Top 10 failed WHA franchises

Wayne Gretzky had an eight-game stint as a member of the Indianapolis Racers. Sun file photo.

Wayne Gretzky had an eight-game stint as a member of the Indianapolis Racers. Sun file photo.

Scott Mitchell, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:02 PM ET

The 1970s were a time when hockey — and line brawls — flourished and businessmen all across North America were dipping their toes in ice.

So what if some of them — OK, most of them — didn’t work out?

At least they were playing hockey — sort of.

When the World Hockey Association formed in 1972 as direct competition to the National Hockey League, it hoped to capitalize on the lack of hockey in many major markets across the continent.

Even though the league lasted only seven years, disbanding in 1979 after four teams joined the NHL, it is still seen as the most successful challenge to date of the NHL’s pro-hockey monopoly.

Who could forget Bobby Hull’s 10-year, $1-million deal with the then-WHA’s Winnipeg Jets in ’72?

It changed the dynamics of hockey’s contractual world forever.

And who could forget some of the franchises and the monikers that came along with them? Here’s a reminder.

Los Angeles Aces/Sharks, 1972-’74

This franchise piled up the air miles. After starting as the Aces, they grabbed the Sharks nickname before even playing a game when the San Francisco franchise gave up the moniker to move to Quebec. In 1974, they left for Michigan and were renamed the Stags, lasting only half a season before finishing out the 1974-’75 campaign as the Baltimore Blades.

Denver Spurs, 1975-’76

Sounding more like a basketball franchise, the Spurs were added to the WHA in 1975 after the Western Hockey League folded. Originally intending to land in the NHL as an expansion team, owners were forced to call an audible after that deal fell apart. After half a season, they moved to Ottawa and were renamed the Civics to finish out the campaign.

New York Raiders, 1972-’73

Intended to be the flagship franchise in North America’s largest market, the Raiders couldn’t compete with the NHL’s New York Rangers and New York Islanders. Originally intended to play in Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, the NHL brought the Islanders to town that year and the Raiders were forced to share Madison Square Garden with the Rangers as their home digs. That didn’t go well. The Raiders were sold after one year and renamed the Golden Blades before bouncing across the river to New Jersey and then finally ending up in San Diego as the Mariners.

Dayton Arrows, 1972

With no arena and no interest from the locals, owner Paul Deneau moved the team to Texas, where they became one of the league’s most successful franchises as the slightly-renamed Houston Aeros. They won the AVCO World Trophy in 1974 over the Chicago Cougars and in ’75 over the Quebec Nordiques, winning both series in four-game sweeps. Originally expected to be part of the WHA/NHL merger, it never came to fruition and the Aeros folded in 1978. The Aeros claim to fame came in 1974 when Gordie Howe suited up and won the league MVP award at the age of 46.

Ottawa Nationals, 1972-’73

Ottawa’s first attempt in the WHA came via the Nationals, but that experiment lasted only two seasons. Originally intended to be named ‘Ontario,’ they were slated to play out of Maple Leaf Gardens, but ended up playing in the Ottawa Civic Centre. After two seasons, they became the Toronto Toros for three years, before the ending up in Birmingham as the Bulls.

Indianapolis Racers, 1974-’78

They only played four seasons, but the Racers were as star-studded as they come. They signed a 17-year-old Wayne Gretzky in 1978, but after only eight games, team owner Nelson Skalbania sold the Great One to Peter Pocklington and the Edmonton Oilers. We know how that went. The Racers also signed Mark Messier in 1978, but after five pointless games, he was picked up by the Cincinnati Stingers for the remainder of the season. Messier was the last active WHA player when he retired from the NHL in 2005.

San Francisco Sharks, 1972

In the first crack at hockey in the Bay Area, the ice didn’t even get laid down in San Fran before financial problems forced the franchise to relocate to Canada to become the Quebec Nordiques. Six Quebec City-based businessmen who owned the Quebec Remparts junior team hired legendary Montreal Canadiens star Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard to coach the team. He lasted two games before calling it quits.

Miami Screaming Eagles, 1972

When businessman Herb Martin bought the franchise in 1972, his biggest coup was luring NHL stars Bernie Parent and Derek Sanderson. The Screaming Eagles were to play in the brand new Hollywood Sportatorium. The catch? The ‘arena’ had no air conditioning and an open-aired roof. Once they figured out that wouldn’t fly, the franchise was moved to Philadelphia and became the Blazers for one season. The Blazers were relocated to Vancouver from ’73 to ’75, before finally landing in Calgary as the Cowboys.

Calgary Cowboys, 1975-’77

In their first season, the Cowboys played out of the Stampede Corral and finished 41–35–4, with Danny Lawson leading the way with 44 goals. Perhaps best known for a bench-clearing brawl during the ’76 playoffs that saw criminal charges laid, the Cowboys were competitive, but lasted only two seasons before owner Jim Pattison folded the team in the summer of ’77.

Calgary Broncos, 1972

An original WHA franchise, founded Nov. 1, 1971, the Broncos never got to take the ice after owner Bob Brownridge died. The league intended to produce the original Battle of Alberta, with the Edmonton Oilers as the antagonist. In the first WHA draft, the Broncos chose Barry Gibbs, Jim Harrison, Dale Hoganson and Jack Norris. When the Broncos were forced to fold and became the Cleveland Crusaders, the Oilers were renamed the Alberta Oilers with the plan to split their home games between Edmonton and Calgary. That never happened, and after one year they returned to the original Edmonton Oilers name.

scott.mitchell@sunmedia.ca


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