Monday, October 20, 2014

1978-79 Indianapolis Racers Wayne Gretzky Jersey

Back in 1978 the NHL was embroiled in a feud with the World Hockey Association, which included fierce competition for signing players. The WHA had already lured away many established NHL stars, such as Bobby Hull and Gerry Cheevers, with offers of big money deals. Even Gordie Howe was lured out of retirement for a chance to play with his sons Mark and Marty.

The next tactic that the WHA employed was to look to Europe for players, which led to Swedes Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson joining the Winnipeg Jets and Vaclav Nedomansky defecting from Czechoslovakia and playing for the Toronto Toros.

The third area the WHA would exploit to the fullest was flaunting the NHL rule which did not allow the signing of players under the age of 20. The Birmingham Bulls owner John Bassett signed as many young and talented players as he could, such as Rick Vaive, Michel Goulet, Rob Ramage, Craig Hartsburg, Gaston Gingras, Pat Riggin and Keith Crowder. It was a very good year to have been born in 1959, as all of the "Baby Bulls" were, except Goulet, who was the youngest of the lot, born in 1960, making him just 18 at the time.

Despite all the signings by the Bulls, the star prize in the race to sign underage players went to Nelson Skalbania, who snared a seventeen-year-old Wayne Gretzky for his Indianapolis Racers franchise. Gretzky wanted to play in the NHL, but was stymied by the 20 year old minimum age limit and did not think that another three years in junior hockey were necessary.

Gretzky THN Racers, Gretzky THN Racers

Other youngsters snapped up by the WHA included future stars Ken Linseman, Mike Gartner and Mark Messier, who also had a cup of coffee with the Racers (5 games and no points) before joining the Cincinnati Stingers and again showing little signs of the success that would follow when he scored but one goal and ten assists in 47 games.

It was on this date that Gretzky would score his first two goals as a professional, and two out of the three he would score in just the eight games he would play as a Racer. The first goal came against Dave Dryden of the Edmonton Oilers and would be followed by the second of his career - just moments later.

Today's featured jersey is a 1978-79 Indianapolis Racers Wayne Gretzky jersey. The Racers joined the WHA for the 1974-75 season. Their basic jerseys remained unchanged throughout their five seasons of existence with only a change from two color names used through 1976-77 to one color names for 1977-78 and for 25 games of the 1978-79 season before folding on December 15, 1978.

K1 makes many unusual jerseys that are nice to be able to obtain, such as their many WHA jerseys, however, they do have the annoying habit of making their jerseys "to be worn with pads", meaning they consistently run a size larger than just about every other manufacturer under the sun. A family of four could comfortably live in the large, billowy arms of their jerseys. We generally make a habit of taking any K1 jersey our local tailor shop and have the width of the arms reduced to a more human proportion.

We at Third String Goalie prefer a size large in CCM, Starter or ProPlayer and can live with an extra large quite well, but when it comes to K1 jerseys, a medium is our first choice. A large is passable if the extra yard of material is removed from the arms, but an extra large is more suited for use as a circus tent.

hockey jersey
hockey jersey

In a frankly shocking and unexpected discover today, we found video of Wayne Gretzky scoring his first two goals as a professional for the Indianapolis Racers. It was a rare occurrence for any WHA games to be shown on TV in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area during our youth, and no one had a VCR in their home at the time, so to find video of a Racers game that has been posted on youtube was certainly a welcome and surprising treat.

I'm not sure how much hype there would have been for Gretzky to have joined the Racers in Indianapolis in 1978, but we were also frankly shocked at the size of the crowd at the game and their thunderous enthusiasm.

Here is another video, profiling Gretzky's career during his transition from junior hockey to the WHA with the Racers and his quick move to the Edmonton Oilers.

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