One of the most successful franchises in the league, the Houston Aeros lived up to the billing of being a cornerstone of the WHA, and for the most part were one of the few shining stars in the league. Ironically though they were one of the first 12 teams, Houston wasn't originally considered for a franchise for the inaugural season in '72-'73. Originally intended for Dayton, Ohio, the proposed owners couldn't reach a deal with a suitable arena, so the opportunity was granted to Texas oil-tycoon Paul Deneau, who struck a deal with San Houston Coliseum. With head coach Bill Dineen, they set out to build around a solid group of character NHL vets and young prospects. Between the pipes was Don McLeod, formerly with the NHL's Penguins and Wayne Rutledge, one of the top juniors playing in the Western Hockey League. Together they helped the team to the league's fourth best record, finishing second in the West with 82 points on the last game of the season. They went up against third place Los Angeles in the first round of the playoffs and beat the Sharks in 6. The post season was abruptly ended in the second round though before being swept by the Jets in four games.
Originally set to play as the Dayton Arrows, the team owned by Texas Oil tycoon Paul Deneau moved to Houston, becoming the Aeros before making their debut. In Dayton, the team found only lukewarm fan support and was unable to secure a suitable arena. In Houston the team found some immediate support as they played their games at the Sam Houston Coliseum. Coached by Bill Dineen, the Aeros were one of the most talented teams in the World Hockey Association, as the raided some of the top prospects from the NHL. The Aeros made their debut on October 12th, edging the Chicago Cougars at home. Through the first three months the Aeros played only mediocre hockey, holding a record of 16-16-4. In January, the Aeros took off, winning 10 of 13 games as they went on to finish the season in second place in the Western Division with a record of 39-35-4, as Gord Labossiere led the team in scoring with 36 goals and 60 assists. In the playoffs the Aeros got off to a good start, winning the opener against the Los Angeles Sharks 7-2. After the Sharks won the next two games, the Aeros facing a 3-1 deficit, scored a 3-2 win in overtime to even the series at two games apiece. The Aeros would go on to capture the series in six games. In the semifinals the Aeros would meet their match, as they were overwhelmed by the Winnipeg Jets led by Bobby Hull in a four game sweep.
Though selling more tickets than many of their counterparts their first season, Dineen and company set out to improve the team's marketability during the off season by putting together one of the sport's greatest lineups ever. After signing Mark and Marty from the minors, they lured legendary father Gordie Howe out of retirement. On and off-ice the move was a success. Steady crowds were coming out to see Gordie and the Aeros silence the critics and totally dominate the league. They became the first WHA team to break the 100 point barrier, finishing atop the league with 101. They went into the playoffs against the Jets for the second straight year. This time it would have the exact opposite outcome though, with the Aeros doing away with them in 4 straight. Round 2 saw them up against the Fighting Saints. 19 points behind them in the regular season, Minnesota was a surprisingly formiddable opponent, but still fell in 6. For the finals, they played the Cinderella story Chicago Cougars. The Cougars' glass slipper was shattered however when the Aeros swept them in 4 for their first Avco Cup. They also all but owned the individual honours as well. Gordie silenced any critics he may have had by winning the MVP, while Mark took home Rookie of the Year and Don McLeod was voted Best Goaltender.
After a successful first season, the Aeros looked to improve on and off the ice. Despite being one of the biggest drawing teams the Aeros looked for a big star one that could match Bobby Hull and the Winnipeg Jets. To fill this bill, the Aeros signed all-time leading scorer Gordie Howe, who was lured out of retirement to join the Aeros with his two sons Mark and Marty. At first people scoffed at the thought of a 45 year old playing hockey after sitting out two years. However, Gordie Howe quickly silenced the critics as he led the team with 100 points, scoring 31 goals as he captured the WHA MVP award. Meanwhile, Defenseman Mark Howe was named Rookie of the Year, helping Don McLeod win the award for best goaltender as the Aeros posted a league best 48-25-5 record to become the become the first WHA team to top 100 points. In the playoffs, the Aeros got revenge against the Winnipeg Jets, sweeping them in four straight games, while outscoring them 23-9. In the semifinals the Aeros would face the Minnesota Fighting Saints, losing the opener at home 5-4 in overtime. After rebounding with a 5-2 win in Game 2, the Aeros again stumbled in Game 3, losing 4-1. However, the Aeros regained their momentum in Game 4, with a 4-1 ~~win of their own as they went on to take the series in six games to reach the AVCO Cup Finals. Facing the Chicago Cougars in the WHA Finals the Aeros dominated the ice, taking the series in four straight as they outscored the overmatched Cougars 22-9 to win the WHA's second championship.
