Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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January 30, 1979 – Phoenix Roadrunners vs. Cincinnati Stingers

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Robbie Ftorek Phoenix RoadrunnersPhoenix Roadrunners vs. Cincinnati Stingers
January 30, 1979
Veterans Memorial Coliseum
Attendance: ?

Pacific Hockey League Programs
46 pages


This attractive program comes from an unusual in-season exhibition contest between the Cincinnati Stingers of the World Hockey Association and an independent minor league club, the Phoenix Roadrunners of the crumbling Pacific Hockey League.

The Pacific League started its second season in the fall of 1978 with six franchises.  But the Los Angeles Blades and the San Francisco Shamrocks both closed their doors in January of 1979, leaving the circuit with just four teams.  The hastily re-worked schedule didn’t offer much variety to the league’s remaining fans.  The Roadrunners played the Tucson Rustlers over twenty times.

Roadrunners owner Mike Skerlak came up with inspired idea to inject some novelty into these proceedings: bring Major League hockey back to Phoenix, if only for a couple of nights.  Starting with this two-game series against the Stingers on January 30th and February 3rd, 1979, he paid appearance fees to WHA clubs to travel to Arizona for exhibition games.  The Roadrunners themselves had been part of the World Hockey Association from 1974 until 1977 before financial problems forced the team out of business.  (Skerlak would re-organize his “new” Roadrunners within a few months to play minor league hockey).

The Winnipeg Jets said “no”, but the Cincinnati Stingers agreed to come in for two games and that offered a compelling story line: the return to Phoenix of Robbie Ftorek.   Ftorek, pictured on the cover of the evening’s game program (above right), was the greatest star for the WHA-era Roadrunners.  During the club’s final WHA season in the winter of 1976-77, Ftorek won the Gordie Howe Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player.  The Massachusetts native was the first American-born player to win MVP honors in a Major pro hockey league.

Ftorek was the WHA’s leading scorer midway through the 1978-79 season when the Stingers arrived in Phoenix at the end of January.  (He would ultimately finish 2nd in scoring for year to Quebec’s Real Cloutier).  But the Roadrunners held Ftorek in check, limiting him to just one assist on the evening.   Roadrunners goaltender Jim Park was superb, stopping 42 of 45 shots.  Michel Dion of the Stingers was not, allowing two first period scores to the minor league on just six shots.  Phoenix held on for a 5-3 upset of the WHA squad.

The two teams met again four days later for a Saturday afternoon matinee on February 3, 1979, but I can’t find any record of that result.



Cincinnati Stingers Home Page

Phoenix Roadrunners Home Page



October 12, 1972 – New York Raiders vs. Winnipeg Jets

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New York Raiders vs. Winnipeg Jets
October 12, 1972
Madison Square Garden
Attendance: 6,273

World Hockey Association Programs


Debut game for the ill-fated New York Raiders franchise of the World Hockey Association at Madison Square Garden on October 12, 1972.

The Raiders were supposed to plant the rebel league’s flag in North America’s biggest media market, but things went wrong from day one.  The club hoped to play in the newly opened Nassau Coliseum out on Long Island.  But the NHL outmaneuvered the WHA by fast-tracking an expansion franchise for the building – the New York Islanders – to box out the Raiders.  The Raiders wound up in downtown Manhattan at the costly Madison Square Garden, where they were stuck with garbage dates passed over by the NHL’s New York Rangers and the NBA’s New York Knicks.

An announced crowd of just 6,273 turned out at the 18,000-seat Garden for this first appearance of the Raiders on a Thursday evening in October.  New York’s opening night opponent was the Winnipeg Jets.  The Jets were expected to draw a great crowd because of the presence of Bobby Hull, the erstwhile NHL superstar who put the upstart WHA on the map by jumping to the league for a million dollars in 1972.  But the NHL retaliated with a lawsuit and Hull missed the start of the WHA season, including this game, while the matter was resolved.

Hull’s former line mate with Chicago Blackhawks Christian Bordeleau also made the jump to Winnipeg and the WHA.  He took up the slack for the absent Hull, scoring four goals on this night to lead the Jets to a 6-4 victory.  Bobby Sheehan and Ron Ward had two goals each for the Raiders in the losing effort.

