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Trophy trouble

WHA’s O’Keefe Cup has been missing for decades

Forty years after it was last presented, members of the 1976 Winnipeg Jets are wondering what happened to the O’Keefe Cup.

Forty years after it was last presented, members of the 1976 Winnipeg Jets are wondering what happened to the O’Keefe Cup.

Awarded to the winner of the WHA’s Canadian division, it was sort of the rebel league’s equivalent to the Presidents’ Trophy, presented to the NHL’s top team from the regular season.

While it wasn’t the WHA’s holy grail — that was the AVCO Cup — the aesthetic quality of the O’Keefe Cup didn’t go unnoticed by the players.

‘A beautiful piece of art’

Benny Hatskin presents the O’Keefe Cup to Lars-Erik Sjoberg.

MANITOBA SPORTS HALL OF FAME

Benny Hatskin presents the O’Keefe Cup to Lars-Erik Sjoberg.

"There was a lot of artistic thought put into it. The AVCO Cup was more of a plain Jane-type of thing compared to the O’Keefe Cup. It was a beautiful piece of art. It was something," said Bill Lesuk, who patrolled left wing for four years with the WHA Jets (1975-79) and was one of seven players to be a part of the team’s three AVCO Cup winning squads. (The others were goalie Joe Daley, defenseman Lars-Erik Sjoberg and forwards Bobby Guindon, Willy Lindstrom, Lyle Moffat and Peter Sullivan.) The O’Keefe Cup was last presented in the spring of 1976 when league president Benny Hatskin, the original owner of the Jets, awarded it to Sjoberg, the team captain.

 

It was only awarded for two years, 1974-75 and 75-76, the two years in which the WHA had a Canadian division. (The Quebec Nordiques won it in 1975.) But what happened to it since is a mystery.

Halls have no idea

The Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, keeper of the AVCO Cup and so many other WHA and NHL Jets artifacts, has no record of it. "I have scoured the storage room," said Rick Brownlee, who oversees the MSHOF. "We would remember a cup that beautiful."

And the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto? Craig Campbell, manager of its resource centre and archives and who is actively seeking WHA memorabilia, said he has no idea where it could be either. "Sadly, it is not here to my knowledge," he said. Ditto for former Jets owners Barry Shenkarow and Michael Gobuty.

The donors of the O’Keefe Cup, the Carling O’Keefe brewery, aren’t around anymore either; it merged with Molson Breweries in 1989. A Molson official checked the company’s Vancouver and Montreal offices and didn’t turn up anything either.

Cup could have been tossed

Joe Daley (centre left) poses with teammates and the AVCO Cup in 1979.

JON THORDARSON / WINNIPEG TRIBUNE

Joe Daley (centre left) poses with teammates and the AVCO Cup in 1979.

Daley believes the O’Keefe Cup should be in the MSHOF. His worst fear is that something happened to it after John Ferguson took over as general manager in the 1978-79 season.

"He wanted to get rid of everything associated with the WHA. (He’d say), ‘throw it away, who cares?’ A guy at the Winnipeg Arena would go dumpster diving for stuff. (Management) would discard everything and anything, it didn’t matter what the memento. They just threw it all away," he said.

Daley and Lesuk both hope the O’Keefe Cup is sitting in somebody’s basement or garage and that they’ll read this story, dust it off and tell somebody about it.

So, is it at your house?

The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.

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Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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