in New York, would-be Jets owner and former Blue Bomber centre Benny Hatskin declares: 'After today, hockey will be number one in Winnipeg, not football.'

The Jets, for a franchise fee of $25,000 become one of the first 10 charter members.

June 27, 1972 -- The Golden Jet -- Bobby Hull -- signs a 10-year contract with the Jets, with the other WHA owners chipping in, for a total of $2.75 million. The 33-year-old had just completed his 15th season with the Chicago Black Hawks and, at the time, stood second to Gordie Howe in NHL career scoring.

"My main concern now isn't the bonuses," Hull said at a news conference after arriving from the airport in a Rolls Royce. "It is getting the WHA off the ground. I don't think the Blackhawks thought I was serious -- or the WHA was serious -- about this."

Oct. 12, 1972 -- The WHA Jets play their first game and -- minus Bobby Hull, whose debut was delayed while he battled the Blackhawks in court -- skated to a 6-4 win over the New York Raiders in front of 6,273 at Madison Square Garden. Pepe Bordeleau paces the Jets with four goals and an assist. Free Press headline that day: 'Jets Are A Hit On Broadway'

Oct. 15, 1972 -- The Jets, still minus Hull, fall 5-2 to the Alberta Oilers in their home opener.

Nov. 8, 1972 -- Hull makes his Jets and WHA debut after a judge rules against the Blackhawks' injunction in a 3-2 loss to the Quebec Nordiques at Le Colisee. Hull picked up his first point, an assist on a goal by Danny Johnson with five seconds left in the game, and received a standing ovation when he first stepped on the ice.

May 6, 1973 -- The inaugural season of the WHA season ends with the New England Whalers knocking off the Jets 9-6 to capture the first Avco Cup in five games.

That first campaign featured the Jets, Alberta Oilers, Chicago Cougars, Houston Aeros, Los Angeles Sharks and Minnesota Fighting Saints in the Western Division while the Cleveland Crusaders, New England Whalers, New York Raiders, Ottawa Nationals, Philadelphia Blazers and Quebec Nordiques comprised the Eastern Division.

May 3, 1974 -- The Jets, becoming the first North American team to truly mine Europe for talent, sign two Swedish players, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, who would form an instant chemistry with Hull on the 'Hot Line.' Twenty days later defencemen Lars-Erik Sjoberg is also signed.

 

May 27, 1976 -- The Jets hammer the Houston Aeros 9-1 at the Winnipeg Arena to capture their first Avco Cup championship. The win is significant because the Jets not only become the first Canadian team to win the Avco Cup, but because the team's free-flowing style of play is the opposite of the Philadelphia Flyers -- dubbed 'The Broad Street Bullies' after grinding and pounding their way to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1974-75.

"The most important thing of all is that it's now been proven that Canadians' style hockey and Winnipeg style hockey wins championships," proclaimed Anders Hedberg, who had 13 goals in 13 playoff games. The Jets finished the season with a record of 52-27-2, their best-ever in the WHA and NHL.

 

January 5, 1978 -- In their fourth meeting of the season and after three losses in games played in Japan, the Jets knock off the Soviet National Team 5-3 at the Winnipeg Arena, becoming the first club team to defeat the eight-time world champions. Hull leads the Jets with three goals and an assist and proclaims with a grin: "I'm not as good as I once was, but I'm as good once as I ever was" but is quick to praise the work of goaltender Jim Daley and the only defencemen available for the game, Barry Long, Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Ted Green and Dave Dunn. It was one of the greatest moments in Jets' history, but it was seen by very few outside of Winnipeg -- the CBC opted to televise a game between the St. Louis Blues and the sixth-place Russian team, Spartak. Spartak won 2-1.

 

May 22, 1978 -- The Jets complete a spectacular season that saw them post 50 wins and have four players score over 100 points -- Ulf Nilsson, 126; Anders Hedberg, 122; Bobby Hull, 117 and WHA Rookie-of-the-Year Kent Nilsson, 107 -- by beating the New England Whalers 5-3 at the Winnipeg Arena to win their second Avco Cup championship.

 

March 22, 1979 -- After months of haggling the NHL agrees to a merger plan with the WHA that will see Winnipeg, Edmonton, Hartford and Quebec added the following season.

 

May 20, 1979 -- The final year of the WHA concludes with the Jets -- minus Ulf and Anders after they signed with the New York Rangers but bolstered by the additions of former Houston Aeros Rich Preston, Morris Lukowich, Terry Ruskowski and Paul Terbenche after that franchise folded and goaltender Gary 'Suitcase' Smith -- winning the final Avco Cup in six games over Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers.

 

GOOD-BYE WHA, HELLO NHL (1979-96)

 

Summer, 1979 -- After paying $6 million in franchise fees each WHA team would be allowed to protect only two goalies and two skaters -- the Jets protected Morris Lukowich and Scott Campbell, then considered the next Larry Robinson by some, but lost Nilsson, Ruskowski, Preston, Barry Long and Kim Clackson. Forced to pick at the back of the entry draft of juniors, the Jets goofed by taking Jimmy Mann 19th overall -- just ahead of Michel Goulet and Kevin Lowe, although they did snag Dave Christian in Round 2 and Thomas Steen and Tim Watters in the fifth and sixth rounds.

