1978 After 8 games with the Indianapolis Racers of the WHA, Wayne Gretzky was sold to the Edmonton Oilers (along with Eddie Mio and Peter Driscoll). Gretzky went on to score 104 points in 72 games and was named WHA Rookie of the Year.
While Bobby Hull and the amazing Swedes were the face of the Winnipeg jets, the team also had a great crew of underappreciated grinders, who effectively provided them with grit, muscle and hard-nosed play. One such player was Billy Lesuk a proven NHL veteran who could score 15-17 goals each year, but was barely noticed among the superstar Jets cast.
He joined the jets in 1975-76 season and appeared in the Avco Cup finals every year, winning three championships. He then enjoyed a long a successful scouting career with Winnipeg, Chicago and Boston.
Also, when your friends ask, "who played on both the 1970 Bruins Stanley Cup team and a Winnipeg Jets Avco Cup team"? Be sure to answer Bill Lesuk, not Ted Green.
And if you see Bill today, wish him a happy WHA birthday.
17-year old Wayne Gretzky hits the books -- especially the Howe family's "My Three Hockey Players" (foreground)
Danny Lawson recalled the WHA's wild side:
According to Lawson, things were equally exciting off the ice (as told to Murray Greig): "The off-ice stuff was just wild. One night after a game in New York the team stopped off at a little bar in Blackwood, New Jersey. It turned out that a gang of bikers used this bar as one of their favorite hangouts, and they showed up just after we got there. They started mouthing off, and one of them threw a shot glass at our table and hit Marcel Paille in the head.
"That did it. A big tough defenseman named Dave Hutchinson ran over and grabbed the biggest biker and was getting ready to plow his face through the window when the guy reached up with a choke wire and tried to get it around Dave's neck, so Dave dragged him outside like a side of beef and proceeded to beat the sh** out of him. By this time everyone else was fighting and throwing bottles and glasses, and a couple of minutes later a whole squad of cops showed up.
"It was pretty messy. Guys were cut up, and thee was blood all over the place. But it sure brought our team closer together. Bernie (Parent) ended up with a broken finger, and he missed game because of it, but word never leaked out about how it happened. The club did some fancy talking and none of us faced serious charges. It was all covered up."
Mike Rogers didn't waste time making an impact in the WHA, scoring 35 goals, 48 assists and 83 points as a rookie in 1974-75. He also won the Paul Daneau Trophy as the WHA's most gentlemanly player after picking up only one minor penalty all season long!
According to Whalers teammate Gordie Howe: "Mike could do it all. He was quick as a cat and very strong for his size. And he could play all night!"
After an excellent WHA career, Rogers burst on to the NHL scene with 105 points in his first two NHL seasons ('79-'80 and '80-'81) and was named team captain.
All of this earned him the right to be traded the next season to the New York Rangers, for whom he compiled 103 points in 1982-83.
Only four players recorded 100-plus points in their first three NHL seasons: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Peter Stastny and Mike Rogers.
That's pretty good company for "Mighty" Mike Rogers -- an important part of Whalers history.
Howard Baldwin isn’t a household name these days, but he has had a pretty thrilling life and he’s been at the centre of some of the most pivotal moments in the modern history of professional hockey. Starting with an entry-level job on a team at the lowest level of the sport, he worked his way up until he was both an NHL owner and a producer of Hollywood blockbusters.
A great 1972 documentary about a player working to make the lineup of the Quebec Nordiques of the new World Hockey Association.