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1978-79 WHA Season

By Wikipedia

The 1978-79 season was the seventh and final regular season of the now defunct World Hockey Association (WHA). Prior to the start of the season, the Houston Aeros folded leaving seven teams to start the season, but only six finished. The Indianapolis Racers folded after 25 games on the 15th of December, 1978. The remaining six teams each played 80 games.

See also: Statistical Leaders for 1978-79, Complete League Attendance

The dying WHA would go to almost any length to try and stay afloat. The NHL had rules regarding the age of players that could play while the WHA didn't. Nelson Skalbania, the owner of Indianapolis Racers, signed the 17 year old future super-star, Wayne Gretzky to, at that time, a whopping personal contract worth between 1.125 and 1.75 million dollars over 4 to 7 years. Skalbania, knowing that the WHA was fading, felt owning the young star was more valuable than owning a WHA team. Eight games into the season, though, Skalbania needed cash and liquidated his greatest asset to his old friend and former partner, Peter Pocklington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers. Pocklington purchased Gretzky and two other Indianapolis players, goaltender Eddie Mio and forward Peter Driscoll paying $700,000 for the contracts of the three players, although the announced price was actually $850,000. On Gretzky's 18th birthday, the 26th of January, 1979, Pocklington signed him to a 21 year personal services contract worth between 4 and 5 million dollars, the longest in hockey history. Gretzky would go on to capture the Lou Kaplan Trophy for rookie of the year, finish third in league scoring, and help the Oilers to first overall in the league. Unfortunately Gretzky couldn't help the Oilers win the Avco World Trophy as the Winnipeg Jets won their third overall and second in a row.

After the end of the season, an agreement was reached whereby four of the teams, the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, Winnipeg Jets and New England Whalers would be admitted to the National Hockey League (NHL) as expansion teams for the 1979-80 NHL season, and the WHA would cease operations. The Cincinnati and Birmingham franchises were paid to disband.

Edmonton Oilers* 80 48 30 2 98 340 266 1220
Quebec Nordiques* 80 41 34 5 87 288 271 1399
Winnipeg Jets* 80 39 35 6 84 307 306 1342
New England Whalers+ 80 37 34 9 83 298 287 1090
Cincinnati Stingers+ 80 33 41 6 72 274 284 1651
Birmingham Bulls 80 32 42 6 70 286 311 1661
xIndianapolis Racers 25 5 18 2 12 78 130 557

Key: GP = Games Played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals For, GA = Goals Against, PIM = Penalties in Minutes
* Indicates teams that qualifies for the playoffs
+ Indicates teams that qualified for the best of three quarterfinals
x Ceased operations after 25 games.

Avco World Trophy Playoffs

The top five teams in the league qualified for the playoffs. The 4th and 5th place teams started in a best-of-three quarterfinal series, while the top three finishers received byes into the semifinals. In the semifinals, the 1st place team played the 4th/5th winner, while 2nd place played 3rd place. Both semifinal series were best-of-seven. Since the 2nd and 3rd place teams knew they'd be playing each other in the semifinals, they started their series while the 4th/5th mini-series was still going on. The finals, like the semifinals, were best four-out-of-seven games.

  Quarterfinals (best of 3) Semifinals Finals
  1  Edmonton Oilers 4  
    4  New England Whalers 3  
4  New England Whalers 2
  5  Cincinnati Stingers 1  
    1  Edmonton Oilers 2
  3  Winnipeg Jets 4


2  Quebec Nordiques 0
3  Winnipeg Jets 4  

The Winnipeg Jets defeated the Edmonton Oilers 4 games to 2, to win the last Avco Cup. The final game was played at the Winnipeg Arena, a 7 to 3 final score in favor of the Jets. Rich Preston won the AVCO Playoffs MVP award for leading the Jets to the final championship over the Edmonton Oilers. Oiler Dave Semenko scored a late goal in the deciding game that proved to be the last goal scored in the WHL.

