It’s been a long time coming, but the players, coaches and teams of the World Hockey Association are finally set to get some of the recognition they deserve.
The league, which challenged the NHL between 1972 and 1979, brought numerous innovations to the pro game like regular season overtime, teams in the US Sunbelt and smaller Canadian cities, blue pucks and European-born players, but has long been neglected by the hockey establishment.
But now, through the work of hockey historian Timothy Gassen, the league will be honored with the new WHA Hall of Fame.
Gassen was a big fan of the Indianapolis Racers and he later wrote a fine book on the team’s history called “Red White and Blues: A Personal History of Indianapolis Racers Hockey.”
The idea for the WHA Hall of Fame came out of the research Gassen did for his Racers book.
“It was a natural progression from learning about the Indianapolis Racers to learning about the league they played in,” Gassen explained. He spent more than five years of researching the league, finding game footage and talking to numerous former players and coaches.
There is plenty of history to research, too. Some of the greatest players ever to play the game saw action in the WHA including Bobby Hull, Bernie Parent, Gerry Cheevers, Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Mark Messier, Mike Gartner and Wayne Gretzky. The league also featured some of the game’s most stylish jerseys and most outrageous stories.
When the WHA closed its doors in 1979, four teams were absorbed into the NHL: the New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers. Now only the Oilers remain in their original WHA location.
Gassen’s top motivation for creating the WHA Hall of Fame was to preserve the league’s unique and colorful history.
“If I didn’t create an archive, this history was going to be lost,” he explained. Other museums which featured only brief mentions of the league were often misleading. Gassen recalled one museum in Toronto called it defunct minor league. “That stirred me to action. They know it was major league hockey.”
The new Hall of Fame will feature a unique collection of game used jerseys, sticks and other unique WHA artifacts including some of the individual trophies and awards given to the best players in the league. It will also feature every hockey card ever released on the upstart league and the extensive and rare footage Gassen has managed to uncover and the highlights are now available on DVDs on sale through the HOF’s Web site (www.WHAHOF.com).
The WHA HOF will be traveling to various locations throughout North America this summer before announcing a permanent home.
A successful start to the summer was held at the MeiGray Hockey Expo in New Jersey (www.Meigray.com) in mid-July where private WHA game-used jersey collections were available for viewing and collectors shared their WHA memories and stories.
On August 13, the traveling exhibit will be in Hartford, Connecticut for a New England/Hartford Whalers reunion which will feature the inductions of WHA star Andre Lacroix, former Whalers owner Howard Baldwin and Gordie Howe and his sons who all played together for the Whalers in the late 70s.
On August 20, ceremonies will be held in Winnipeg and will feature Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson, Joe Daley, Pat Stapleton and if his health permits, Jacques Demers. A documentary on the Winnipeg Jets will also be previewed at this event.
A reunion game will take place on August 28 in Cleveland which will include Andre Lacroix, Pat Stapleton and several former Crusaders players. They will wear the new WHA HOF jerseys and be available to sign autographs, view highlights and mingle with fans.
For more information about these events, go to http://whahof.com/whaevents.html.