Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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October 28, 1972 – New England Whalers vs. Alberta Oilers

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Kevin Ahearn New England WhalersNew England Whalers vs. Alberta Oilers
October 28, 1972
Boston Arena
Attendance: ?

World Hockey Association Programs


Early game program from the first season of the World Hockey Association.  This October 28th, 1972 game was the 9th game in franchise history for both the New England Whalers (today the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL) and the visiting Alberta Oilers (today’s Edmonton Oilers).

It was also first Whalers game played at the 6,000-seat Boston Arena.  Out of necessity, the Whalers had to split their 1972-73 schedule between the 15,000-seat Boston Garden (where they had a contentious relationship with the NHL’s Bruins) and smaller, 62-year old bandbox on St. Botolph Street in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood.  The Whalers pumped $200,000 into Boston Arena in 1972 to try to bring it up to a professional standard, but ultimately they would leave the building behind after their first season in the WHA.

That’s Milton, Mass. native and Boston College alum Kevin Ahearn pictured on the cover of the evening’s Harpoon Magazine game program.  Ahearn played on the 1972 U.S. Olympic Hockey team in Sapporo, Japan, but his pro career was a short one.  After appearing in 78 games for the Whalers and scoring 20 goals during the 1972-73 season, Ahearn spent the next two winters in the minors and was out of hockey by the age of 26 in 1975.

The Oilers won on this night 4-1 on the strength of 43 saves by Alberta goalie Jack Norris.



Written by andycrossley

July 30th, 2014 at 3:27 pm

1967-1979 Phoenix Roadrunners

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Sandy HuculWestern Hockey League (1967-1974)
World Hockey Association (1974-1977)
Central Hockey League (1977)
Pacific Hockey League (1977-1979)

Born: May 16, 1967 – The Victoria Maple Leafs relocate to Phoenix, AZ.
Died: June 22, 1979 – The Roadrunners cease operations.

Arena: Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum

Team Colors:





==Phoenix Roadrunners Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1967-68 1/16 1968 vs. Seattle Totems ?? Program
1969-70 11/7/1969 @ Salt Lake Golden Eagles T 3-3 Program
1969-70 2/14/1970 @ Seattle Totems ?? Program
1970-71 10/30/1970 @ Seattle Totems ?? Program
1970-71 11/20/1970 @ Seattle Totems ?? Program
1970-71 2/25/1971 @ Seattle Totems ?? Program
1972-73 3/17/1973 @ Portland Buckaroos ?? Program
1973-74 2/27/1974 @ Portland Buckaroos ?? Program
1974-75 10/16/1974 vs. San Diego Mariners ?? Program
1974-75 10/28/1974 @ Toronto Toros ?? Program
1974-75 10/30/1974 @ Winnipeg Jets ?? Program
1974-75 11/2/1974 @ Houston Aeros ?? Program
1974-75 12/4/1974 vs. San Diego Mariners ?? Program
1974-75 12/28/1974 vs. Cleveland Crusaders W 3-2 (OT) Program
1974-75 3/22/1975 vs. Vancouver Blazers ?? Program
1974-75 3/23/1975 vs. Indianapolis Racers ?? Program
1975-76 10/26/1975 @ Edmonton Oilers ?? Program
1975-76 1/2/1976 @ Toronto Toros ?? Program
1976-77 10/26/1976 @ Quebec Nordiques Program
1976-77 1/12/1977 vs. Houston Aeros ?? Program
1976-77 2/19/1977 @ Indianapolis Racers ?? Program
1977-78 12/7/1977 vs. Fort Worth Texans ?? Program
1977-78 12/9/1977 vs. Fort Worth Texans ?? Program
1978-79 12/15/1978 vs. Los Angeles Blades ?? Program
1978-79 1/10/1979 vs. San Diego Hawks ?? Program
1978-79 1/12/1979 vs. San Diego Hawks ?? Program
1978-79 1/18/1979 vs. Spokane Flyers ?? Program
1978-79 1/19/1979 vs. Spokane Flyers ?? Program
1978-79 1/25/1979 vs. Tucson Rustlers ?? Program
1978-79 1/27/1979 vs. Tucson Rustlers ?? Program
1978-79  2/1/1979 vs. Tucson Rustlers ?? Program
1978-79 1/30/1979 vs. Cincinnati Stingers (WHA) W 5-3 Program
1978-79 2/3/1979 vs. Cincinnati Stingers (WHA) ?? Program
1978-79 2/14/1979 vs. San Diego Hawks ?? Program
1978-79 2/16/1979 vs. San Diego Hawks ?? Program
1978-79 3/1/1979 vs. Tucson Rustlers ?? Program
1978-79 3/3/1979 vs. Spokane Flyers ?? Program
1978-79 3/7/1979 vs. San Diego Hawks ?? Program
1978-79 3/9/1979 vs. Tucson Rustlers ?? Program
1978-79 3/22/1979 vs. Spokane Flyers ?? Program
1978-79 3/24/1979 vs. Tucson Rustlers ?? Program
1978-79 3/29/1979 vs. San Diego Hawks ?? Program
1978-79 3/31/1979 vs. Spokane Flyers ?? Program


==Key Players==



Pacific Hockey League Programs


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.



