The History of the WHA New York Golden Blades
“I knew things were going to be interesting as soon as I got to New York,” recalled Andre Lacroix, a star player acquired in 1973 by the New York Golden Blades, a nearly forgotten local team that played briefly in Madison Square Garden in the early ’70s as part of the short-lived World Hockey Association, a competitor to the established National Hockey League.
Lacroix had led the fledgling league in scoring with the Philadelphia Blazers the season before – the league’s first. Now he was coming to boost the Blades, who were playing to crowds in Madison Square Garden that some nights numbered in the hundreds.
He recalled that when he arrived at the team offices in Manhattan, he was met by two models and a marketing official; they laid out a plan for Lacroix to pose naked for a magazine spread to promote the team. Lacroix politely declined.
“I told them, ‘Fellas, I come from a big Catholic family and my brother is a priest,’ ” he recalled by phone on Thursday from Cleveland, where he now lives.
It was a fitting introduction to the Golden Blades, a team that had started playing in New York the previous season as the New York Raiders, one of a dozen teams in the new hockey league.Its logo was snappy: A skate with a yellow, lightning-shaped blade, in a purple circle trimmed with yellow sun rays.
Another gimmick cooked up by team officials was having the players wear white skates with gold-colored blades, Lacroix said. But, since the skates kept getting scuffed by pucks every game “they’d have to be repainted and the skates kept getting heavier,” he said.
“Thankfully, it didn’t last because we didn’t stay in New York long enough,” he said
Shortly into the franchise’s second season – its first as the Golden Blades – the team went broke and in November 1973 abruptly moved to Cherry Hill, N.J. It was renamed the Jersey Knights.
For those keeping score, its New York-area incarnation saw five ownerships, three names and very few fans.
“They got such small crowds, the games felt like practices,” said Alton White, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who played for the team when it was the Raiders; he was one of professional hockey’s first black stars.
“The W.H.A. wanted to come into New York and I guess they figured if they made it there, they’d be successful,” said White, now 67 and living near Vancouver, British Columbia.
One problem for the Blades was competition for fans against the Rangers and the Islanders, which was an expansion team in the N.H.L.
“It was death going up against the Rangers, a team that goes back to 1926,” said Stan Fischler, a hockey historian and announcer who now works as a hockey analyst for the MSG network. “The W.H.A. was a league that was flying by the seat of its pants.”
Things were bumpy from the beginning. First, the Raiders could not find a home. After their attempt to play at the Nassau Coliseum was blocked, they negotiated nightly rentals at the Garden.
The Raiders had some dynamic players, including Ron Ward, who was known as Magic, but by the second season, the team’s path became slightly circuslike, Mr. Fischler said.
“For starters, we were not even allowed to practice because a lot of us were still under contract to other teams,” White said. The team finally began practicing at various small rinks in New Jersey and settled at the Ironbound Arena in Newark, he said.
“It was a tough struggle for us, coming into the Garden, trying to find people who weren’t Rangers fans,” White said.
The Blades’ owners defaulted on arena and salary payments, and 20 games into the season — with a 6-12-2 record — the league took over the team’s operations and moved it to the Cherry Hill Arena, a 4,000-seat space with wooden bleachers and only one usable locker room, which meant visiting teams had to put on their uniforms at a local hotel.
“You would see stars like Bobby Hull or Gordie Howe coming off a school bus, all suited-up and carrying their sticks and skates,” Lacroix, now 67, said. Also, the rink itself was sloped, forcing one team to always “play uphill,” Lacroix said.
“If you shot the puck in the right direction, it would just rise up off the ice,” he said.
After the 1974 season, the team was moved to San Diego and renamed the Mariners. By 1979, the league had folded, after seven seasons.
Lacroix, who played for six teams in the ill-fated league, started in more games (551) and had more points (798) than any other player.
But one of his most enduring memories is of the day the Blades folded and the players were locked out of their own locker room.
