Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Born on this date in 1945, Andre Lacroix, the youngest of 14 children, was a multi-skilled center who played for clubs in both the NHL and WHA during his 13 year professional career.
Lacroix, was clearly a man born at exactly the right time and was able to benefit perhaps more than any other player from the dramatic upheaval in professional hockey during the fifteen year span from 1966 to 1980. While other players were able to benefit better financially, Lacroix was rescued first from the minor leagues when the NHL expanded in 1967 and then liberated from his own personal hockey purgatory with the arrival of the WHA to record one of the greatest offensive careers of his generation.
Lacroix set prolific scoring marks in Canadian junior hockey starting in the 1964-65 season with the Peterborough Petes of the OHA by scoring 119 points in 49 games. He showed his goal scoring ability with 45 tallies and highlighted his remarkable playmaking skills with 74 assists. He was also very adept at winning faceoffs and penalty killing as well. He followed that season with a 120 point campaign in the 1965-66 season to lead the league in points.
Following the Petes regular season, Lacroix played a pair of games with the Quebec Aces of the American Hockey League, scoring 4 points. 1966-67 saw Lacroix adapt to the game at the minor league level with a 25 goal, 24 assist season for 49 points.
He elevated his game to the next level in 1967-68 and was sitting at 41 goals and 87 points in 54 games before being recalled by the expansion Philadelphia Flyers, as this was the season that the NHL expanded from it's traditional six clubs to 12, creating approximately 130 new jobs that never existed before, which Lacroix was more than happy to benefit from. In 18 regular season games with Philadelphia, he scored 6 goals and 14 points, including scoring in his NHL debut against the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 21st, and added 5 more points in 7 playoff games.
Building on the confidence of his successful first season in the league, Lacroix led the Flyers in scoring the next two seasons with 56 and 58 points, respectable totals for a member of one of the new expansion clubs who generally scored 50-75 goals less than the established teams.
After one more season in Philadelphia, Lacroix was traded to the Chicago Black Hawks, which did nothing for Lacroix's game. The Black Hawks were loaded with established offensive talent, the likes of Bobby Hull, Pit Martin, Dennis Hull and Stan Mikita, who all had been playing together on the Original Six club for years. This left very little opportunity for Lacroix to fit in and gain valuable ice time or any confidence, limiting him to only 11 points in 51 games.
Fortune smiled on Lacroix once more, as the following season saw the debut of the World Hockey Association, which was eager to establish itself while in competition with it's established rival, the NHL. The new league was eagerly looking for players with a level of offensive ability, and given the opportunity to return to Philadelphia, Lacroix wasted no time in leaving the bad experience in Chicago behind him and signed with the WHA's Philadelphia Blazers for the 1972-73 season.
Life in the freewheeling, better paying WHA agreed with his game and he immediately set a career best with 50 goals and added 74 assists for 124 points to win the inaugrual league scoring championship.
1972-73 WHA scoring champion Andre Lacroix
While some players were fortunate to find themselves with stable franchises, such as those in Quebec, Winnipeg, Houston, Edmonton and New England (and even they relocated from Boston to Hartford), many more players had to endure the frequent upheavals associated with life in the WHA. Lacroix was forced to live through many of the growing pains, perhaps more than his fair share, and was destined to only play one season in Philadelphia - one way or the other.
The Blazers relocated to Vancouver for the 1973-74 season, but before he could lace up the skates out west, Lacroix was traded to the highly unstable New York Raiders. The franchise was so erratic that they were taken over by the league when the original owners defaulted in year one and sold to a new owner for the second WHA season, who immediately changed the name to the New York Golden Blades. Again, the league ended up taking over the franchise after only 24 games, and moved them out of their money-losing situation as tenants of Madison Square Garden to Cherry Hill, New Jersey for the remainder of the season in a rink so inadequate the visiting teams had to leave the arena in their still wet gear to change into their clothes back at their hotel because of the inadequate situation with the locker rooms there. Worse, the ice surface sloped uphill toward one end!
Rumor has it that the franchise was named the "Knights" because that was the only jersey style a local sporting good store had enough of in stock to be purchased at the last minute following the team's relocation from Manhattan. Ah, life in the WHA.
Lacroix in a seldom seen Knights jersey
Still, throughout all the upheaval and inadequate facilities, Lacroix managed to score 31 goals and lead the league with 80 assists for 111 points, good for second in the league and ahead of the likes of Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull, now in the WHA with Winnipeg.
Clearly the situation in New Jersey was unacceptable and the New York market was now lost to the WHA as the club was sold to a new California-based owner who relocated the team as far from New York as possible to San Diego, California - over 2400 miles away - where they were christened the Mariners.
With the team's situation settled for the time being, Lacroix got back to work and again won the league scoring title, this time with a career high 147 points from 41 goals and a whopping 106 assists, a new professional record at the time and all the more impressive when you consider the Mariners second leading scorer, Wayne Rivers, had 107 total points.
Lacroix again topped 100 points in 1975-76 with 101 and again in 1976-77 with 114 to lead the franchise for the fourth consecutive season. Three seasons of stability was perhaps more than anyone playing in the WHA in the United States was entitled to however, as the Mariners folded after the conclusion of the season.
With his services now available, Lacroix signed with the Houston Aeros as a free agent to replace the scoring of the recently departed Gordie Howe. As was his custom, Lacroix led the Aeros in scoring by a wide margin, with 36 goals and 77 assists for 113 points, 38 more than any other member of the Aeros. But before Lacroix could get truly comfortable, he was on the move once more as the Aeros, one of the strongest and most stable clubs in the WHA up this point, ceased operations when they were left out of any plans to merge with the NHL.
Lacroix signed with the Winnipeg Jets in July of 1978, only to be traded to the New England Whalers in August before even having the chance to report to the Jets training camp! The Whalers were a fairly average team with balanced scoring in 1978-79 and as a result, Lacroix's streak of six consecutive 100 point seasons came to an end with 88 total points that year. Only six other professional players have duplicated Lacroix's 100 points in six consecutive seasons.
In a new twist to the unstable path Lacroix's career had taken, he remained with the Whalers for the 1979-80 season, but the club itself changed leagues, as well as it's name to "Hartford", as the WHA ceased to exist and the Whalers joined the NHL.
Lacroix played in 29 games, scoring 3 goals and 17 points for the Whalers in his final season before retiring.
Lacroix's offensive skills and consistency made him the WHA's all time leader in assists with 547, points with 798 and in games played, totaling 551. Additionally, he ranked fourth in goals scored at 251. All told, Lacroix played in 551 out of a possible 555 games during the seven seasons of the WHA, including not missing a game during the first five seasons of the league.
He was also a member of Team Canada for the 1974 Summit Series against the Soviet Union where he was second on the team with 7 points in 8 games.
Today's featured jersey is a 1974-75 Philadelphia Flyers Andre Lacroix jersey. The Flyers joined the NHL in 1967-68 with identical jerseys, save for the use of simple, one color numbers. The first change to their look came in 1970-71 when the numbers gained a black outline for his final season in Philadelphia.
While the Flyers jersey would continue to evolve over time in small ways, the team would revert back to this look in 2008-09 when they were in need of a new alternate jersey, which then took over as the team's current primary jersey in 2010-11.
Today's video section is a look at highlights from Lacroix from WHAHockey.tv. It includes rare footage of the WHA as well as the 1974 Summit Series where the WHA's finest took on the Soviet Union.