Written by andycrossley

June 24th, 2014 at 12:16 pm

1976-1981 Birmingham Bulls

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Birmingham BullsWorld Hockey Association (1976-1979)
Central Hockey League (1979-1981)

Born: 1976 – The Toronto Toros relocate to Birmingham, AL.
Died: February 23, 1981 – The Bulls cease operations in midseason.

Arena: Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center

Team Colors:



The Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association were one of the first major pro hockey teams to make their home in the Deep South, sharing that distinction with the slightly older Atlanta Flames of the National Hockey League.

The Bulls franchise had a fascinating history dating back to the formation of the WHA in 1972.  Originally they were the Ottawa Nationals, but the team foundered in Canada’s capital city and moved to Toronto in 1973 with a dynamic new owner in charge, 34-year John Bassett, Jr.  Bassett’s father, John Bassett, Sr., was a Toronto media mogul who owned the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League and was a former partner in the ownership of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1960′s when the team won four Stanley Cups.  The elder Bassett was forced out of the Maple Leafs in 1971 following a bitter power struggle with his partners Harold Ballard and Stafford Smythe.  (Smythe would die within a matter of weeks).

Harold Ballard’s consolidation of control over the Maple Leafs in the early 1970′s launched an era of pitch black despair for the city’s passionate hockey fans.  He failed to take seriously the arrival of the WHA in 1972 and the leafs roster was raided mercilessly by the upstart league as a result.  He then promptly went to prison on fraud charges.  While the Maple Leafs sank and Ballard fought his legal battles, the younger John Bassett moved Ottawa’s WHA club to Toronto and set up shop at Varsity Arena.  Now a second generation of Bassetts would do battle with Harold Ballard.

Birmingham BullsIn their first season in the winter of 1973-74, the Toros were a popular draw.  But in 1974, Bassett moved the Toros into Maple Leaf Gardens.  Ballard, who controlled the Gardens, was in the process of re-asserting himself after his release from prison.  The Leafs owner carried a special hatred of the WHA, who he blamed for plundering his roster and driving up salaries in an inter-league bidding war.  When the Toros made their Gardens debut in 1974, Ballard dimmed the lights for their opening game.

Ballard’s control of the building lease ultimately made life impossible for the Toros in Toronto.  So Bassett moved the team all the way to Birmingham, Alabama, of all places, for the 1976-77 WHA season.  Actually, the move wasn’t quite as strange as it seemed.  Bassett had previous pro sports experience in the American South, having owned the popular Memphis Southmen of the World Football League in 1974 and 1975.  In Birmingham, the hockey team would retain the Toros old colors and logo, but switched to the more Anglicized “Bulls” nickname.

The Bulls were not especially good in Birmingham.  They never had a winning record and made the playoffs only once in three WHA seasons.  But they always had a fascinating cast of characters.  Future Hall-of-Famer Frank Mahovlich moved south with the team from Toronto, as did 1972 Summit Series hero Paul Henderson (who many feel should be in the Hall).  But what the Bulls would truly become known for was Bassett’s maverick youth movement:  The “Baby Bulls”.

In the late 1970′s both the NHL and the WHA observed a minimum age of 20 years old to be eligible for the pro draft.  Bassett thought it was ridiculous to restrict player movement after the age of consent and also saw an opportunity for a competitive advantage over the NHL.  In 1977, he signed 18-year old Ken Linseman from the Kingston Canadians junior hockey team.  The WHA attempted to invalidate the signing, but Bassett won in federal court.  Linseman signed and scored 38 goals as a rookie during the 1977-78 season.

Gaston Gingras Birmingham BullsThe next summer, Bassett raided the juniors in earnest, signing seven more 18-year olds, including Gaston Gingras, Michel Goulet, Craig Hartsburg, Rob Ramage, Pat Riggin and Rick Vaive.  Birmingham finished dead last in the WHA in 1979-79, but the league still saw fit to name Bulls coach John Brophy as its coach-of-the-year for molding a group of teenagers into a reasonably competitive squad.

At the end of the 1978-79 hockey season, the on-again/off-again merger between the WHA and the NHL finally came together.  The WHA’s three Canadian franchises plus the New England Whalers were allowed to pay $6 million each to join the NHL.  The WHA’s remaining two clubs – the Bulls and the Cincinnati Stingers – were dropped.  Both decided to re-organize and join the minor Central Hockey League.

Head Coach John Brophy continued with the CHL edition of the Birmingham Bulls, which retained the team logo and colors of the WHA franchise.  But John Bassett stepped back from majority ownership, which would ultimately cripple the Bulls’ viability.  Magic City Sports, headed by Frank Falkenburg, were the new majority owners of the now minor league Bulls.  Ironically, the Bulls became a farm club of the Atlanta Flames – the NHL’s own struggling Deep South franchise.  The Flames would move to Calgary after the Bulls first season in the CHL but the clubs would maintain a long-distance relationship – briefly.

