don’t look back

Gone But Not Forgotten: Toronto Toros’ goaltender Gilles Gratton gets out to cut the angle — no, sorry, I guess that train has left the station. Andre Hinse is the shooter here, and with this well-placed puck he put his Houston Aeros ahead in the first period of this WHA game on February 5, 1975. Houston ran up a 5-0 lead before the visiting Toros responded with a goal by winger Jeff Jacques, seen here in futile pursuit. Final score: Houston 5, Toronto 2. (Image: Bela Ugrin)

in it to bin it

One-On-One: Born in Nynäshamn, Sweden, on a Thursday of this same date in 1950, Ulf Nilsson is 72 today, so a tip of the Jofa to him. Here he is in February of 1977, when his WHA Winnipeg Jets beat the visiting Calgary Cowboys 6-4; Gary Bromley is the goaltender here. This was a big night for Nilsson’s linemate, right winger Anders Hedberg, who scored a hat trick and made some history: his final goal (assisted by Nilsson) was his 51st of the season. This was Winnipeg’s 49th game that year, which meant that Hedberg had outdone Maurice Richard’s 1945 fest of 50 goals in 50 games. Hedberg had actually only played 47 of this games, having missed a pair of games with a cracked rib. He finished the 1976-77 season with 70 goals in 68 games to lead the Jets in scoring with 131 points. Nilsson wasn’t far behind: he finished with 39 goals and 124 points. After four seasons with the Jets, Hedberg and Nilsson made a move the NHL, joining the New York Rangers in 1978.  (Image: University of Manitoba Archives, Winnipeg Tribune fonds)

as de québec

On the Saturday that the Quebec Nordiques originally drafted Guy Lafleur, Thurso’s own 21-year-old Turbo scored the 22nd goal of his rookie season, the winning one in a 6-5 Montreal Canadiens victory over the Los Angeles Kings. The Nordiques were only dreaming, of course, that day in February of 1972, when 12 teams from the upstart WHA laid wishful claim to more than 1000 players from other leagues in North America and around the world. The Los Angeles Sharks took Montreal’s Ken Dryden while the team from Ohio, the Dayton Aeros, tabbed Bobby Orr. Along with Lafleur, the Nordiques’ fantasy team included his Canadiens’ teammates Jacques Lemaire and Pierre Bouchard, along with Toronto’s Paul Henderson.

By the time Lafleur did finally join the Nordiques, signing as a free agent in the summer of 1989, he was 37 and Quebec had migrated to the NHL. Having unretired the previous year to play for the New York Rangers, Lafleur turned down a lucrative offer from the Los Angeles Kings in favour of Quebec, where he’d played for the QJHML Remparts in his pre-NHL days, from 1969 through 1971.

Lafleur played two seasons for the Nordiques before he stowed his skates for a second time in 1991, playing against the Canadiens on ten occasions, registering two goals and three assists. The photograph here dates to Saturday, January 5, 1991, when Patrick Roy shut out Quebec 3-0 as Montreal got goals from Stephan Lebeau, Stephane Richer, and Russ Courtnall.

(Top image: Bernard Brault, La Presse, BAnQ Vieux-Montréal)

aeros dynamic

Houston, We Have A Dynasty: Born in Floral, Saskatchewan, on a Saturday of this date in 1928, Gordie Howe was 45 in 1973 when he decided to become a Houston Aeros legend. He’d played a bit over the years with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, retiring in 1971 to take a job in the Red Wings’ front office. When that didn’t take, he went to the WHA to play win sons Marty (who was 20) and Mark (18). Howe Sr. finished the year with 31 goals and 100 points, good enough for third in league scoring. He led the Aeros to an Avco World Trophy championship that year, as well, and the Aeros repeated as champions in 1975. For good measure, Howe also collected the Gary L. Davidson Award as regular-season MVP in his first WHA season. Two years later, the WHA saw fit to re-name that same prize: in 1975-76, it became the Gordie Howe Trophy.

rush hour

Gare du Nords: Quebec Nordiques goaltender Richard Brodeur fends off a pair of Calgary Cowboys in WHA action from the 1975-76 season. Number four is defenceman Chris Evans. His teammate, passing the far post? Harder to identify: Danny Lawson, maybe, or Butch Deadmarsh? Calgary dispatched Quebec in the first round of the playoffs that year, but then fell in the second to the eventual Avco Trophy champions, the Winnipeg Jets.

slap happy

Shot and Chaser: Cincinnati Stingers’ Claude Larose unleashes a shot on goaltender Christer Abrahamsson of the New England Whalers in 1976. Larose, a left winger, went on to play a handful of games with the New York Rangers in the NHL, but he’s not to be confused with the other, elder Claude Larose, a right winger, who won six Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1960s and early ’70s. This Larose scored 28 goals for the Stingers in his WHA rookie season, 1975-76, and 30 the following year. (Image: Mark Treitel)

old bonesy

“He always looked like he had no chance to stop the puck,” was Tony Gallagher’s (sort of unkind) appraisal a couple of years ago, writing in the Vancouver Province. “Virtually every save he made looked like a fluke — or in some cases, a miracle — and yet he won championships in every league save the NHL.”