The '74-'75 season pretty much picked up where the team left off the last. The league just did their first expansion and was now 14 teams with a third division. They also went down in history Sept 26, '74 when they took place in the first ever exhibition game between the the 2 leagues, beating the St Louis Blues 5-3. Ron Grahame, former third stringer, now was sharing the goaltending duties with Wayne Rutledge ~~. Their 247 combined GAA was tops in the league and the team surpassed the 100 point mark for the second straight year with 104.Though the Mariners, Saints and Roadrunners fought to the end for second in the West, Houston still finished well ahead of the pack and were expected to repeat as Avco Cup champions. Not disappointing, they dispensed of the Crusaders in the first round in 5 games, then capped off the season by sweeping the Mariners then the Nordiques while capturing their second straight cup. Again the team also took individual honours when Grahame became the second straight Aero to win Best Goaltender as well as the inaugural trophy for Playoff MVP, allowing under 2 goals a game and 3 shutouts.
Things looked pretty rosey for the '75-'76 season, as the Aeros again surpassed their previous total at 106 points. Their defensive play was again also a strong point. With Rutledge the number one goalie that year, he finished third in goals against average. They'd moved in to their new home The Summit, seating nearly 15,000 and ticket sales were good. But this year saw both Winnipeg and Quebec making drastic ~~ improvements. The Jets matched their mark, with Les Nordiques only 2 back. The road to the finals saw the Aeros recieve a bye in the first round, due to the new format of 4 rounds to accomodate the folding of 2 teams. They went up against a stubborn Mariners team in the next, but beat them in 6. The Dream of a three-peat didn't come true however. The seemingly invincible Aeros were run over by the Jets in 4 straight in the finals.
The Aeros looked to defend their title, despite losing their top Goalie Don McLeod who signed in the off-season with the Vancouver Blazers. Before the season began the Aeros made some history and scored some pride for the World Hockey Association, beating the St. Louis Blues 5-3 on September 26th in the first ever exhibition game between the WHA. In their second season together Howe and Sons were even better leading the Aeros to a record of 53-25-0. While Gordie Howe had another terrific season, with 34 goals and 65 assists, it was Larry Lund who led the team in scoring with 108 points, highlighted by 75 assists, as Frank Hughes had a team high 48 goals. Meanwhile Ron Grahame and Wayne Rutledge split goaltending duties, as Grahame was named the league's top goalie.
In the playoffs the high flying Aeros got off to a fast start as they beat the Cleveland Crusaders by a 13-8 in the opening round's first two games. After a 3-1 loss on the road, in Game 3, the Aeros resumed their dominance winning 702 and 3-1 in the final two games to take the series in five games. The Aeros continued their dominance in the semifinals, sweeping the San Diego Mariners in four straight games to reach the WHA Finals for the second straight season. The Aeros would go on to win the AVCO Cup for a second straight season, as the overwhelmed the Quebec Nordiques, winning the series in four straight games, while outscoring the Nordiques 20-7, as Ron Grahame was named the WHA's first ever playoff MVP.
The team seemingly proved they were still the best in the league throughout most of the 1976-77 season and set to prove it in the pre-season in an exhibition matchup at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Though they lost to the Pens 5-1, they still dominated the WHA, finishing again with 106 points, they were tops in the league for the third straight year. Adding Don McLeod to the roster of goalies after the demise of the Calgary Cowboys, the Aeros' goaltending was stronger than most, and Grahame recaptured his title as Best Goaltender. Although Bill Dineen was also voted as Coach of the Year, the team failed to live up to expectations for the second straight time. Though they dispensed of the Oilers in 5 in the first round, they were upset by the Winnipeg Jets, the team that thwarted their championship run the year before. Though favoured to beat the Jets this time around, they lost in 6.
After two championships, the Houston Aeros were clearly the class of the upstart World Hockey Association. Among the best drawing teams in the league, the Aeros had a new arena as they moved into the brand new Summit. Gordie Howe and his two sons again led the Aeros to the best record in the WHA, as they posted a record of 53-27-0, equaling their record for 106 points. Gordie Howe regained the team's scoring lead with 102 points, led by 70 assists, while his son Mark led the Aeros with 39 goals. After a first round bye, the Aeros faced the San Diego Mariners in the playoffs and looked ready for another dominant postseason as they quickly jumped out to a 3-0 seires lead. However, the Mariners would not go down easily winning the next two games, before the Aeros finally won the series with a 3-2 win in Game 6 on the road. Against the New England Whalers in the semifinals the Aeros would face an even tougher task as they dropped two of the first three games. Eventually the series would go to a seventh game, where the Aeros earned a trip to the AVCO Cup Finals for a third straight season, by winning the finale 2-0. However, their title reign would come to an end as they were swept by the Winnipeg Jets in the WHA Finals. 1976/77.