WHA All Star Game

The WHA played a series of three games against Moscow Dynamo in place of the annual World Hockey Association All-Star game. This series saw 50 year old Gordie Howe playing on the same line with WHA rookie Wayne Gretzky. The WHA won all three games:

January 2, 1979 WHA 4 Moscow 2 8,038
January 4, 1979 WHA 4 Moscow 2 11,220
January 6, 1979 WHA 4 Moscow 3 15,590

These were the lineups for the game:

G Dave Dryden Edmonton
G Markus Mattsson Winnipeg
D Paul Shmyr Edmonton
D Claire Alexander Edmonton
D Barry Long Winnipeg
D Rick Ley New England
D John Hughes Edmonton
D Rob Ramage Birmingham
F Wayne Gretzky Edmonton
F Blair MacDonald Edmonton
F Real Cloutier Quebec
F Marc Tardif Quebec
F Mark Howe New England
F Dave Keon New England
F Gordie Howe New England
F Robbie Ftorek Cincinnati
F Morris Lukowich Winnipeg
F Peter Sullivan Winnipeg
F Rick Dudley Cincinnati
G Sergei Babariko
G Vladimir Polupanov
D Nikolai Makarov
D Viktor Khatulev
D Vasili Pausov
D Vitali Fillipov
D Alexander Fillipov
D Sergei Gimaev
D Alexei Volchenkov
D Vladimir Orlov
D Mikhail Slipchenko
F Victor Shkourdiouk
F VladimirVikulov
F Alexander Lobanov
F Alexei Volchkov
F Pavel Ezovskikh
F Vladimir Popov
F Alexei Frolikov
F Mikhail Shostak
F Vladimir Golubovich
F Vladimir Semenov
F Piotr Priordin
F Sergei Tukachev
F Viacheslav Anisin


Avco World Trophy Winnipeg Jets
Gordie Howe Trophy Dave Dryden
Bill Hunter Trophy Real Cloutier
Lou Kaplan Trophy Wayne Gretzky
Ben Hatskin Trophy Dave Dryden
Dennis A. Murphy Trophy Rick Ley
Paul Deneau Trophy Kent Nilsson
Robert Schmertz Memorial Trophy John Brophy
ATTENDANCE G Total Average
Edmonton Oilers 40 450,207 11,255
Quebec Nordiques 41 362,201 8,834
Winnipeg Jets 41 355,994 8,683
Cincinnati Stingers 41 288,967 7,048
New England Whalers 41 286,503 6,988
Indianapolis Racers 12 76,075 6,340
Birmingham Bulls 41 258,975 6,316
LEAGUE 257 2,078,922 8,089
Real Cloutier Quebec 129
Robbie Ftorek Cincinnati 116
Wayne Gretzky (2 teams) 110
Mark Howe New England 107
Kent Nilsson Winnipeg 107
Morris Lukowich Winnipeg 99
Marc Tardif Quebec 96
Andre Lacroix New England 88
Peter Sullivan Winnipeg 86
Terry Ruskowski Winnipeg 86
Goalie Dave Dryden, Edmonton 
Richard Brodeur Quebec
Defenseman Rick Ley, New England
Dave Langevin Edmonton
Defenseman Rob Ramage, Birmingham
Paul Shmyr Edmonton
Center Robbie Ftorek, Cincinnati
Wayne Gretzky Edmonton
Right Wing Real Cloutier, Quebec 
Morris Lukowich Winnipeg
Left Wing Mark Howe, New England
BJ MacDonald Edmonton

WHA Bibliography
The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association by Ed Willes
The Complete Historical and Statistical Reference to the World Hockey Association by Scott Adam Surgent
WHA Pro Hockey '75 - '76 by Dan Proudfoot
WHA Media Guides (each team published one each year)

These and many other WHA items can be found at eBay - check our links on the far right of this page!

Share Your Memories!

We have a WHA Forum! Our sites have always been by you and about you. If you check our TV Forums or our Technology & Science forums, you'll find literally thousands of messages from fans of 1970s TV shows, survivors of hurricanes or aircraft accidents, etc. from all over the world sharing their memories, asking questions, making comments. Our baseball section is new, but don't let that stop you from sharing your memories of WHA games you saw, now-forgotten stadiums, etc. Of course you can also ask questions, post trivia, or just read what others are saying.

--Patrick Mondout


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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
It uses material from this Wikipedia article, which is probably more up to date than ours (retrieved August 12, 2005).

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