Goaltender Gary Bromley, born in Edmonton on a Thursday of this very date in 1950, is 72 today, so maybe an apology is in order for floating Gallagher’s faint praise to the fore. Sorry. Maybe can we focus on the championships? Bromley played on an Eastern League-winner with the Charlotte Checkers in the early 1970s, won a Calder Cup with the Cincinnati Swords in the AHL, and (in 1978) shared the Winnipeg Jets’ net with Joe Daley and Markus Mattson on the way (alongside Bobby Hull, Ulf Nilsson, and Anders Hedberg) to a WHA World Trophy.

It was in Charlotte that he picked up the nickname that stuck with him, Bones or Bonesy: his perceptive teammates noticed that he was lean. About his style of stopping the pucks that came his way? “I just kind of was nonchalant,” Bromley told Gallagher, “and tried to stop the puck that way.”

Bromley’s NHL career started with the Buffalo Sabres, then took a pause while he detoured to the WHA. In the spring of 1978, he signed as a free agent with the Vancouver Canucks. The mask up above was the one he wore to begin with on the west coast. Over the course of the three years he spent in Vancouver, he was the starter for just the first year, backing up Glen Hanlon and Richard Brodeur after that.

His famous skull-mask, below, dates to 1980. “I think that mask has been way more important than me,” Bromley told Tony Gallagher in 2015.

Embed from Getty Images

 

(Top image, from 1978: Derik Murray)

total prose, that’s what I’m here for

Crease Crouch: Born in Toronto on a Saturday of this date in 1945, Al Smith tended goals in the NHL for Leafs, Penguins, Red Wings, Sabres, Whalers, and Rockies in the 1960s, ’70s, and into the ’80s. Pictured here in the fall of 1978, he was also a star in the WHA with New England, and thereby an inaugural member of the league’s Hall of Fame. A busy writer, too, in his later years. Al Smith died at the age of 56 in 2002.

 

out here stopping rubber — what’s that doing for evolution?

Born in LaSalle, Quebec, on a Monday of this date in 1952, the ever-entertaining Gilles Gratton is 69 today. While his pro goaling career lasted just six years in the 1970s, the man they called Gratoony the Loony made sure they were memorable ones. He started in the WHA, spending the 1972-73 season with the long-lost Ottawa Nationals, then moved west when the franchise shifted to Toronto to reform as the Toros. In 1975, he arrived in the NHL, where he suited up for a season with the St. Louis Blues and then another with New York’s Rangers. 

When the great Roy MacGregor caught up with him in 1975 with a profile for The Canadian Magazine, the 22-year-old goaltender had signed a five-year, C$645,000 contract with the Toros that came with a bonus: a canary yellow Porsche 911-S Targa. “Nobody should be paid as much as I get,” Gratton told him. “In real work terms, I’m worth nothing. I’m not helping anyone, not making anything. What am I doing for the world? I’m stopping rubber — what’s that doing for evolution?”

That’s not all. “The difference between me and a hockey player is this,” Gratton continued: “when summer ends, a hockey player gets itchy, I feel like killing myself. If I never played hockey again, it wouldn’t matter. A real hockey player would be broken. Me, I’m liberated.” 

creases, they’re for crashing

The Chicago Cougars were blue in February of 1975, in a bleak place. I’m not referring to Toronto here, though that’s where they were geographically, on another stop on the WHA’s schedule. The funk that the Cougars were in related to the losing streak they rode into Toronto (they’d won just 3 of 16 games) as well as the team’s uncertain financial future. Before this, their third season in the upstart WHA, the original owners of the Cougars had sold the team to three of its prominent players, Ralph Backstrom, Pat Stapleton, and Dave Dryden. By February, with the new (playing) ownership having trouble finding further financial backing, there was talk that the Cougars might be upping skates and leaving Chicago — that, or folding entirely. 

Toronto was a balm, actually, in the face of all this: the Cougars ended up beating the local Toros, 4-3 in overtime, on a goal by Rosaire Paiement. Reporting for The Globe and Mail, Jeff Goodman wrote that the Toros helped in the effort as best they could: his account of the game at Maple Leaf Gardens features the phrase erratic passing and the word sleepskating

Pictured here in the fearsome mask is Chicago owner Dave Dryden, in the company of Toros defenceman Steve Cuddie and (in back) Chicago’s Darryl Maggs. “This win was something we needed badly,” said Chicago coach Jacques Demers when it was all over but the flood. “Things just weren’t going good. The players were depressed because they didn’t know where they stood.”