As the WHA began its fifth season, the Houston Aeros continued to be of the premiere teams in the league, winning their fourth straight division title as they posted a record of 50-24-6. Helping to lead the way was Ron Grahame who was named the WHA's top goalie for the second time in four seasons, while Bill Dineen in his fifth season behind the bench was named Coach of the Year. Gordie Howe, who now 49 continued to amaze, with 24 goals and 44 assists in 62 games. In the playoffs the Aeros would get off to a strong start, as they beat the Edmonton Oilers in five games to reach the semifinals, where they would face the Winnipeg Jets. The Aeros had a chance to take an early lead in the series, but dropped the opener at home 4-3 in overtime. The Aeros would bounce back with ~~a 7-2 win in Game 2, but found themselves in a 3-1 hole after losing Game 3 and Game 4 in Winnipeg. The Aeros would fight back with a 3-2 win in Game 5 at the Summit, but in the end the Jets had the Aeros number again as they clinched the series with a 6-3 win in Game 6. Following the season, the Aeros would suffer some key loses as Ron Grahame joined the Boston Bruins in the NHL, while Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe signed with the New England Whalers.
The '77-'78 season was full of skepticism for both the team and the league. All the recent turmoil saw the WHA reduced to 8 teams in 1 division, and many of Houston's core,including star goalie Ron Grahame and the Howes, jumping ship to the NHL or other WHA clubs. Again they were chosen to represent the league against the NHL in pre-season play, but lost to the Atlanta Flames 5-3. Although Rutledge was now sharing the net with newcomers Ernie Wakely and Lynne Zimmerman, they finished with a combined GAA of 3.26 and the team finished with fewer goals and more scored against. Under the new alignment, Houston finished the year in third place and only 86 points. Patchy win streaks all year long didn't help either, and new owner Kenneth Schnitzer saw crowds drop while also watching initial plans to merge ~~with the NHL fall apart. They were faced off against the Nordiques in the first round of the playoffs, bowing out 4 games to 2. The only consolation of the year was Dineen repeating as Coach of the Year. The offseason saw turmoil mount on the corporate level, as a merger with the NHL now seemed imminent, but Houston not making the cut. Incensed, Schnitzer opted out of the final season of the WHA schedule. Had the NHL approved admission for Houston, it had the potential of becoming one of the staple franchises, a role they lived up to in the WHA. And although the name Aeros did resurface in Houston in '96 in the International Hockey League, the city has never had a major league hockey team since, despite several applications and an unsuccessful attempt at buying the Edmonton Oilers in the late '90's.
Though Aeros continued to be successful, trouble surrounded the WHA as the league was down to just eight teams, with the best teams in the league trying to join the NHL. The Aeros with new Owner Kenneth Schnitzer were one of the teams trying to make the jump. The loss of the Howes, took its toll on the Aeros as they were unable to match the success of the previous seasons, finishing in third place with a record of 42-34-4. While fans clearly missed the legendary Mr. Hockey as attendance at the Summitt plummeted. Despite the troubles, Bill Dineen the only man the Houston Aeros ever had their bench was named Coach of the Year for the second straight season. In the playoffs the Aeros would battle the Quebec Nordiques splitting the first two games at home, with both games being decided in overtime with 5-4 finals. The Aeros would struggle on the road, losing the next two games of ~~the series by a combined score of 8-1. Returning to the Summit the Aeros, posted a 5-2 win in Game 5. However, it would be their final win as they were eliminated with an 11-2 loss on April 25th in Game 6.
Plans to join the NHL, which early in the season appeared to be a sure thing had fallen apart, as talks of a NHL-WHA merger seemed imminent. However, the Aeros appeared to be on the outside looking in, with the NHL choosing the three Canadian teams. Angered by the snub, Owner Kenneth Schnitzer decided to fold the Aeros on July 9, 1978. Despite being one of the most successful teams in the first six years of the WHA's seven year existence the Houston Aeros would not be around for the WHA's final season. Coach Bill Dineen would go on to join Gordie Howe and his sons in New England, as the Whalers would become the fourth WHA team in the merger of the two leagues following the 1978/79 season. Houston would become home to minor league hockey with a team named the Aeros joining the IHL in 1994, while the NHL finally joined the Lone Star State, when the Minnesota North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993. While the Houston Aeros named lived on in minor league hockey.