Beset with a bad team and a horrible lease, the Raiders owners bailed on the club in the middle of the 1972-73 season.  The Raiders finished out the year as a ward of the league.  They were equally hapless off the ice, finish 6th (and last) in the WHA’s Eastern Division.

New ownership re-organized the team the following season as the New York Golden Blades, once again based out of the Garden.  The same problems took hold, the new owner bailed again, and the team ended up moving to Cherry Hill, New Jersey to finish out the WHA’s second season.


The Raiders had a few interesting personalities…

Alton White was one of only two black players in pro hockey in North America is 1972-73.  (The other was Willie O’Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL way back in 1958.  O”Ree was still kicking around in the minor leagues at age 37).  White started the season with the Raiders, but was shipped off the the WHA’s Los Angeles Sharks after only 13 games.  He would score 20 goals for the Sharks during the 1972-73 campaign.

The Raiders original General Manager was long-time baseball executive Marvin Milkes.  Milkes had some notoriety at the time thanks to Jim Bouton’s sensational 1970 best seller Ball Four, a diary of Bouton’s season pitching for the bumbling 1969 Seattle Pilots of Major League Baseball.  Milkes, the Pilot’s General Manager, is portrayed as an officious penny pincherTo the extent that Ball Four tapped into counterculture distrust of the establishment, Milkes was cast in the role of “The Man”.

Pro hockey didn’t work out for Milkes.  He left the team in October 1972, just a few weeks after the Raiders first and only season got under way.  Milkes spent most of the next decade working for a series of failed pro soccer teams and died of a heart attack in a Los Angeles health club  in 1982.

Long-time New York Yankees radio play-by-play man John Sterling called Raiders games on WMCA AM in one of his early broadcasting gigs.



Timothy Gassen at the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame has an entertaining interview with former Raiders beat writer Bill Verigan here.


Written by andycrossley

December 1st, 2012 at 8:32 pm

October 1, 1977 – New England Whalers vs. Boston Bruins


New England Whalers vs. Boston Bruins
WHA-NHL Exhibition Game
October 1, 1977
Hartford Civic Center
World Hockey Association Programs

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).




Written by andycrossley

November 10th, 2012 at 4:54 am

January 7, 1976 – Indiana Pacers vs. Spirits of St. Louis

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Don Chaney Spirits of St. Louis Indiana Pacers vs. Spirits of St. Louis
January 7, 1976
Market Square Arena

American Basketball Association Programs
64 pages


This gem of a program from the Indiana Pacers dates to the final days of the American Basketball Association in the winter of 1976.  A young artist named Rich Ernsting painted many of the program covers for both the Pacers and the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association during their 1975-76 seasons.  Both teams played at the newly built Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, opened in 1974.

Ernsting’s portraits typically featured a Pacers or Racers player – or, in the case of the program at below right, a team personality, such as Racers play-by-play man Bob Lamey.

“They were all watercolor paintings on heavy watercolor paper.  I basically had freedom of design to come up with whatever,” Ernsting recalled to FWiL in 2012.  “I wasn’t really a big hockey fan, but I was a huge Pacers fan.  A friend of mine and I saw most home games, sometimes for free with mid-court seats.  There was nothing like the old ABA Pacers.  They were so exciting.”

Ernsting balanced a full-time day job with the task of producing dozens of original art designs for the Pacers and Racers as a nocturnal side job.

“Roger Brown was my favorite player.  I’m very disappointed he isn’t in the Hall of Fame.  I liked <my> Billy Keller cover and Roger Brown as well.  There were several I thought turned out really good.  The coach of the Indianapolis Racers and a couple of their players.  There were also a few that weren’t so good, sometimes because I was just so tired.  It was a pretty hectic schedule I was on. Not enough hours in the day.”

Occasionally Ernsting’s cover art highlighted a star player from the opposition, such as this illustration of Spirits of St. Louis star Don Chaney from a January 7, 1976 Pacers vs. Spirits game in Indianapolis.

Bob Lamey Indianapolis RacersChaney led an interesting career, entering the NBA as a 1st round draft pick of the Boston Celtics in 1968.  An ace defensive player, Chaney would win NBA titles with Boston in 1969 and again in 1974.  In September 1974, Chaney signed a contract to jump to the ABA for the 1975-76 season after playing out his option year with Boston.  Although other high profile NBA veterans jumped to the ABA in the past – Rick Barry, Billy Cunningham, Zelmo Beatty – Chaney was the first to leave a defending NBA championship team to join the junior circuit.  The Spirits lured Chaney away with a reported offer of $100,000 annually, nearly double the $60,000 salary Chaney drew from the Celtics in 1974-75.

