Tuesday, April 19, 2016

1972-73 New England Whalers Rick Ley Jersey

The New England Whalers were born in November of 1971 when the new World Hockey Association (WHA) awarded a franchise to a group of four  businessmen to be located not in their eventual home of Hartford, Connecticut, but originally in Boston, Massachusetts.

The Whalers were forced to be creative in assembling their roster, as 12 WHA teams were seeking to employ roughly 275 professional players in all. Additionally, the NHL had also expanded by two clubs that season in an attempt to occupy markets the WHA might have found attractive, placing clubs on Long Island in New York and Atlanta, Georgia, meaning in actuality, approximately 325 more players would be needed to stock an additional 14 combined rosters than the season before.

The tactic taken by the Whalers was to embrace the often overlooked American player, signing former US Olympic Hockey Team members, particularly those with ties to Boston. Larry Pleau, a Boston native, was lured away from the Montreal Canadiens on this date in 1972 to become the first player signed by the fledgling franchise.

Kelley, Baldwin and Pleau, first signed Whaler photo Kelley Baldwin and Pleau first signed Whaler.jpg
Coach Jack Kelley, owner Harold Baldwin and Larry Pleau
as Pleau becomes the first player signed by New England

To stock their roster for the inaugural WHA season, Kevin Ahearn, John Cunniff, Paul Hurley and Tim Sheehy, who all played for the Boston College Eagles, and Tommy Williams, who had played for the NHL's Boston Bruins, were all recruited to join the Whalers inaugural roster.

Additionally, the Whalers signed veteran Ted Green away from the Bruins to be the team's first captain.

Kelley and Green, Kelley and Green
Coach Jack Kelley and team captain Ted Green

They also lured 30 goal scorer Tom Webster away from the California Golden Seals, whose owner Charlie O. Finley refused to open the checkbook to keep several of his better players when the WHA came to raid his roster.

Rick Ley of the Toronto Maple Leafs was called upon to anchor the team's defense in front of former Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings goaltender Al Smith, who would eventually serve two terms with the Whalers.

Jack Kelley, who had just won back to back national titles with Boston University in 1971 and 1972, was hired to coach the team. Additionally, Canadians John Danby and Ric Jordan, both of whom were members of Kelley's national championship winning Terriers, joined the Whalers along with their head coach.

The Whalers began play located in Boston, dividing their home games between the Boston Arena and the Boston Garden, the home of the Bruins since 1928. The Boston Arena, which opened in 1910, is the oldest ice hockey arena still in use and was the Bruins original home and is still being used by the Northeastern University Huskies of Hockey East, although it was renamed Matthews Arena in 1982.

Green Sanderson opening faceoff, Green Sanderson opening faceoff
The ceremonial opening faceoff between captain Ted Green and
Philadelphia's Derek Sanderson at the Whalers first ever game.
Note the Bruins logo prominent at center ice!

The inaugural Whalers season went better than anyone could have hoped for, as the Whalers won their first three games and nine of their first 13. They also posted a six game winning streak in early December to go ten games over .500.

Pleau goal, Pleau goal
First signee Pleau scores the game winning goal against
#00 Bernie Parent of Philadelphia during the Whalers first game
 The Whalers finished the season strong with an eight game winning streak in early March, which included scoring seven goals in back to back games against the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Fighting Saints. The team finished with a 46-30-2 record for 94 points, best in the league. At the conclusion of the season, Whalers forward Terry Caffery was named the league's Rookie of the Year following his 29 goal, 100 point season.

Terry Caffery Whalers, Terry Caffery Whalers
WHA Rookie of the Year Terry Caffrey battles for the puck

In the playoffs, the Whalers defeated the Ottawa Nationals, who actually moved their playoff games to Toronto in advance of relocating there the next season, such was life in the rest of the WHA. The Whalers then ousted the Cleveland Crusaders and then defeated the Winnipeg Jets (all by identical 4 games to 1 totals) to capture the Avco World Trophy as the WHA's inaugural champions.

Al Smith Whalers, Al Smith Whalers
Al Smith celebrates the Whalers championship clinching win

In typical WHA fashion, fans in Boston not in attendance were unable to see the celebration, as the local TV station pulled the plug on the game with seven minutes remaining in order to begin broadcasting a tennis match! If that were not enough, the Avco World Trophy was not actually completed yet, and the team had to skate around the rink with their Eastern Conference Championship cup as a substitute!

Green Whalers trophy, Green Whalers trophy
Green celebrates with the substitute trophy following the Whalers victory

The club was led in scoring by Webster, who set career highs in goals, assists and points, with 53 goals, 50 assists and 103 points to place fourth in the WHA scoring race. Caffery's 100 points were good for second on the club, while Pleau was next with his 39 goals and 87 points. Smith recorded 31 wins in goal.

1972-73 New England Whalers team, 1972-73 New England Whalers team
The WHA champion 1972-73 New England Whalers

Immediately after winning the championship, the Whalers owner Howard Baldwin issued a challenge to the eventual NHL champion to meet in a one-game playoff on neutral ice for the rights to the Stanley Cup! Needless to say, the NHL did its best to ignore the upstart league for fear of giving it any credibility, and the game never came close to taking place.

