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The Boys Are Back

October 31, 2011

The Boys Are Back In UM-11

The hockey world was buzzing this summer with the return of NHL hockey to the city of Winnipeg and while the new club is reborn from the ashes of the Atlanta Thrashers, there is certainly enough of a long-standing tradition there that dates back almost 40 years.

In 1972, the World Hockey Association was formed as a rival to the NHL and its first group of franchises included the Winnipeg Jets. The team signed some great talents like Joe Daley and Ab McDonald early on, but the biggest name of them all was Bobby Hull – a figure that gave the new league instant credibility. The Golden Jet flew into Winnipeg that summer and was presented with an over-sized check which signified that the WHA meant business and was ready to help players get the wages they deserved. The team had a great inaugural season and went to the Avco Cup Final but lost to the New England Whalers.

The 1974-75 saw the team act as ground-breakers as they began to bring in top European talents such as Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Lars-Erik Sjoberg. This gave them a solid nucleus which helped them win their first of three Avco Cup titles the following year. As many of the other teams in the league suffered great financial losses, the Jets remained a powerhouse and even absorbed top talent like Morris Lukowich and Terry Ruskowski once the Houston Aeros folded.

A merger with the NHL loomed at the end of the 1978-79 campaign and Winnipeg won the final Avco Cup tournament over the Edmonton Oilers, who had a young Wayne Gretzky in their lineup at the time. They were welcomed into the NHL for the 1979-80 season but had to pay a heavy price as the senior loop reclaimed players whose rights they held. The Jets were temporarily grounded, and things went from bad to worse as they had a horrible 1980-81 campaign where they won just nine games and finished last in the league.

Their reward for ineptitude helped them get the biggest prize in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft – a hot prospect named Dale Hawerchuk. He was an instant hit and helped turn their fortunes around alongside up-and-comers like Dave Babych, Doug Smail, Paul MacLean and Thomas Steen. For the rest of the 1980s, they remained contenders and had some great seasons together.

At the dawn of the 1990s, the winds of change began to blow in Winnipeg and new stars were rising like Keith Tkachuk, Bob Essensa and Alexei Zhamnov. The brightest of them all, however, was Teemu Selanne, who set NHL standards for most goals and points by a rookie in 1992-93.

In 1995-96, things were starting to look grim for Jets fans as it was becoming apparent that the team could not survive there. Factors like a weak Canadian dollar and skyrocketing salaries didn’t help and despite an outporing of public support, the team ended up moving to Phoenix to become the Coyotes. An era had ended, but the city never forgot their team.

Over the years, these same fans kept the home fires burning and rumors often circulated that the NHL would come back again. Those dreams became reality in 2011 and In The Game has created a special collection in the Ultimate Memorabilia 11th edition celebrating some of the greatest players to ever skate in Winnipeg. With two, three or four pieces of game-used memorabilia, these cards are sure to be appreciated by hockey fans everywhere!

The Boys Are Back in UM-11. The only Ultimate.

Brian Price

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