Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Dear Jay: "In The W.H.A.…"

A lot of the players I write to don't just send me autographs, I have gotten some great letters back as well. Rather than have some of these great stories gathering dust in my filing cabinet, I thought I'd share a few player's memories of the NHL's one time rival, the World Hockey Association. I hold a personal interest in the league and so when I write to an obscure player who once played in the WHA, I ask if he has any favourite memories or anything he'd like to share. Here are a few of the stories I've gotten back.

Ross Perkins
Perkins spent three seasons in the WHA. He played with the Alberta/Edmonton Oilers from 1972-75. 

"Our 1st year in the league we were playing the New York team in Cherry Hill. It was a small rink, very old and run down. The ice was not even level. I remember one play where two players hit the boards about the blue line and the entire section of the boards fell over. It caused a delay but we finished the game. Not sure that they played many more games there!"

Bill Berglund
Goaltender Bill Berglund was largely a backup goalie in the WHA. He played five games with the New England Whalers but dressed as a backup in many more. Since 2001, he's worked with the Montreal Canadiens as a scout. 

"A little background, I was in the Montreal Canadien organization, and pretty much moved between the IHL and the AHL. The World Hockey Association gave me a chance, especially with a local team like the New England Whalers. I played a total of 29 games over 5 1/2 seasons finishing up with Cleveland Crusaders after Cherry Cheevers returned to the NHL. I served as backup for about 158 games over that time. I did some 1st time things:
- Played 1st game ever played in WHA - an exhibition game in Roanoke, Virginia vs the Philadelphia Blazers.
- I surredered Gordie Howe's 1st WHA goal at the WHA extravaganza in Madison Square Garden.
- I played in the 1st game played at the Hartford Civic Center."

Pierre Viau
Defeceman Pierre Viau played four games in the WHA with the 1972/73 Chicago Cougars.

"I Don't remember much except the first encounter with Bobby Hull. I stopped one of his shots and it broke my shin pad!!!!"

Jerry Zrymiak
Zrymiak was a well travelled WHA player. Between 1972 and 1977 he played 155 games in the
Jerry Zrymiak
league, dressing with the Los Angeles Sharks, Michigan Stags/Baltimore Blades, Toronto Toros and Minnesota Fighting Saints.

"I joined the Los Angeles Sharks in the initial year of the WHA's formation. Prior to that I was playing senior hockey in Western Canada, a good league with many ex-pros.
WHA hockey was indeed a different style of hockey. Tough is a key word. Most of my first year was spent in Greensboro, NC in the Eastern League (talk about tough!) It was an 'eye-opener' for me. I survived and played for several more years.
I had the great pleasure of playing with Dave Keon and Johnny McKenzie in Minnesota with the Fighting Saints. I had a lot of fun with the Carlson brothers, aka the Hanson brothers in the movie Slap Shot. They were good guys, really tough, but they said that they were not as tough as their sister!
Playing against Gordie Howe and his sons was also a good memory."

Bob Roselle
Roselle played 1 game in the WHA with the 1975/76 Indianapolis Racers.

"After playing six years in the minors, I finished playing in Vienna, Austria. I moved back to London, Ontario after my year in Vienna and played senior hockey for the London Kings. That year they had a senior team in St. Johns, Newfoundland but there was no league there so they used to bring over teams for the weekend and play exhibition games. While playing over there, Doug Harvery, former Montreal Canadiean great, was the head scout for Indianapolis, liked what he saw and offered me a 30 day contract along with a player from Newfoundland, Glen Critch. That is how I ended up in Indianapolis."

Ross Smith
Smith played 15 games with the 1974/75 Indianapolis Racers. He was cast as Barclay Donaldson in the 1977 movie Slap Shot. 
"I ended up with the Racers because Chuck Catto, the manager, moved there from St. Louis and offered me a contract. It is always a big thrill to play in the bigs against guys like Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe and J.C. Tremblay. I even fought Ted Green!
Being in Slap Shot was a real thrill; doing lines with Paul Newman.
But I would have to say getting a chance to play in the WHA was a dream. I had wanted to play in the bigs all my life while skating hours on outdoor rinks and riding countless miles in buses."

Frank Mahovlich and Titcomb
with the Toronto Toros
Gord Titcomb
A 1973 draft pick of both the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs and WHA's Toronto Toros, Titcomb played two games with the 1974/75 Toros. 

"One of my games was against Winnipeg where Bobby Hull & co. had the great line. I also have found memories of being called up from the Tuscon Mavericks when our season ended, to the Houston Aeros where I was on the practise squad for two months. We lost in the finals to the Winnipeg Jets that year. I didn't get into any games but It was still a great experience to be with the Howes etc. There weren't any injure so I didn't get a chance to suit up.
The Leafs offered me a two way contract but I signed with the Toros instead. Of course, they signed Paul Henderson and Frank Mahovlich after I signed in June so it made it a lot tougher for me to crack the lineup."

Mike Hobin
Hobin spent two seasons in the WHA. He played a total of 77 games in the league with the Phoenix Roadrunners. He scored a respectable 18 goals and 37 points. 

"The most memorable thing that happened to me in the WHA was over a couple of games. We played an exhibition game in Oakland City against Houston. It was overtime and I went into the corner with Gordie Howe. Somehow, I come out with the puck and passed it to a teammate that scored the OT goal. I was never a dirty player and don't remember doing anything dirty to Gordie, but after the game I was talking to a friend on Houston named Steve West. West told me to watch out because Gordie 'has you number.' Not thinking anything of it, almost a month later we were playing in Phoenix against Houston. Sure enough I was back-checking next to Howe and 'BOOM' he hit me blindside with one of his famous elbows. Nose bleeding and seeing stars, I went to the bench and thought 'okay Gordie, not sure what I did but I guess we are even.'"

Mike Sleep
Over two seasons, Sleep played 22 games in the WHA with the Phoenix Roadrunners. In 1975 he was drafted by both WHA's Roadrunners and the NHL's NY Islanders. 
"I grew up in Winnipeg, MB and played jr. hockey in Western Canada for the Westminster Bruins. My favourite memory is when I was called up with the Phoenix Roadrunners to play in Winnipeg, my hometown. Being a right winger, I played opposite Bobby Hull and was fortunate enough to score the winning goal in a 2-1 win in front of my parents, family and friends.
I chose the WHA over the NHL because the Phoenix Roadrunners offered me a three-year contract while the New York Islanders offered me a tryout. I chose the guaranteed money."

Rick Fraser
Rick Fraser
Defenceman Rick Fraser played four games with the 1974/75 Indianapolis Racers. His son, Jamie, recently played in NHL with the New York Islanders. 

"I don't have any real memories only being there four games, I guess my first game against Gordie Howe was memorable. I had played against Mark & Marty growing up.
The Racers farm team was in Utica, New York, in the same league as the movie Slap Shot. As funny as that movie was, it was so real life. All that crap went on, it was crazy. Lot of good players, but a lot of goons."

Del Hall
Hall played nine games in the NHL with the California Golden Seals and then finished his hockey career with three full season in the WHA. Two of those were spent with the Phoenix Roadrunners. 

"The fans in Phoenix were great. A lot of them were Canadians vacationing for the winter. There was just not enough local fans to support a WHA team."


  1. Wow, what great comments. We use to watch the San Diego Mariners play at the old Sports Arena inthe WHA. I used to love it. It was my first real exposure to professional hockey.