There is no shortage of interesting, if not bizarre, historical oddities to reminisce about when it comes to the sport of hockey. The 70’s were better known for disco, the Broad Street Bullies and of course those hideous Chicago White Sox short pant uniforms. But, did you know the 70’s also gave birth to a new hockey league that set out to rival the juggernaut NHL? Furthermore, did you know that this new league had a trophy similar to the legendary Stanley Cup?
The World Hockey Association and its Avco World Trophy were ready to take on the NHL and in turn helped to create what became perhaps one of the most interesting periods in professional hockey.
The WHA, as it is more commonly known, operated from 1972 to 1979 as a viable competitor to the Nation Hockey League. Although the newly formed league’s success was limited, it did offer NHL players a chance to play in larger market cities and for more money. Several players jumped at the chance to be part of the new league, including such legends as Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Hull – who became the games highest paid player.
The WHA began with 12 teams and expanded to as many as 26 before financial problems shrunk that number down to six by the time the league folded at the completion of the 1978-79 season. During its brief existence, the WHA left behind a unique legacy and four of its founding clubs. These teams are still around today in some form or another after they were granted acceptance into the NHL prior to the 1979-80 season. The New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets made the cut and still live on as reminder of the now infamously defunct league.
The Avco World Trophy was the WHA’s playoff trophy and was donated to the league in 1973-74. The New England Whalers became the leagues first champion, but had to settle for skating with a replacement trophy because the Avco Trophy was not completed on time. The trophy was named after the Avco Financial Services Company, which paid the lofty sum of $500 for the naming rights.
The WHA did not want to mimic the NHL. Instead the league wanted to puts its sister league out of business. Yet curiously the WHA found itself looking more and more like a cheap knockoff of the real thing. The Avco Trophy was no exception. It was a tall slender trophy topped with a silver bowl and was adorned with a large commercial looking name plate that read, “The Avco World Trophy.” The trophy bore a remarkable resemblance to its silver counterpart in the NHL. However, It did feature one characteristic the Stanley Cup did not. Between the body of the trophy and the bowl was a free floating silver Earth encompassed in a clear neck. That was the extent of the Avco trophies uniqueness. Unlike its one-of-a-kind cousin, there were actually three Avco Trophies made. Today the trio are scattered across North Amercica. One is on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the others call Nova Scotia and Winnipeg home.
Even as the league failed as a whole, it did leave behind a legacy of interesting history and fun hockey facts. Here are just a few you can use to amaze your family and friends with – courtesy of whahockey.com.
1. Wayne Gretzky’s very first professional goal was as an Indianapolis Racer, when he scored it against Dave Dryden of the Edmonton Oilers.
2. The WHA attempted to place a club in Florida on three seperate occasions, but never succeeded.
3. The Houston Aeros were the only team to win the Avco Cup and not be admitted into the NHL.
5. The league didn’t have hockey cards its second or seventh seasons, but DID have a set of 20 fold-out posters for the ’73-’74 season.
6. The Quebec Nordiques were once the San Francisco Seahawks.
7. The WHA had teams in six cities that still haven’t been granted NHL franchises.
8. When the WHA merged with the NHL for the ’79-’80 season, all three Howes were kept by the Whalers.
9. The Los Angeles Sharks were originally going to be called the Aces, but took the name Sharks when San Fransisco’s intended franchise (also Sharks) moved to Quebec.
10. Mark Messier only lasted five games with the Indianapolis Racers, and never played a home game.
11. For the final season in ’78-’79, the teams actually wore white jerseys on the road. Something the NHL does today.
12. The Winnipeg Jets won the Avco Trophy three times; the most of any WHA franchise and one of only four teams to win it.
13. When the league folded in 1979, the Avco Cup was given to the Winnipeg Jets (the last team to win it) The franchise donated it to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto upon the team’s demise in 1998.
14. Gordie Howe came out of retirement to join the Houston Aeros.
15. The Alberta Oilers wore blue and orange because they were originally supposed to be sponsored by Gulf Oil, but that the deal fell through after it was too late to change colors.
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