Saturday, July 30, 2011
July by the Numbers makes it's way down to the Lone Star State for jersey #30.
The Houston Aeros of the WHA were originally slated to play in Dayton, Ohio, but never got off the ground, so owner Paul Deneau moved the club to Houston, Texas in time for the inaugural World Hockey Association season of 1972-73.
The Aeros, led in scoring by Gord Labossiere's 96 points in 78 games, had a cast of inexperienced journeymen players with an absolute minimum NHL experience, unlike other teams like the Quebec Nordiques, who could boast of long-time Montreal Canadien J. C. Tremblay or the Winnipeg Jets star Bobby Hull. Still, the Aeros finished second in the West Division and qualified for the playoffs and won a round before their season ended.
The 1972-73 Houston Aeros
Things changed, and in the biggest way possible, for the 1973-74 season. The Aeros had signed brothers Mark and Marty Howe to a pair of four-year, $400,000 contracts in early June of 1973 and two weeks later, they lured the boys' father and NHL legend, the 45-year-old Gordie Howe, who had already been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame following his retirement from the Detroit Red Wings after 25 seasons. It's safe to say that Howe's 1687 games of NHL experience was greater than the rest of the Aeros roster combined.
"My only regret is I'm sorry I'm not the Gordie Howe I was ten years ago to fulfill the goals the Aeros have in store for me. It's not too often an individual gets a second chance and that's what the Aeros have given me," Howe said. "A chance to play with my sons."
Gordie had surgery to improve his bad wrist and relished the opportunity to play with his sons. The elder Howe's well-earned reputation for toughness ensured that his son's would have plenty of time and space to learn their craft professionally, as any player who laid a big hit on Mark or Marty was sure to be paid back with interest by Gordie at the first available opportunity!
Gordie immediately led the team in scoring with an even 100 points, good for third place in the league, as the Aeros had the best record in the league by 11 points. Additionally, Gordie was also named the league's Most Valuable Player in 1974, a trophy that would be renamed in his honor in 1976, while he was still an active player! In the playoffs that season Houston swept the Jets in four and survived an all out war with the Minnesota Fighting Saints in six games to advance to the Avco Cup Finals.
Ted Taylor and Gord Gallant battle it out during the
memorable Aeros/Fighting Saints 1974 playoff series
Once in the finals, the Aeros swept the Chicago Cougars in four straight, giving the Aeros their first WHA title and Howe his first championship since 1955 with Detroit.
The original expectation in 1973 was that Gordie Howe, who also signed a four-year contract, would play one year and then move into the team's front office. That was not to be however, as Gordie returned for a second WHA season. While Larry Lund led the club with 108 points, Gordie duplicated his output from the season prior with 99 points while Mark Howe contributed 76 points from the blueline after 79 the year before.
The Aeros again won the West Division with the league's best record by 14 points and dispatched the Cleveland Crusaders in five and the San Diego Mariners in four prior to sweeping the Nordiques in the finals to defend their title and become the first repeat winner in WHA history.
Howe would once again lead the Aeros in scoring in 1975-76 with 102 points, 26 clear of his son Mark and Frank Hughes, but would only place 10th in the scoring race in the now wide-open WHA. Still, the Aeros were a solid all around team and once more led the league in regular season points with 106 points. The gap was narrowed to the rest of the league however, as Winnipeg tied them with 106, coming on one less win, and the Nordiques just two back at 104.
The battle tested Aeros knocked out the Mariners in six and the New England Whalers in seven, the first time anyone went the distance with Houston, to return to the finals for the third consecutive season in a row. The high powered Jets won a pair of one goal games in Houston and pulled away to win a pair of games back at home in Winnipeg to end the Aeros reign as league champions.
The following season saw Gordie Howe limited to 62 games and 68 points, yet once again the Aeros had the best regular season total for the fourth year in a row. After defeating the Oilers in round one, the Jets once again ended the Aeros championship aspirations in six games in the semifinals.
Prior to the 1977-78 season, with their four year contracts having now expired, all three Howes moved en masse to the Whalers and the high scoring Andre Lacroix now led the Aeros offensively. The Aeros finished third in the regular season standings and fell to the Nordiques in the first round four games to two.
Their loss in Game 6 at Quebec would be the final game in Aeros history, as the Aeros, who were included in merger talks with the NHL in 1977, were left out of the 1978 proposal and elected to fold on July 6, 1978.
While the Jets, Nordiques, Oilers and Whalers all survived to join the NHL for the 1979-80 season, the Aeros certainly can be viewed as one of the most successful clubs in the WHA, having finished with a winning record in each of their six seasons, four of which saw them with the best record in the league, and a pair of championships. The addition of the Howes gave the league a huge boost in credibility and exposure while allowing the legend of "Mr. Hockey" Gordie Howe to continue to grow.
Today's featured jersey is a 1974-75 Houston Aeros Wayne Rutledge jersey. This classic jersey combines a vintage font running diagonally across the front in the time-honored manner paired with a simple striping pattern topped off with a star on each shoulder proving less is more when it comes to an effective and timeless hockey jersey.
Today's video section has plenty of great footage and begins with Gordie discussing his coming out of retirement to join Houston with baseball great Tom Seaver.
Were very excited to share this rare footage of the Aeros winning the 1974 Avco Cup over the Chicago Cougars.
Here is some classic WHA game action between Houston and Winnipeg with Gordie scoring a goal and later getting ejected from the game!
Don't miss the exciting, miraculous conclusion of the same game between the Aeros and Jets on December 5, 1975.
Here is footage from the 1979 WHA All-Star Game, when Gordie famously played on a line with Wayne Gretzky.
Here is Gordie, along with Mark and Marty making an appearance on the game show "What's My Line?"
Finally, Gordie shows the kids how it's done.