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On This Date in Sports June 27, 1972: Jetting to the WHA

In collaboration with the sportsecyclopedia.com

The upstart World Hockey Association fires its first salvo at the established NHL. The Winnipeg Jets lure away Chicago Black Hawks star Bobby Hull with a ten-year contract worth $2.5 million with a $1 million signing bonus. The 33-year-old Hull would serve the first three years as Player-Coach as he later helped the Jets win three AVCO Cups.

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The WHA began play in 1972, with a dozen teams, some in NHL markets and some untested markets. The founders of the WHA, Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson were also behind the founding of the American Basketball Association, which had been providing a challenge to the established NBA since 1967. Hoping to give the new league legitimacy, several NHL stars were lured away, including Hull, Boston Bruins Goalie Gerry Cheevers, who signed with the Cleveland Crusaders; Derek Sanderson, a Bruins Center who signed with the Philadelphia Blazers, Montreal Canadiens Defenseman J.C. Tremblay, who signed with the Quebec Nordiques, and Bruins enforcer Ted Green who signed with the New England Whalers. Later the WHA would lure Gordie Howe out of retirement as he won two AVCO Cups playing with his sons Mark and Marty, who became the first father and son combo to play professional hockey together.

The WHA would last seven seasons, with Bobby Hulls Jets being the most successful team, winning the AVCO Cup in three of the final four seasons. Much like the ABA had four teams merge into the NBA, four teams joined the NHL when the WHA folded in 1979. In the league’s final years, several future stars made their professional debuts in the WHA, including Mark Messier and Mike Gartner, who played with the Cincinnati Stingers.

Additionally, Wayne Gretzky began his career in the WHA with the Indianapolis Racers, who would be forced to fold before the final season ended, sending the Great One to the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers, with their roots in the WHA, would become a dynasty in the NHL five years later. However, the other three teams struggled to find NHL success as the original Winnipeg Jets moved to the desert in 1996, becoming the Phoenix Coyotes. A year earlier, the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and won a Stanley Cup as the Colorado Avalanche. Later the Hartford Whalers would become the Carolina Hurricanes. All three had loyal fan bases in the NHL, but their market size was too small to compete. Hockey would eventually return to Winnipeg, and there is hope that it will soon return to Quebec. However, none of those teams would have ever existed without the WHA.