“We never got our stuff back,” Lacroix said. “One thing the Golden Blades had was the best jersey in hockey and to this day, nobody knows where they are. Somebody has got to have one, and that is one valuable collector’s item."
The Formation of the WHA
In 1972 the only real threat ever to the NHL's dominance of the hockey world began when Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson formed the World Hockey Association. No strangers to starting rebel sports leagues, they were also behind the defunct by now American Basketball Association, and would later start up the United States Football League. Officially announced on June 10, 1971 in New York, the WHA's philosophy was relatively simple - establish themselves in cities shunned by the NHL (many Canadian), as well as set up base in North America's media centres, competing head-on with the competition.
On Nov 1, 1971, Murphy and Davidson announced the 10 charter cities would be Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Dayton Ohio, Long Island NY, and St Paul Minnesota, with themselves owning a club in San Fransisco. Three weeks later, two more franchises were added to the roster, with the New England Whalers anchoring themselves in Boston and a team to travel the highway between Ottawa and Toronto. But before the first puck was dropped however, several shufflings occurred after the NHL announced it's own expansion to Long Island and Atlanta.
Disgruntled after learning they'd be sharing Nassau County Coliseum with the Islanders, the upstart Raiders moved upriver to Manhattan. Fearing the Southern United states couldn't support two teams in a new sport for the region, the Screaming Eagles were also on the fly, nesting in Philadelphia as the Blazers. Though they weren't in fear of competing with the NHL in that market, the owners of the Dayton Aeros weren't pleased with initial interest and they moved to Texas, another hockey-virgin state, making Houston their home. But feeling a presence in Ohio was integral to the survival of the league, the league herded up the Calgary Broncos and moved them to Cleveland, where they became the Crusaders. This forced Edmonton to share the Oilers (basically the evolution of the WHL's Edmonton Oil Kings) with Calgary under the monikor 'the Alberta Oilers'. And when the owners of the team proposed for Ontario couldn't come to an agreement with Harold Ballard to share Maple Leaf Gardens, the club was moved to Ottawa full time and named The Nationals. The obvious conflict of interest Davidson and Murphy were faced with by owning a club as well as the league prompted prompted them to sell the San Fransisco Seahawks to a group in Quebec. A deal with Le Colisee in Quebec City was reached and Les Nordiques (the Northerners) were born.
The league knew that in order to survive, they'd have to raid the NHL of some marquee players and held their initial draft in 1972. Each team was allowed to protect four players. Although a few young minor leaguers and Olympians who the owners were hoping to build the future around were on the list, mostly major stars from the NHL had their WHA rights reserved. Most aggressive in trying to lure NHL'ers over to the other side were the Chicago and Quebec camps. Their general philosophy was to get names already known and loved by Les Canadiens and Black Hawks fans. Jerry Korab, Stan Mikita and goalie Gary Smith were originally courted, but none jumped ship. Other names to initially be approached by the WHA included goalies Gerry Desjardins (also of the Hawks), Ken Dryden, Phil Myre, Doug Favell, Gilles Villemeure and Eddie Johnston, as well as Gilbert Perrault, Jacques Lemaire, Guy Lapointe, Brad Park, Peter Mahovlich, Steve Shutt and Bobby Clarke. Although most of those courted remained in the NHL, The Maple Leafs' Bernie Parent was first to cross the line, signing with Miami. But it was Bobby Hull's inking a deal what at the time was the most ever paid to a hockey player with Winnipeg that got the attention. Eager to have arguably the top player in the game in the new league, the $1 million signing bonus was chipped in by all teams as well as league officials. This opened the doors for several other 'names' jumping ship, including the Blazers who signed the Bruins' Derek Sanderson and the Flyers' Andre Lacroix & Bernie Parent. Cleveland signed Gerry Cheevers, Chicago came to terms with ex-Hawks Pat Stapleton and Ralph Backstrom, then with the New York Rangers. Quebec meanwhile employed the same tactic, signing several players in the Montreal lineup including Jean Claude Tremblay and Rejean Houle, as well as many in Les Canadiens' farm system.