Midway through the 1980-81 CHL season, Magic City Sports ran out of money.  They asked Calgary for a bailout to get them through the season, but the parent club declined.   The Bulls were forced to fold in midseason on February 23, 1981.  Owner Frank Falkenburg publicly criticized the Flames, both for failing to prop up the club and for allegedly sending lousy players to Birmingham, resulting in a losing team and declining attendance.


Michel Goulet and Rob Ramage were the last active members of the original Birmingham Bulls.  Both players retired in 1994 after long NHL careers.

Birmingham saw several other minor league teams come and go over the next couple of decades.  The longest lasting of them was a nostalgic 1992 revival of the Birmingham Bulls brand new by the East Coast Hockey League.  The ECHL Bulls lasted nine seasons from 1992-2001.

John Bassett went back to football and founded the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League in 1983.  In the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL? Bassett is presented as the league’s white knight owner, battling Donald Trump for the soul of the springtime football league.  Bassett’s struggle with Trump was hampered by his diagnosis with brain cancer in 1985.  He succumbed to the disease on May 15, 1986.


==Birmingham Bulls Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Season Date Opponent Score Program Other
1976-77 10/14/1976 vs. Cincinnati Stingers T 7-7 Program
1977-78 11/5/1977 vs. Quebec Nordiques W 5-4 (OT) Program
1978-79 1/19/1979 @ Edmonton Oilers L 11-3 Program
1978-79 3/23/1979 vs. Cincinnati Stingers W 2-1 Program
1978-79 4/8/1979 @ Edmonton Oilers L 5-4 Program


==In Memoriam==

Bulls owner John Bassett died of brain cancer on May 15, 1986 at age 47.




World Hockey Association Media Guides

World Hockey Association Programs



1974-75 Michigan Stags

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Michigan StagsWorld Hockey Association (1974-1975)

Born: April 1974 – The Los Angeles Sharks relocate to Detroit.
Died: January 19, 1975 – The Stags relocate to Baltimore in midseason.

Arena: Cobo Arena (10,200)

Team Colors: Red, Black & White

Owners: Charles Nolton & Peter Shagena


The Michigan Stags were a brief and doomed attempt by the rebel World Hockey Association (1972-1979) to challenge the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings head-to-head during the winter of 1974-75.

The Stags began life on the West Coast, playing the WHA’s first two seasons as the Los Angeles Sharks (1972-1974).  A pair of Michigan chemical industrialists, Charles Nolton and Peter Shagena, purchased the club and moved it to Detroit in April of 1974.  Re-named the Michigan Stags, the WHA franchise would play in 10,000 seat Cobo Arena on the banks of the Detroit River.  Across town at Olympia Stadium, the city’s NHL franchise was mired in the middle of the 20-year “Dead Wings” era of futility, which seemed to offer an opening to an upstart WHA, that now featured two of the most popular ex-Red Wings of recent years: future Hall-of-Famers Gordie Howe of the Houston Aeros and Frank Mahovlich of the Toronto Toros.

Nolton and Shagena, however, proved not to be the type of owners needed to challenge a member of the NHL’s “Original Six”.  The Stags were badly undercapitalized from the start.  The roster was stocked with unremarkable minor league journeymen, which the exception of talented winger Marc Tardif.  The Stags failed to secure a local television contract, which was critical to establishing an identity in hockey-mad Detroit.  And the WHA schedule offered no favors.  The Stags could have generated huge publicity from Gordie Howe’s return to the city, but league officials didn’t schedule the Houston Aeros’ first appearance in Detroit until the second half of the 1974-75 season.  By that time, the Stags would already be gone.

In early January the IRS filed a $177,000 tax lien against the Stags and the WHA was forced to seize the franchise and meet the club’s payroll.  The Stags played their final game on January 18, 1975, a 2-1 road loss to the Cleveland Crusaders that dropped the team’s record to 18-40-3.  Shortly afterwards the WHA abruptly moved the team to Baltimore, Maryland where it finished out the season as the league-owned Baltimore Blades before disbanding in the spring of 1975.

The combined record of the 1974-75 Stags/Blades was 21-53-4, good for a distant last place in the WHA’s Western Division.


==Michigan Stags Games on Fun While It Lasted==

Date Opponent Score Program Other
11/24/1974 vs. Minnesota Fighting Saints W 3-2 Program
12/5/1974 vs. San Diego Mariners W 5-3 Program
12/8/1974 @ Edmonton Oilers L 7-0 Program
12/12/1974 vs. Winnipeg Jets  W 5-3 Program
12/17/1974 vs. New England Whalers T 2-2 Program
12/19/1974 vs. Cleveland Crusaders  W 1-0 Program



Remembering the Woeful Michigan Stags Hockey Team – Richard Bak

World Hockey Association Media Guides

World Hockey Association Programs



Written by andycrossley

December 26th, 2013 at 9:07 pm