© Geoff Brookes
Hard times fell on the Winnipeg Jets. The team foundered during their second year (1973-74). Hull scored 53 goals, but had fewer assists, as his line mates failed to find the back of the net as much as they had in the Jets’ first season. The Jets finished 4th in their division. The barely made the playoffs, and were eliminated in four straight games, against the Houston Aeros.
The team didn’t fare well at the gate either. Ben Hatskin was losing money, and wanted to sell the team. A group of local businessmen suggested “community ownership”, with contributions from the public. Amazingly, the public came up with the money to buy the team from Ben Hatskin. Later in the 1970’s, it would become necessary to find a group of private owners to acquire the team, which would involve Barry Shenkarow, and several other prominent Winnipeg businessmen. Without the donations from the community, and then later the generous ownership of these business leaders, the Winnipeg Jets would have been dissolved, as so many other WHA teams had been.
Back to the hockey.
The second year was very discouraging time, after the excitement of the first year.
And then a strange thing happened.
Most hockey fans are familiar with the story of how Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom became the first of many Europeans to join the NHL, starting in the 1973-74 season. Not as many people know that the Winnipeg Jets took the Toronto Maple Leaf’s idea and went berserk with it, just one year later.
For the 1974-75 season, the Winnipeg Jets brought seven (!) European players to play WHA hockey.
Bobby Hull, after his first practice with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, said that those two guys looked like they were shot out of a cannon!
The Winnipeg Jets changed the way North American Hockey was played. They narrowly missed the playoffs in that year, but the top line revolutionized the game.
In the prior year, Bobby Hull had 53 goals, 42 assists and 95 points. In 1974-75, Bobby Hull scored 51 goals in the first 49 games.
He went on to break the major league pro hockey record at that time, with 77 goals. He added 65 assists with his new line mates, for a total of 142 points.
Ulf Nilsson became the ultimate set-up man, with incredible vision and amazing passes. In his rookie WHA season, he had 26 goals, and a staggering 94 assists!
And it wasn’t just Bobby Hull that he was setting up. His Swedish compatriot, Hedberg, also scored 50 goals on that same line, that same rookie year, with 53 goals and 47 assists!
We were absolutely stunned and amazed. My Dad, the three brothers, and tens of thousands of Jets fans, watched in wonder as these three players dazzled the league. Another notable Swede was Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who played a key leadership role, and contributed 7 goals with 53 assists, from the Jets’ blue line.
But the Jets fell just short that year. They had become an offensive juggernaut, not yet learned the art of winning.