As we survey the aftermath of the recent 2012-2013 NHL labour lockout, viewing this DVD set brought back wonderful memories of seven very brief years when the National Hockey League was not the only game in town.
With exclusive videos of WHA championship victories by the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets, the DVD also presents a WHA All-Star game and the little-known exhibition win by the New England Whalers over the Soviet National hockey team.
For me, the highlight of the set is an exclusive interview with Bobby Hull, whose defection from the Chicago Blackhawks rocked the NHL and brought viability to the fledgling World Hockey Association in 1972. Bobby shares a great story about how mavericks "Wild Bill" Hunter and Ben Hatskin inadvertently pushed NHL moguls to get involved in the Canada-Russia Summit Series in 1972. The NHL was in its own little world, but before it was too late they foresaw there could be North American involvement in international hockey without them unless they pushed to the front of the line.
The series was woefully ill-timed, as the senior league still relied on predictable and easy-to-defend "linear" hockey, clearly icing an ill-prepared all-star squad, but hockey history was unfolding before our eyes. As time wears on, the Canada-Russia series of '72 remains one of Canada's fondest national memories.
The WHA not only opened up hockey, but perhaps the world also. Starting with western European players, eventually players defected from Czechoslovakia and Russia.
Entering with a bang, the rival league went down with a whimper, ending up with only 4 of their franchises being absorbed in a 1979 "expansion." Of these four (Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Hartford Whalers), only the Edmonton franchise survived. The NHL vanquished its rival, almost completely erasing memory of it, but the 7-year blip made for many great hockey memories.
I am disappointed and frankly, greatly surprised, no WHA Hockey tapes survived from Global TV's 1970s coverage of the Toronto Toros! Does anyone remember the broadcasting troika of Mike Anscombe, Carl Brewer and Bill Bird, covering the Toros weekly from a half-full/half-empty Maple Leaf Gardens, icing luminaries like Shotgun Tommy Simpson, Frank Mahovlich, Paul Henderson, Les Binkley, Vaclav Nedomansky, Gilles Gratton, Dave Tataryn, Greg Neeld and Carl Brewer (called out of retirement)? I suspect that not all of the games disappeared and if my hunch is right, they are probably occupying some lucky person's library as I type. Alas, perhaps we'll never know.