Whalers 1973 Championship Banner, Whalers 1973 Championship Banner
The Whalers championship banner

The following season the Whalers again won the Eastern Division with a 43-31-4 record for 90 points, good for a second place tie in overall points.

Rick Ley Whalers, Rick Ley Whalers
Rick Ley in the Whalers second jerseys

Winger John French led the team in scoring with 72 points, while Webster led the team in goals in 43, fourth most in the league. Smith again reached the 30 win level in the nets for the Whalers.

The postseason did not go as planned, as the Whalers ran into a tough Chicago Cougars club, who had finish nine points back in the standings. The Whalers took Game 1 and 2 at home in Boston, but dropped the next two in Chicago. After Chicago took Game 5 in Boston, the Whalers avoided elimination with a 2-0 win back in Chicago to force a Game 7 back at home, only to fall short 3-2, bringing their season to an end.

By now, scheduling games in the Boston Garden had become increasingly difficult, as the Boston Celtics of the NBA were also in need of dates. Team ownership put a plan in place to relocate the club 100 miles west to Hartford, Connecticut, but the new Hartford Civic Center would not be ready for the start of the season, causing the Whalers to play in Springfield, Massachusetts at the Springfield Coliseum from October, 1974 until their debut in Hartford on January 11, 1975, bringing to and end their time of calling Massachusetts home.

The Whalers were 21-15-2 in their temporary location despite a schedule heavily loaded with road games, playing 25 out of their first 38 away from Springfield, including road trips of 6 and 7 consecutive games. The Whalers finished the season 43-30-5 to win their third consecutive Eastern Division title, at one point playing ten consecutive home games during a stretch of 17 out of 20 at their new home in Hartford.

The WHA lasted until the 1978-79 season, after which the Whalers and three other WHA clubs were allowed into the NHL as expansion clubs - not a merger of leagues. One of the conditions of the Whalers being granted entry into the NHL was they were forced to change their name from the New England Whalers to the Hartford Whalers at the demand of the very same Bruins they briefly shared a home rink with.

Today's featured jersey is a 1972-73 New England Whalers Rick Ley jersey. This style of Whalers jersey was worn only for their inaugural, championship winning season in Boston. What made it distinctive was it's circular crest, trimmed with a rope pattern and containing the team name in the circle. A popular feature of the jersey was the secondary shoulder logo, Pucky the Whale. Ley's #2 is one of only three numbers ever retired by the Whalers.

New England Whalers 72-73 jersey, New England Whalers 72-73 jersey
New England Whalers 72-73 jersey, New England Whalers 72-73 jersey

Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 1972-73 New England Whalers Brit Selby jersey as worn at home during the team's inaugural season in Boston. The Whalers simplified their crest to something more modern and graphic for their second season, taking the "W" from their original round logo with a simplified harpoon bisecting it.

Selby broke into the NHL during the 1964-65 season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing in 3 games. He played in 61 games the following season of 1965-66, scoring 14 goals and 27 points and was named the recipient of the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year. His 1966-67 season was an abbreviated one, playing in just 6 games for the Maple Leafs and 15 for the minor league Vancouver Canucks of the Western Hockey League. He joined the Philadelphia Flyers for their first season of 1967-68. In his second season with the Flyers, Selby was involved in a trade which sent him back to Toronto where he would play for parts of three seasons. After 11 games of the 1970-71 season, he was on the move again, this time to the St. Louis Blues. His second season with the Blues was spent primarily with the Kansas City Blues of the Central Hockey League.

With the expansion of jobs for the 1972-73 season with the arrival of the WHA, Selby took the opportunity to escape the minors after he was selected by the Houston Aeros of the WHA. A series of trades saw him first play for the Quebec Nordiques for 7 games before landing with the Whalers, where he would play in 65 games, scoring 13 goals and 42 points during their inaugural, championship season. He spent the final two years of his career with the Toronto Toros of the WHA.

New England Whalers 1972-73 home jersey photo New England Whalers 1972-73 home jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions
Extra bonus jersey Today's extra bonus jersey is a 1976 United States National Team Larry Pleau jersey as worn during the 1976 Canada Cup tournament. Highlighting the Whalers tendencies in assembling their original roster towards United States Olympians and players with ties to Boston, Pleau, a Boston native, competed for the United States at the 1968 Olympics and 1969 World Championships before being signed by the Whalers.

The original set of these striking, patriotic United States jersey worn the year of the American Bicentennial were all sewn on customization, heavy weight jerseys, which the players deemed too hot to wear. This jersey is from the second set made for the actual tournament competition, which were cooler mesh jerseys with all the graphics screened on, an inferior quality jersey, but one which was more suited to competition.

United States National Team 1976 home jersey photo United States National Team 1976 home jersey.jpg
photo courtesy of Classic Auctions

Our video section today kicks off with a profile of Ley, the longtime Whalers defenseman.

Finally, a look at the Whalers inaugural season in five brief parts which total about 20 minutes.

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