Right now it’s just a website.
But World Hockey Association Hall of Fame founder and filmmaker Tim Gassen wants a permanent display to honour the league that shook hockey’s establishment in the 1970s.
And what better place than Winnipeg, home of the three-time champion Jets, a team that changed the way hockey was played?
“This would be a special place to have the WHA Hall of Fame, because what was the best about the WHA in the 1970s was Winnipeg, Manitoba,” Gassen, in town to premiere his documentary about the league and the Jets, said Wednesday. “I really do hope we can bring that to fruition.”
An Indianapolis native, Gassen has a passion for preserving the renegade league’s legacy. A legacy that begins with the Jets, and the line of Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Bobby Hull.
“They were not just a great hockey team, and this was not just a great line,” Gassen said. “It might be the greatest hockey line of all time. Besides all of that, the Winnipeg Jets and the Hot Line helped to revolutionize the game of hockey.”
Former Edmonton Oilers architect Glen Sather has acknowledged the influence the Jets’ wide-open style had on his creating the Oilers dynasty of the 1980s.
The Jets were the first North American team to aggressively recruit Europeans, signing Swedes Hedberg, Nilsson and defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg to WHA contracts in 1974, a move that many in the hockey world questioned.
Years later, every NHL team would do the same.
“The WHA hasn’t been able to get the credit that it probably deserves, because it was a proposition that wasn’t well received from the establishment,” Hedberg said, thrilled with the idea of a permanent Hall for the league. “It would be wonderful.”
Nilsson says it’s sad the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto won’t recognize the WHA more than it does.
“It looks like the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto is controlled by the NHL,” Nilsson said. “They should recognize who really created the new style of hockey, the way it’s being played in North America. Because if that’s not Hall of Fame stuff, I don’t know what Hall of Fame stuff is. They have builders of hockey in the Hall of Fame, we were builders of the new style of hockey.”
Gassen says he’s had talks with the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame about housing the exhibition, but there’s no agreement in place.
Hull, Hedberg, Nilsson and Pat Stapleton are among the players who’ll be inducted at a ceremony during Friday’s film premiere.
The event, organized by the Amadeus Steen Foundation, takes place at the 4Play Sports Bar, with proceeds going to the foundation (475-4744).