 

Oct. 10, 1979 -- The Jets make their NHL debut in a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at The Igloo. Peter Marsh scored the Jets' first-ever NHL goal -- Peter Sullivan had the other -- and management seemed pleased with the effort of the rag-tag lot.

 

Oct. 14, 1979 -- The Jets make their NHL home debut and pick up their first win, a 4-2 decision over Don Cherry and the Colorado Rockies in front of 12,619 at an expanded Winnipeg Arena.

The Jets finish their inaugural NHL season with a record of 20-49-11 -- tied with Colorado for worst in the league but with one more win than the Rockies.

 

Oct. 19-Dec. 20, 1980 -- Welcome to the Jets' nightmare and a streak that still stands in the record books for futility. Winnipeg opens the 1980-81 season with two losses before knocking off the Black Hawks 6-2 in their home opener. What begins next is a journey so awful it was documented in Sports Illustrated -- a winless streak that stretches over 30 games with 23 losses and seven ties. It cost McVie his job as he was fired on Dec. 11 and ended Dec. 23 1980 with a 5-4 win over Colorado.

"You should have seen the room when the players first came in after the game," said Billy Sutherland, who had replaced McVie. "It was like they'd won the Stanley Cup."

The Jets finish the season 9-57-14, one more than the expansion 1974-75 Washington Capitals.

 

June 10, 1981/Aug. 13, 1981 -- The Jets find the new face of the franchise in Cornwall Royals centre Dale Hawerchuk, drafted first overall and signed at the corner of Portage and Main -- a la Hull in 1972 -- in mid August.

The signing drew 800 people and a song for the event was written by Joey Gregorash. "Imagine," said Gus Badali, Hawerchuk's agent, "he's been in town for two days and already there's a song about him."

Hawerchuk earned every bit of his five-year, $800,000 contract in Year 1, leading the Jets to a second-place finish while scoring 45 goals, adding 58 assists and being named the NHL's top rookie.

The Jets qualify for the playoffs for the first time, but fall 3-1 in a best-of-five series loss to the St. Louis Blues.

 

June 16, 1990 -- Unhappy with his ice time and the direction the team is heading, Dale Hawerchuk had asked for a trade at the end of the 1990 season. On this day, he got his wish as the Jets shipped him to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Phil Housely, Jeff Parker, Scott Arniel and an exchange of first-round draft picks.

 

March 2, 1993 -- A magical night at the Arena as Teemu Selanne, The Finnish Flash, scores three times in a 7-4 loss to the Quebec Nordiques to break Mike Bossy's rookie record of 53 goals. Selanne would finish with 76 that season and 132 points en route to being named the winner of the Calder Trophy as the top rookie.

May 6-Aug. 15, 1995 -- A crazy, emotional roller-coaster ride for the Jets and their fans. It begins on May 6 with a ceremony at the Arena known as 'The Funeral' where the franchise officially retires Thomas Steen's No. 25 and then takes more twists and turns than a California mountain highway. Three days after the ceremony, 'Operation Grassroots' begins as efforts step up to pressure the governments to construct a new arena and find local buyers.

On May 16 thousands gather at The Forks and open their piggy banks to the tune of $250,000 and the total would ultimately climb into the millions. Three days after that Barry Shenkarow reveals the local buyers have missed a deadline and an agreement in principle had been reached with Minneapolis investors. But after a series of broken promises and deadline changes Shenkarow announces on Aug. 15 that the 1995-96 season will be the last for the Jets in Winnipeg.

 

April 28, 1996 -- The Jets play their last NHL game, a 4-1 home playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Norm MacIver scored the last Jets' goal and the franchise heads to Arizona.

Front-page headline in The Free Press the next day: 'Born: 1972 Died: 1996 R.I.P. Jets'

 

Oct. 4, 1996 -- The Manitoba Moose -- formerly the Minnesota Moose -- make their International Hockey League debut with a 4-3 shootout road loss to the Milwaukee Admirals. Former Montreal Canadiens head coach Jean Perron was the first bench boss, but was replaced by Randy Carlyle after a 16-26-8 start. Even though the club played over .500 under Carlyle, they would miss the playoffs in their first IHL season with a 32-40-10 record.

 

Oct. 5, 2001 -- After Moose leave the IHL to join the AHL and officially become the Vancouver Canucks affiliate -- and with Canucks legend Stan Smyl as head coach -- Manitoba loses its first game in the new circuit 3-1 to the Saint John Flames in New Brunswick.

 

Nov. 6, 2004 -- The Moose bid adieu to the Winnipeg Arena with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Utah Grizzlies in front of 13,985. Former Jets Norm Beaudin, Peter Sullivan and Bill Lesuk were there as was Teemu Selanne. "There was lots of warm and fuzzy feelings and a lot of memories relived," said Moose general manager Craig Heisinger. "It's a special place here. To watch this go away, it's not going to be easy for me."

And 10 days later the $133.5 million 15,015-seat MTS Centre opens in downtown Winnipeg.

 

**Note: Possibly add last Moose game and/or NHL return announcement here.

 

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 1, 2011 E8

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