The Cougars finished the season, but the franchise didn’t live to see another one. After failing to make the WHA playoffs in April of ’75, the Chicago Cougars were dissolved. Many of the players (Maggs included) ended up with a new franchise, the Denver Spurs. They didn’t last long: by December of that same year, they’d folded, relocating to Ottawa, where they played out the season (but not beyond) as the Civics. 

The Edmonton Oilers claimed Dryden in the draft that dispersed the Cougars, and he played there for five seasons, four of them as the WHA wound up and one as the team debuted in the NHL. He took his mask with him, apparently. A friend in Chicago by the name of Bob Pelkowski was an artist and painted its ferocious face, according to Michael Cutler’s 1977 book Hockey Masks and the Great Goalies Who Wear Them. Dryden told Cutler that he had made the mask himself in 1965 at a cost of $10, and it as the only one he’d ever worn during his pro career. When he got to Edmonton, he had Pelkowski repaint it, with drops of oil dripping down over the eyes. Did he subsequently change it up? Certainly this one, below, seems like a different model, with a different array of ventilation holes.

Oil Patches: Dryden with his mask ca. 1977-78.

sign language

The Houston Aeros won the 1974-75 WHA’s championship — their second consecutive Avco Cup — with this pair stopping the pucks. On the left is Wayne Rutledge, who did back-up duty; at right is Ron Grahame, who led the league when it came to regular-season wins (33) and goals-against average (3.03) that year. He was elected to the WHA’s First All-Star team for his efforts, and won the Ben Hatskin Trophy as the WHA’s top goaltender, too, along with the league’s inaugural trophy for playoff MVPhood.  

Born in Victoria, B.C., on a Wednesday of this date in 1950, Grahame is 71 today. He signed with the Bruins in the NHL in 1977, and was the starter in Boston for a year before being traded to the Los Angeles Kings for a first-round draft pick that turned into Ray Bourque. Grahame played parts of three seasons with the Kings and had stint, too, with Quebec’s NHL Nordiques. He went on to serve as athletic director for the University of Denver. 

His son, John, was a goaltender, too, and he won a Stanley Cup championship with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004. His mother, Ron’s wife, was the first in the family to get her name on the Cup: Charlotte Grahame was a member of the Colorado’s front office when the Avalanche went all the way in 2001. She’s still on the job today, as Colorado’s executive director of Hockey Administration.  

oilers > jets, 1972: there was nothing going smooth

It’s almost a half-century ago and whole other defunct league distant, but with the Edmonton Oilers set to open their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series tonight against the Winnipeg Jets, is it time to hearken back to when the teams met for the very time? It is. Yes, this is the old upstart WHA we’re talking about, which first took to the ice 49 years ago, in October of 1972, with 12 teams in two divisions, with Winnipeg’s Jets and the Alberta representing the north in the league’s Western Division. 

It was a Sunday night, October 15, when the Jets welcomed the Oilers to the Winnipeg Arena for their home opener. A month earlier, the building had hosted Game Three of the Summit Series, wherein Canadians and Soviets tied 4-4, under the gaze of Canada’s queen. A crowd of close to 10,000 jammed the building that night; the Jets attracted a modest 7,200 for their debut. The Jets had pried Bobby Hull away from the Chicago Black Hawks, but he wouldn’t actually get onto the ice for another month, concentrating on coaching the team for the first few weeks. Still, the Jets were looking good, having won their first two games of the season on the road, while the Oilers had gone 1-2 to begin their season. 

Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor Jack McKeag was on hand to drop the inaugural puck that night: that’s him here between Jets’ captain Ab McDonald and Oiler skipper Al Hamilton. (Hull, in civvies, is lurking behind Hamilton.)

And the game, once the puck was in play? Vic Grant from the Winnipeg Tribune was on hand to see it and write it up for Monday morning’s paper. “There was no valid reason why Jets should lose 5-2 to Alberta Oilers,” he advised, “but they did, and the only excuse they can offer is stage fright.”

Coached by Ray Kinasewich, the Oilers jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Roger Cote and Val Fonteyne. The Jets would get goals from Dan Johnson and Christian Bordeleau, but the Oilers kept scoring, too: Ron Walters, Bill Hicke, and Eddie Joyal added to their tally. Ernie Wakely was in the Winnipeg net on the net, with Ken Brown guarding the Albertan goal.

“It was great seeing all those people out,” Hull said afterwards, “it’s just too bad the boys were tight. I can’t think of anything else but saying that they were tight before their first home crowd.”

“I wasn’t concerned when it was 2-0 and then I thought we were off when we scored and it was 2-1, but then we lost a couple of fac-offs and were dragging again. There was nothing going smooth. We couldn’t get anything in motion.”

The Oilers and Jets met again two nights later at the Edmonton Gardens, with the Albertans prevailing again, 3-2, on Walters’ overtime winner in front of a crowd of 3,285 hardy fans.

The Jets did, eventually, find their stride, finishing the season atop the Western Division, and making it to the WHA’s first championship final, which they ceded to the New England Whalers in May of 1973.