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WHA Teams: Chicago Cougars

By Wikipedia

The Chicago Cougars were an original franchise in the World Hockey Association from 1972 to 1975. The Cougars played their home games in the dilapidated International Amphitheatre. Even there they were treated as second class citizens.

At a glance...
Franchise Facts
Established 1972
Disbanded 1975
Located Rosemont, Illinois
Purchase Price $2M (1974)
Owner(s) Pat Stapleton
Ralph Backstrom
Dave Dryden
1973-1974 Eastern Division Champions  
Chicago Cougars (1972-76)
Edmonton Oilers (1973-present)
International Amphitheater, (9,000) 1972-75

Jordan and Walter Kaiswer purchased the "Chicago" franchise from league co-founder Gary Davidson for $25,000 and managed to sell it to a syndicate led by Pat Stapleton, Ralph Backstrom, and Dave Dryden for $2M in 1974.

During the 1974 Avco Cup Finals against Gordie Howe and the Houston Aeros, the team's two home games were played at the Randhurst Twin Ice Arena in suburban Mount Prospect. This was because a presentation of Peter Pan starring gynmast Cathy Rigby was booked into the Amphitheatre and thus made the arena unavailable for the playoffs (see Peter Pan Incident, below).

Just prior to the their third season, the team was sold to Cougars players Ralph Backstrom, Dave Dryden, and player-coach Pat Stapleton after the original owners, Walter and Jordon Kaizer, were unable to secure funds to build a new arena. The land for the arena, originally named the O'Hare Sports Arena, was sold to the village of Rosemont and became the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena). This building is the now the home of the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League.

They were placed in the Western Division for their first season (1972-73) and transferred to the Eastern Division for their final two seasons (1973-74 and 1974-75).

1972-73 Season

The Cougars finished last in the WHA's Western Division during the season with 54 points. Team defense finished 8th overall with 295 goals against and dead last in team offense with 245 goals. The one bright spot for Chicago was Bob Sicinski finishing 5th in the league with 63 assists.

1973-74 Season

The Cougars finished fourth in the Eastern Division with 81 points. They were seventh overall in goals for with 271 and sixth overall in goals against with 273. Pat Stapleton finished ninth in the league with 52 assists and Ralph Backstrom followed in tenth with 50. Larry Mavety finished tenth in the league with 157 penalty minutes. The Cougars would make their only postseason appearance that year. In the Eastern Division semifinals, they upset the defending league champion New England Whalers, four games to three. In the divisional final, they defeated the Toronto Toros, four games to three, with the Cougars winning the decisive seventh game on Toronto ice, 5-2. Chicago would be hopelessly outmatched in the AVCO World Trophy Final against the Houston Aeros, though, who featured hockey legend Gordie Howe and his sons, Mark and Marty. The Aeros would sweep the series in four games, outscoring the Cougars 22-9.

1974-75 Season

Chicago Cougars 1974-75 yearbook.

The Cougars finished third in the Eastern Division and twelfth overall with 61 points. They were tenth overall in goals for with 261 and twelfth overall in goals against with 261. Larry Mavety finished tenth in the league again with 150 penalty minutes but was traded to Toronto after playing 57 games with Chicago.

Peter Pan Incident

The Cougars made the playoffs for their only time in 1974. The initial series versus New England passed without incident, but the next series would be difficult in more ways than one: the International Amphitheatre had booked a production of Peter Pan, featuring former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby in the title role, and the Amphitheatre would not be available for the playoffs. Though the team did negotiate for use of Chicago Stadium, the home of the rival Chicago Black Hawks of the NHL, no dates were available due to the Black Hawks being involved in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team briefly considered playing the matches at the Cleveland Arena before deciding to go to a suburban shopping center, Randhurst, where there was a public skating rink called the Randhurst Twin Ice Arena. Though the arena could only hold 2000 spectators, the team played its three home matches of the series in Randhurst.

When the Cougars won their series versus Toronto, the Peter Pan show had moved on, and the Amphitheatre should have been available. However, for reasons still unclear, the staff had melted the ice surface. Worse, the Amphitheatre had a portable ice surface, and the copper pipes used to chill the ice were being uncovered and dismantled for the offseason. There was no choice but to return to Randhurst. The Cougars never quite recovered from the public relations disaster; one sports reporter had quipped, "The Cougars were beaten by the greatest lightweight of them all - Peter Pan."

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)

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It uses material from this Wikipedia article, which is probably more up to date than ours (retrieved August 12, 2005).

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