Bobby Hull, Ben Hatskin got WHA off the ground

TED WYMAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:09 PM ET

WINNIPEG - There would be no NHL in the city today, no Winnipeg Jets old or new, were it not for two people: Ben Hatskin and Bobby Hull.

Hatskin was the founder of the Jets in 1972 and the man responsible for getting the entire WHA off the ground after he pulled off the miraculous signing of Hull.

Hatskin, who died in 1990, convinced all of the WHA owners to chip in to give Hull a $1 million contract, which gave the league and the Jets instant credibility.

"Without Benny and Bobby, we wouldn't have hockey here today, there is no question in my mind," said former Jets goaltender Joe Daley. "Thank God that Benny was involved. To think that he had the mindset to say 'I'm going to go after Bobby Hull and I'm gonna get him,' and he actually did. Bobby always says when he was approached by them he thought they were lunatics. He threw the million dollar figure at them hoping they'd go away.

"In the meantime, the NHL kinda laughed at the fact that the whole league was paying for Bobby to sign in Winnipeg and then we'd go into their building and whip them. They'd say 'How can you pay a player on the other team to come in and beat you.' They, as a group, knew they needed somebody that, when you mentioned their name, it meant instant identification."

That recognition was world-wide, Daley said.

"When we went to Russia and we'd go into the hotel, the chamber maids knew hockey was there and they knew Bobby was there because they were chanting 'Boobly Hull, Boobly Hull.' That's the impact that man had in the world and in hockey and to think that he was a Winnipeg Jet."

Hull said Winnipeg became a great hockey city in those WHA years when they had a chance to watch one of the best teams in the world.

"We gave them the taste of professional hockey," the Golden Jet said. "Without that, they wouldn't have known how important a professional team is to a city. And they wouldn't have known for so long in between times when they lost their Jets and finally got 'em back."

Mark Chipman, the owner of the current version of the Jets, agrees the credit for Winnipeg being a big-league hockey city lies with the men who first made it possible 40 years ago.

"I don't think the NHL would have ever been in Winnipeg without the vision that Ben Hatskin and others had to bring the WHA to Winnipeg in '72," Chipman said. "The credit for the name that we still use today begins and ends there. And signing Hull completely legitimized the league and gave Winnipeg a chance to be the gold standard team within the league."

Daley fears people will forget just what Hatskin and his dream meant to the city. Getting a new team in a new league off the ground with the mighty NHL trying to block your way, was no easy feat.

"I hope most of the people involved today, maybe not all of the fans because they are new Winnipeggers or were just infants when we got 'er going, but they have to know that those two people are directly responsible for us having NHL hockey here in Winnipeg today."

ted.wyman@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/Ted_Wyman


Videos

Photos