The World Hockey Association was conceived as a viable alternative to the NHL. It had no intention of being a minor or a second tier professional league but a true competitor of the National Hockey League. While the NHL had little concern when the new league was announced, the WHA got its rivals attention quickly by signing NHL superstar Bobby Hull to hockey’s first million-dollar contract. Much like the PCHA, players began to jump ship to the greener pastures of the WHA. Many long-ignored markets were granted WHA franchises and the ambitious league launched operations for the 1972-73 season with twelve teams spread over Canada and the United States. When the first season ended, it became clear to the NHL and to hockey fans that the league was for real. Hockey legend Gordie Howe was lured out of retirement by the chance to play with his sons, Mark and Marty. With Hull and Howe on the marquee, the league gained considerable credibility.

The league, however, was never able to set its foundation on stable ground. Teams continually folded or relocated. This became painfully clear in the 1977-78 season when four teams folded, including the new Minnesota franchise that Read More

The World Hockey Association was conceived as a viable alternative to the NHL. It had no intention of being a minor or a second tier professional league but a true competitor of the National Hockey League. While the NHL had little concern when the new league was announced, the WHA got its rivals attention quickly by signing NHL superstar Bobby Hull to hockey’s first million-dollar contract. Much like the PCHA, players began to jump ship to the greener pastures of the WHA. Many long-ignored markets were granted WHA franchises and the ambitious league launched operations for the 1972-73 season with twelve teams spread over Canada and the United States. When the first season ended, it became clear to the NHL and to hockey fans that the league was for real. Hockey legend Gordie Howe was lured out of retirement by the chance to play with his sons, Mark and Marty. With Hull and Howe on the marquee, the league gained considerable credibility.

The league, however, was never able to set its foundation on stable ground. Teams continually folded or relocated. This became painfully clear in the 1977-78 season when four teams folded, including the new Minnesota franchise that didn’t even last through its inaugural season. When Houston and Indianapolis ceased operations in 1978, it became clear that the WHA was on its last legs. But there was a light at the end of the tunnel for the troubled league as Howard Baldwin, then league president, was able to broker a deal with the NHL. The war between the two leagues for players, fans, dollars and markets taxed both operations. An inevitable cease-fire was finally negotiated and on March 22nd, 1978 the NHL agreed to accept four WHA franchises, the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets for the 1979-80 season. After seven rocky seasons, the NHL and the WHA had finally found common ground and at the end of the 1978-79 season the WHA was dead.

While many remember the WHA as a league that featured older superstars like Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovolich and Dave Keon, the league was also the first professional home for young guns who went on to become major superstars in the National Hockey League, notably: Wayne Gretzky (Indianapolis/Edmonton) Mike Gartner, Rob Ramage and Michel Goulet (all Birmingham,) Mike Liut (Cincinnati) and Mark Messier, (Indianapolis/Cincinnati) Messier was the last professional player to have roots in the WHA.


© 2001, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Bobby "the Golden Jet" Hull

Bobby "the Golden Jet" Hull was a key part of one of the top lines in pro hockey in the 1970's. The Winnipeg Jets unit he formed with Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg lit up the WHA for many years.

CHIN

© Mecca/Hockey Hall of Fame


Gordie Howe Poses with His Sons Marty and Mark

Gordie Howe poses with his sons Marty and Mark. Years later, he realized a seemingly improbable dream of playing pro-hockey with them first in the WHA (pictured) and later in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers. Gordie was 52 in his final NHL season.

CHIN

© O-Pee-Chee/Hockey Hall of Fame


WHA Stars

The WHA allowed players to turn pro younger than the NHL, and many future stars took advantage: Rick Vaive, Mike Gartner, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Liut and Michel Goulet.

CHIN

© Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Investigate the role that hockey plays in Canada’s national identity
  • Identify significant people involved in hockey in Canada
  • Describe the development of professional hockey in Canada
  • Describe the evolution of the National Hockey League
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the early regional hockey leagues in Canada
  • Investigate the rise of the World Hockey Association and its inclusion into the National Hockey League
  • Examine the history of the Stanley Cup

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