Another key to presenting the new league as an 'alternative' was to use red and blue pucks. Naturally this added to the 'curiosity factor' the media was already feeding on. Although they'd lost a few key players, the NHL wasn't taking the new kids on the block too seriously ... in public. But placing teams in Long Isand and Atlanta to rival the WHA's plans in those markets told a different story. The key would be media coverage - and for the most part television coverage during the first year was rather indifferent. But as the league's inaugural season drew closer, areas too small by NHL standards such as Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg embraced the new league whole heartedly.
New York Golden Blades/ Jersey Knights 1973-74 individual player statistics
Head Coach: Camille Henry (32-42-4-0)
Regular Season Playoffs
Player Name Birthdate Age Pos. GP G A Pts PIM GP G A Pts PIM
Andre Lacroix 1945-06-05 28 C 78 31 80 111 54 -- -- -- -- --
Kevin Morrison 1949-10-28 23 L 78 24 43 67 132 -- -- -- -- --
Wayne Rivers 1942-02-01 31 R 73 30 27 57 20 -- -- -- -- --
Gene Peacosh 1948-09-28 24 C 68 21 32 53 17 -- -- -- -- --
Brian Morenz 1949-05-11 24 C 75 20 30 50 44 -- -- -- -- --
Ken Block 1944-03-18 29 D 74 3 43 46 22 -- -- -- -- --
Bob Jones 1945-11-27 27 L 78 17 28 45 20 -- -- -- -- --
Mike Laughton 1944-02-21 29 C 71 20 18 38 34 -- -- -- -- --
Brian Bradley 1944-12-14 28 L 78 15 23 38 12 -- -- -- -- --
Norm Ferguson 1945-10-16 27 C 75 15 21 36 12 -- -- -- -- --
Don Herriman 1946-01-02 27 L 44 11 21 32 59 -- -- -- -- --
Brian Perry 1944-04-06 29 L 71 20 11 31 19 -- -- -- -- --
Harry Howell 1932-12-28 40 D 65 3 23 26 24 -- -- -- -- --
Bobby Sheehan 1949-01-11 24 C 50 12 8 20 8 -- -- -- -- --
Robert Brown 1950-12-18 22 D 59 7 13 20 38 -- -- -- -- --
Craig Reichmuth 1947-09-22 25 L 72 10 8 18 114 -- -- -- -- --
Garry Peters 1942-10-09 30 C 34 2 5 7 18 -- -- -- -- --
Ted Scharf 1951-10-03 21 R 63 4 2 6 107 -- -- -- -- --
Dean Boylan 1951-01-28 22 D 61 1 5 6 112 -- -- -- -- --
Bill Speer 1942-03-20 31 D 66 1 3 4 30 -- -- -- -- --
Bob Winograd 1950-06-06 23 7 1 0 1 0 -- -- -- -- --
Ray LaRose 1941-11-20 31 D 18 0 1 1 20 -- -- -- -- --
Gary Kurt 1947-03-09 26 G 20 0 1 1 0 -- -- -- -- --
Joe Junkin 1946-09-08 26 G 53 0 1 1 7 -- -- -- -- --
Bob "Butch" Barber 1943-08-31 30 D 3 0 0 0 2 -- -- -- -- --
Claude Chartre 1949-12-21 23 C 5 0 0 0 0 -- -- -- -- --
Lee Inglis 1947-08-31 26 L 5 0 0 0 0 -- -- -- -- --
Jimmy McLeod 1937-04-08 36 G 10 0 0 0 2 -- -- -- -- --
Totals 268 447 715 927
Player Name GP Min GA GAA W L T Svs Pct EN SO
Joe Junkin 53 3121 197 3.79 21 25 4 1565 0.888 3 1
Gary Kurt 20 1089 75 4.13 8 10 0 491 0.867 1 0
Jimmy McLeod 10 516 36 4.18 3 7 0 260 0.878 1 0
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