Sunday, July 6, 2014
July by the Numbers once again crosses the continent for jersey #6.
When plans began to take place for the inaugural season of the World Hockey Association in 1972-73, the league naturally wanted to have a club located in Toronto, but they ran into a road block of the most stubborn kind in the form of Harold Ballard, the cantankerous owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs and, more importantly, their arena, Maple Leaf Gardens.
When no deal was able to be reached with Ballard, the franchise earmarked for Toronto was instead placed in the capital of Ottawa after an attempt to locate the club in Hamilton. The Nationals failed to lure any top-flight NHL talent to Ottawa, such as Brad Park, Dave Keon or Eddie Shack, all of whom were on their draft list, due to their late start in finding a home, but Wayne Carlton was signed away from the California Golden Seals, one of several players the Seals lost to the upstart WHA, and led the club with 42 goals and 91 points.
The Nationals leading scorer Wayne Carlton
The goaltending duties where handled by rookie Gilles Gratton, who was backed up by former Pittsburgh Penguin veteran Les Binkley. Gavin Kirk and Bob Charlebois each scored more than 60 points while Brian Gibbons led all defensemen in scoring with 42 points while Rick Cunningham led the team with 121 penalty minutes.
Gilles Gratton guards the Nationals goal
After losing their first three games, the Nationals won their next four. They spent their first three months hovering around the .500 mark, closing out December with a 16-18-3 record, which included a pair of four game winning streaks.
January was unkind to the Nationals, who dropped 11 out of 14 to fall to 19-29-3. After going 6-7-1 in February, the Nationals caught fire and roared through March with a spectacular run, winning 11 of 12 to force themselves back into the playoffs, with their 74 points edging the Quebec Nordiques at 71.
Despite Ottawa not having had top level professional hockey since the once-dominant Ottawa Senators left the capital in 1934, attendance proved to be an issue, as the team drew an average of just 3,226 fans per game in the 9,000 seat Ottawa Civic Centre while competing with the established and quite popular Ottawa 67's junior club of the Ontario Hockey Association.
The Nationals were paired with the first place New England Whalers in the opening round of the post season, however...
...the City of Ottawa demanded a payment of $100,000 to secure dates for the following season prior to the playoffs, which prompted the club's ownership to consider their options which resulted in them choosing to move all their "home" playoff games to Toronto!
Now known as the Ontario Nationals during the playoffs, they lost their first two games 6-3 and 4-3 in Boston. The Nationals returned "home" to face the New England Whalers and won Game 3 by a score of 4-2, but lost Game 4 by a decisive 7-3 score while averaging 5,000 fans a game. The Whalers closed out the series with a 5-4 win back in Boston to end the Nationals season, and as it turned out, the Nationals themselves, as the team was sold following the season to John Bassett, who made Toronto their permanent home and renamed the team the Toronto Toros in June of 1973.
Today's featured jersey is a 1972-73 Ottawa Nationals Brain Gibbons jersey as worn during the Nationals only season in Ottawa. This is a very attractive jersey for it's day and the addition of the extra blue stripe trimmed in white just under the shoulder yoke makes it very unique. We especially like the white name on the red nameplate placed directly on top of that stripe.
The team logo is also very bold and well executed, although we always felt it looked more like a corporate logo, for a railroad in particular, rather than a pro hockey team.
Still, a very nice jersey and one that lived an all too short life.
Here is a history of the formation of the WHA and some of the first players to join the upstart league.