Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New England Whalers (1977-78, WHA)

1977-78 Regular Season--Whalers vs. Indianapolis Racers
     The New England Whalers were one of the original members of the World Hockey Association, the second major league that was born in 1972. The Whalers, originally playing in Boston, won the first Avco Cup championship (the WHA's equivalent to the Stanley Cup). The Whalers would then relocate to Hartford, Connecticut, and the new Hartford Civic Center.
     In 1977-78, the Whalers won a bidding war for Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe. The Howes had played the past several seasons with the Houston Aeros, but left that team after a falling out with ownership. The Howes were joined by former NHL stars Dave Keon and Johnny McKenzie, along with Jack and Steve Carlson (two-thirds of the infamous Hanson Brothers of Slapshot fame). Harry Neale was coach of the Whalers that year, with Jack Kelley as Director of Hockey Operations.
     The 1977-78 Whalers had an excellent season, going 44-31-5, good enough for second place in the WHA. Their 93 points put them 8 points ahead of Houston and 9 behind league-best Winnipeg. New England fans helped lead the Whalers to the third-highest attendance average in the WHA, with 8,661 per game showing up at the Civic Center.
     Neale's Whalers had the third-best offense in the league that year, pumping in 335 goals. The ageless Gordie Howe led the team on offense, with 34 goals and 96 points. Not bad for 50 years old! Three other players--Mark Howe, Mike Antonovich and George Lyle--joined Mr. Hockey in the 30-goal club that year. Three other players, including Dave Keon, scored at least 20.
     The Whalers topped the circuit on defense, allowing just 269, one less than Winnipeg. New England used
1977-78 Regular Season--Whalers vs. Edmonton Oilers
two different netminders that year, Al Smith and Louis Levasseur. Smith, who played several years in the NHL and an original Whaler, went 30-20-3 with a 3.22 GAA and 5 shutouts in 55 appearances. Levasseur, who came over from Edmonton the previous year, went 14-11-2 with a 3.50 GAA and 3 shutouts in 27 appearances.
     Entering the Avco Cup Playoffs, the Whalers drew the Edmonton Oilers in Round One. New England would make quick work of the Oilers in their best-of-seven series. The Whalers demolished Edmonton in five games, outscoring them 26-9, to advance to the semifinals vs. Quebec. After similarly dusting off the Nordiques in five games, the Whalers met the Winnipeg Jets in the Avco Cup Finals. New England's luck ran out, as the red-hot Jets crushed the Whalers in four straight games, outscoring them 24-8 in the process.
     The first program is from a regular season matchup between the Whalers and the Indianapolis Racers. Indy featured former NHLer Bill Goldsworthy, but finished dead last in the WHA, with a pathetic 24-51-5 mark. The following season, the Racers would become a footnote in history as the first pro hockey team of Wayne Gretzky. Very nice program, 72 pages that are mostly black-and-white, but there are a few color pages. There's an article on Gordie Howe in the Hall of Fame, articles about the team and the rest of the WHA, and lots of statistics. Local advertisements include Garbo's Restaurant, The Hartford Insurance and Mitchell of Simsbury Auto Dealer.
     The second program is from another regular season game later in the year, this time against the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers were a much stronger team than the hapless Racers, finishing fifth with a 38-39-3 record. Glen Sather's Oilers were also the most popular team in the league, averaging 10,235 per game at the Northlands Coliseum that year. This program is even bigger, with 80 pages. Local ads include Nationwide Storage and Moving Company, WKSS FM 96 and WPLR (Voted "Best Album Rock Station of the Year" for 1977). Two ticket stubs from that night's game are stapled to the front cover.


Sources:
World Hockey Association Statistics: 1977-78 (from hockeydb.com)

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