Chaney ended up joining the ABA just in time to witness its death throes.  Two clubs – the San Diego Sails and the Utah Stars – folded during the 1975-76 season.   Chaney’s Spirits wobbled through the season.  The team fired Head Coach Rod Thorn after 47 games and played to microscopic crowds in St. Louis.  At the conclusion of the 1975-76 season, the NBA accepted four ABA clubs in a merger – the Pacers, Denver Nuggets,  New York Nets and San Antonio Spurs.

The NBA didn’t want the ABA’s other three clubs.  The Virginia Squires went out of business and the Kentucky Colonels accepted a modest seven-figure buyout.  In a now infamous deal in NBA lore, Spirits owners Ozzie and Dan Silna negotiated a clever buyout that would pay them a 1/7th share of all NBA television contract money earned by the Pacers, Nuggets, Nets and Spurs in perpetuity.  The Silna brothers owned their ABA franchise for only two seasons.  Nearly four decades later, the Silnas have collected more than aquarter of a billion dollars from the NBA under the terms of this remarkable buyout.  The NBA has looked to extricate itself from the deal for decades without success.


Don Chaney would return to the NBA in 1976 after the Spirits folded.  After one season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Chaney returned to the Celtics in 1977 for his final two pro seasons.  He is the only Celtic player to play with both Bill Russell and Larry Bird.

Rich Ernsting has turned his professional interests to photography.  These days he tours the country, photographing college campuses and creating photo collages as keepsakes and remembrances for graduates.  He has photographed over 700 campuses in 48 states and his work can be seen at

Click here for our complete2012 Interview with Program Artist Rich Ernsting

Here are a few more Rich Ernsting program covers from 1975 and 1976:

Written by andycrossley

October 19th, 2012 at 1:43 am

January 28, 1979 – New England Whalers vs. Winnipeg Jets

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New England Whalers vs. Winnipeg Jets
January 28, 1979
The Springfield Civic Center
World Hockey Association Programs
64 pages

New England Whalers left winger Jack Carlson is pictured on this January 1979 program from the dying days of the World Hockey Association (1972-1979).  I received several of these old Whalers “Blue Line” game programs in the mail this week, but chose this one for FWiL because of Carlson’s storyline.

Jack Carlson was one of a trio of hockey playing brothers along with siblings Jeff and Steve, all of whom spent some time in either the WHA or the NHL during their journeymen careers.  All three Carlsons played on the 1974-75 Johnstown (PA) Jets of the minor North American Hockey League during the mid-1970’s, alongside a 23-year old winger named Ned Dowd.  Dowd’s sister Nancy was a budding screenwriter and he provided her with the source material for her breakthrough screenplay, Slap Shot.  The Carlson brothers inspired – and were cast as – the “Hanson Brothers” in Slap Shot, a trio of child-like goons who help transform the fortunes of Paul Newman’s fictitious Charlestown Chiefs in the film.  Steve and Jeff have considerable screen time in the film, but Jack Carlson had to drop out of filming after received a call-up to the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA.  He was replaced by his former Jets teammate, Dave Hanson.

Here’s Jack Carlson in some Hanson-brothers style action with the Whalers in 1978:

The Whalers beat the Winnipeg Jets 8-6 in a high scoring shootout on this January evening in 1979.  Today most hockey fans associate the Whalers with Hartford, Connecticut, where the team played a majority of its WHA-era games during the Seventies.  (Less than two months after this game, the Whalers were one of four WHA clubs accepted into the NHL for the 1979-80 season and formally changed their name to the “Hartford” Whalers).  But the Whalers played the entire 1978-79 season at the Springfield Civic Center due to a January 1978 roof collapse that knocked the Hartford Civic Center out of commission for two full years.

This game was also one of Jack Carlson’s final games as a Whaler after the better part of three years with the team.  Four days later he was sent to the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL as part of an inter-league trade.  Carlson made his final pro appearances with the North Stars during the 1986-87 season at the age of 32.

Jack Carlson’s career statistics on


Written by andycrossley

June 3rd, 2012 at 4:03 am