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1972-1976 Cleveland Crusaders

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World Hockey Association (1972-1976)

Born: 1972 – WHA founding franchise.
Moved: August 9, 1976 (Minnesota Fighting Saints)


Team Colors: Purple, White & Black



The Cleveland Crusaders were one of twelve original franchises in the World Hockey Association in the winter of 1972-73.  The franchise originally intended to play in Calgary, but after reaching a dead end in Alberta, the club ended up in the hands of Nick Mileti, the owner of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers and the Cleveland Indians.  Mileti was also the former owner of Cleveland’s previous hockey team, the Cleveland Barons of the minor league American Hockey League, and he owned the downtown Cleveland Arena that the Barons and the Cavs called home.

Like the American Football League and the American Basketball Association before it, the WHA was formed with the intention of challenging the establishment league (in this case the NHL) for the best markets and the best talent.  The WHA really got on the map when the Winnipeg Jets signed Bobby Hull away from the Chicago Blackhawks for $1 million.  The Philadelphia Blazers lured away Boston Bruins star Derek Sanderson with a deal that briefly made Turk the highest paid athlete on Earth.

The Crusaders also landed one of the biggest stars in the new WHA, signing away goaltender Gerry Cheevers from the Boston Bruins with a seven-year contract that paid $200,000 per season.  One of the top goaltenders on the planet at the time, Cheevers earned two Stanley Cups in Boston and established an NHL record 32-game unbeaten streak in net during the 1971-72 season.

The Crusaders storyline was a tough, defensive minded club that played well in the regular season and then folded in the postseason.  The Crusaders made the playoffs in all four of their WHA seasons, but never advanced beyond the second round.

The Crusaders played their first two seasons at the Cleveland Arena, while owner Nick Mileti worked on development of the 18,500-seat suburban Richfield Coliseum.  The Crusaders moved into the Coliseum in November 1975, but the new arena require a long drive out into the middle of nowhere between Cleveland and Akron.  Crusaders attendance improved only marginally from the team’s days in the big old barn downtown, hovering between 5,200 and 7,000 for all four seasons of the club’s existence.

After the team’s third season (and first in Richfield), Nick Mileti sold controlling interest in the team to one of his investment partners, Jay Moore.   Moore presided over a contentious fourth and final season of Crusaders hockey in the winter of 1975-76.   In late January 1976, Crusaders GM publicly criticized Cheevers, accusing the All-Star of not providing “major league goaltending” to the club.  Cheevers, fed up with Vivian, prepared a retirement statement, while the GM slapped a fine and an indefinite suspension on the goalie.  A week later, attorneys for both sides agreed to void Cheevers contract and he left the WHA to return to the Boston Bruins.

Two weeks later, Vivian and owner Jay Moore incensed the remaining Crusaders players by traveling to Kansas City, Missouri, allegedly to pitch the NHL’s troubled Kansas City Scouts franchise on relocating to Cleveland.  The players viewed this as a betrayal of the team and a dereliction of management’s duty to stay in Cleveland promoting the team they had.  On March 10, 1976, the Crusaders took the ice at the Richfield Coliseum wearing black armbands to protest the actions of team management.  Vivian resigned the next day, realizing he had lost control of the club.

After the Cruaders’s annual rite of spring – an early playoff exit – Jay Moore attempted to sell the Crusaders to former World Football League owner Bill Putnam, who planned to move the team to Hollywood, Florida and call them the Florida Breakers.  The deal fell through and Mileti ended up stepping back in to take the team back from Moore.  Meanwhile, the NHL was relocating to Cleveland after all.  It wasn’t the Kansas City Scouts, but rather another troubled club – the California Golden Seals.  With the NHL coming to town, Mileti realized the Crusaders’ days were numbered in Cleveland.

The WHA granted approval to move the team to St. Paul, Minnesota on August 9, 1976.  The Crusaders became the second edition of the Minnesota Fighting Saints, replacing an original WHA franchise the ran out of money and folded during the season in February 1976.   Mileti was never a big money guy in any of his sports dealings – he put deals together with loans and other people’s money.  In St. Paul, Mileti could not find local investors to buy into the club and as a result the “New Fighting Saints” ran out of funds after just a few months play in January 1977.  Minnesota’s WHA franchise folded in mid-season for the second year in a row and that was the end of the franchise that began life as the Cleveland Crusaders in 1972.




