Saturday, December 14, 2013

Detroit Hockey: Michigan Stags (WHA, 1974-75)

I just dug this program out today, one of the first "vintage" programs I got in my collection. I think I got this for either a Christmas or birthday present, along with a media guide.


 In the early 1970s, a rival to the National Hockey League was formed. Called the World Hockey Association, or WHA, the league began play in the 1972-73 season, with teams from New York to Los Angeles. The WHA scored a huge coup when it signed NHL star Bobby Hull to a then-unheard of $1 million contract. Many NHL players, from stars to journeymen, made the jump to the new league thanks to significant increase in pay. Detroit was represented in the WHA by the Michigan Stags, but only for a brief time.


1974-75 Regular Season--Opponent Unknown
     The Michigan Stags began as the Los Angeles Sharks, one of the original franchises in the WHA. The Sharks made a splash in the hockey world by signing away Montreal sniper Marc Tardif. After a decent inaugural season (37-35-6), the Sharks collapsed to 25-53-0 in 1973-74. 
     The Sharks were purchased by Detroit businessmen Peter Shegena and Charles Nolton and relocated to the Motor City for the 1974-75 season. The team would be renamed "Michigan Stags" and would play their home games at Cobo Arena. The hope was that the Stags could be an alternative to the woeful Detroit Red Wings and build a strong following. Cobo Arena, with about 10,000 seats, was one of the better rinks in the WHA as well.
     The Stags hired former Red Wings forward Johnny Wilson and had two minor league affiliates: the Greensboro Generals and Syracuse Blazers. Along with Tardif, the team also had former NHLers Arnie Brown, Larry Johnston and Gerry Desjardins.Tardif, having signed his contract while the team was in sunny California, wanted nothing to do with a cold Midwestern factory town, and demanded a trade. Michigan gave in and sent the disgruntled winger to Quebec in a lopsided deal.
     Unfortunately, the Stags never quite caught on with Detroit hockey fans. While the Red Wings were a losing team back then, the Stags were even worse. They stumbled out to an 18-40-3 record, worst in the league at the time. Fans showed how impressed they were with the WHA product by staying away from Cobo, as Michigan drew about 3,000 fans per game. Scheduling didn't help matters, as the anticipated return of Gordie Howe and his sons wasn't scheduled until February 2nd. By then, it was too late for the Stags. 
     In January 1975, the IRS filed a lein for $177,870 against the team owners. Due to sagging attendance and heavy financial losses, the Stags folded shortly after. The league took control of the franchise and shifted it to Baltimore, Maryland, for the remainder of the year. The new Baltimore Blades went 3-13-1, giving the franchise a total record of 21-53-4. Their pathetic 46 points were 40 points behind fourth place Phoenix in the Western Division, yet 7 points better than league-worst Indianapolis. 

1974-75 Media Guide
     The Stags/Blades franchise were dead last in offense and defense in their sole season. On offense, the team scored a miniscule 205 goals. They were lead by longtime minor league and Sharks holdover Gary Veneruzzo, who had 33 goals and 60 points. Not surprisingly, he was the only player on the roster that scored over 20 goals, as the next closest player was JP LeBlanc, who had 16. 
     On defense, Michigan/Baltimore surrendered 341 goals. However, they only used three goaltenders. Desjardins played 41 games and sported an ugly 9-28-1 record with a 4.26 GAA. Paul Hoganson made it into 32 games, and sported a similarly ugly 9-19-2 mark with a 4.12 GAA. Jim McLeod played in 16 games with a 3-6-1 mark and 4.58 GAA. Not an easy task to put up decent goalie stats behind such an atrocious team.







Following the season, the Baltimore Blades franchise was terminated by the WHA. Despite having a reputation as a good hockey town, Detroit's run in the WHA can best be described as a "cup of coffee", and a bad one at that.


Sources:
Stags Sag in Treasury. The Milwaukee Journal. January 7, 1975. (Taken from Google News Archive) 
Michigan Stags/Baltimore Blades Stats: 1974-75 (Taken from hockeydb.com)

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