Despite a bitter and often litigious business rivalry, teams from the National Hockey League and the upstart World Hockey Association (1972-1979) played 63 inter-league exhibition matches between 1974 and 1978. Among the WHA clubs, the New England Whalers were the most enthusiastic participant in these contests, appearing in 16 of the 63 WHA-NHL derbies.
But this was the only night the Whalers ever faced their local market foes, the Boston Bruins. And this would be the only time Bruins deigned to face a WHA squad. The Bruins, after all, where one of the most strident anti-WHA hardliners during the league merger discussions that stretched throughout the mid-late 1970′s. A sampling of their grievances and responses…
- The Bruins were defending Stanley Cup champions when the WHA launched in 1972. The new league promptly raided the B’s roster, plucking away Gerry Cheevers, Ted Green (lured away by the Whalers), Johnny McKenzie and Derek Sanderson.
- Boston was so hockey mad in 1972 that the city supported two pro teams at the Boston Garden. Weston Adams Jr. controlled the Garden and owned both the Bruins and their top farm club, the Boston Braves. During the Braves first season in 1971-72, the team drew bigger crowds than some NHL teams. But the Whalers move into the Garden in 1972 put the Braves out of business within two years.
- By April 1974, the Whalers owed $50,000 in back rent to Adams and attempted to pull their gear out of the Garden for a playoff game in Springfield, Massachusetts. Adams barricaded the Whalers’ locker room with the Garden’s Zamboni machine to extract the rent.
- Paul Mooney replaced Adams as Bruins and Garden President in 1975. Mooney was an anti-WHA stalwart and helped to scuttle a 1977 merger plan that nearly united the two leagues.
The Whalers always played the NHL tough in these exhibitions. Most observers considered the NHL to be the superior league, but the Whalers went 9-3-4 in inter-league play. Just the evening before the Whale beat the New York Rangers 7-4. This would not be their night though. The Bruins teed off of Whalers goaltender Cap Raeder for five goals in the first period, courtesy of Dave Forbes, Stan Jonathan, Rick Middleton, Bob Miller and Brad Park. Cheevers started in net for the Bruins, back from his own three season adventure in the WHA. The finals score was 5-0 Bruins.
This would be the only time the Whalers and Bruins would meet in the WHA era. The clubs next met on November 18, 1979 as NHL rivals, after the merger of WHA and NHL finally went through in the summer of 1979 (over the Bruins’ objections, once again).