==Cleveland Crusaders Programs on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other


1972-73 1/30/1973 @ New England Whalers L 4-1 Program
1972-73 3/7/1973 @ New England Whalers L 1-0 (OT) Program


1973-1974 10/23/1973 @ Los Angeles Sharks L 4-3 Program
1973-1974 11/29/1973 @ Quebec Nordiques T 4-4 Program
1973-74 2/9/1974 vs. Toronto Toros W 4-3 Program
1973-74 2/28/1974 @ Minnesota Fighting Saints T 6-6 Program
1973-74 4/7/1974 @ Toronto Toros L 4-0 Program
1973-74 4/9/1974 @ Toronto Toros L 4-3 Program
1973-74 4/15/1974 @ Toronto Toros L 4-1 Program


1974-75 11/8/1974 @ Vancouver  Blazers W 2-1 Program
1974-75 11/30/1974 @ Houston Aeros W 5-4 Program
1974-75 12/19/1974 @ Michigan Stags L 1-0 Program
1974-75 12/23/1974 @ Toronto Toros L 4-1 Program
1974-75 12/28/1974 @ Phoenix Roadrunners L 3-2 (OT) Program
1974-75 1/27/1975 @ New England Whalers L 2-0 Program
1974-75 4/2/1975 @ Houston Aeros L 7-6 Program


1975-76 11/9/1975 @ Edmonton Oilers L 4-1 Program
1975-76 3/12/1976 @ New England Whalers L 8-2 Program
1975-76 3/20/1976 vs. Toronto Toros L 6-5 Program



1974 Cleveland Crusaders documentary.


==Key Players==


==In Memoriam==

Former Crusaders center Bob Dillabough, who skated for the team in the 1972-73 season, died on March 27, 1997 at age 55.



World Hockey Association Media Guides

World Hockey Association Programs


January 30, 1973 – New England Whalers vs. Cleveland Crusaders

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Bobby Hull Winnipeg JetsNew England Whalers vs. Cleveland Crusaders
January 30, 1973
The Boston Garden
Attendance: 10,136

World Hockey Association Programs
56 Pages


I’m headed in to the TD Garden in Boston this evening for a charity event at tonight’s Bruins vs. Washington Capitals game.  Bostonians over 30 like me still call it “the New Garden”, giving the 16-year old building its rightfully subordinate place beneath the revered Boston Garden of our youth – the smoky, steep sweatbox with loads of obstructed view seats that was demolished in 1997.

For a couple of winters in the early 1970’s the Bruins shared the Garden with their mortal rivals – the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association.   The existence of the WHA created a form of de facto free agency for NHL players who were previously bound to their teams by the reserve clause.  More than 60 NHL players jumped to the WHA for the league’s debut season in the winter of 1972-73.  The Bruins lost their scoring star Derek Sanderson who signed a five-year, $2.6 million deal with the Philadelphia Blazers that briefly made him the highest paid athlete on Earth.

But the WHA’s biggest coup was signing Chicago Blackhawks star Bobby Hull to a ten-year deal prior to the 1972 season.  “The Golden Jet” would play for the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets franchise, whose name was inspired by the superstar himself.  Hull became the face of the WHA for marketing purposes, to the point where he is pictured smiling on the cover of this January 30th, 1973 New England Whalers program, even though the Whalers foe that night was not Hull’s Jets, but rather the Cleveland Crusaders.

The Whalers played two years at Garden from 1972 to 1974 before moving to the newly opened Hartford Civic Center for the 1974-75 season.  The Whalers were one of four WHA clubs accepted into the NHL for a $6 million expansion fee in a merger between the two leagues in 1979.  Known as the Hartford Whalers from 1979 to 1997, the club moved south in 1997 and is today known as the Carolina Hurricanes.



Cleveland Crusaders Home Page





Written by AC

March 29th, 2012 at 4:37 pm


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