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Winnipeg Jets Memories NHL and WHA

Friday, October 21, 2016 8:56
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Anything and everything anytime

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The Winnipeg Jets are playing in the IGF football stadium on Sunday in the Heritage Classic game against the Edmonton Oilers. The event is a regular season NHL game. A major part of the event celebrates the history of the Jets. On Saturday there is the Alumni game featuring past players from both teams. Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk and Mark Messier to name a few will be playing. Below is a compilation of historical photos.

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The former Winnipeg Jets incarnation were a Canadian professional ice hockey team based in Winnipeg, Manitoba. They began play in the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1972, moving to the National Hockey League (NHL) in 1979 following the WHA’s collapse. Due to mounting financial troubles, in 1996 the franchise moved to Phoenix, Arizona and became the Phoenix Coyotes (now the Arizona Coyotes). In 2011 the Atlanta Thrashers franchise relocated to Winnipeg and restored the Jets name, although the prior Jets club history is retained by the Arizona club.

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The WHA years (1972–1979)

The original Winnipeg Jets logo in the WHA

The NHL had recently expanded to 16 teams, adding franchises in many hockey-hungry cities (only one in Canada), but also in Atlanta, Oakland and Los Angeles. The WHA brought major professional hockey to Ottawa, Quebec City, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and later Calgary. On December 27, 1971, Winnipeg was granted one of the founding franchises in the WHA, to Ben Hatskin, a local figure who made his wealth in cardboard shipping containers. The team took their name from the Winnipeg Jets of the Western Canada Hockey League.

The Jets’ first signing was Norm Beaudin (“the Original Jet”) and the first major signing was Bobby Hull. Hull’s acquisition, partially financed by the rest of the WHA’s teams, gave the league instant credibility and paved the way for other NHL stars to bolt to the upstart league.

The Jets were further noteworthy in hockey history for being the first North American club seriously to explore Europe as a source of hockey talent. Winnipeg’s fortunes were bolstered by acquisitions such as Swedish forwards Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, who starred with Hull on the WHA’s most famous and successful forward line (nicknamed “the Hot Line”), and defenceman Lars-Erik Sjoberg, who would serve as the team’s captain and win accolades as the WHA’s best defenceman. Behind these players and other European stars such as Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson, Veli-Pekka Ketola, leavened by players such as Peter Sullivan, Norm Beaudin and goaltender Joe Daley, the Jets were the most successful team in the short-lived WHA. The team won the Avco World Trophy three times, including in the league’s final season against Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. The Jets made the finals five of the WHA’s seven seasons.

Another notable accomplishment was the Jets’ 5–3 victory over the Soviet National team on January 5, 1978.

Bobby Hull signing at Portage and Main 1972

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No mask!

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The NHL years (1979–1996)

Winnipeg’s second logo, introduced in 1973 and used when it entered the NHL in 1979 until 1990

By 1979, the vast majority of the WHA’s teams had folded, but the Jets were still going strong and they were absorbed into the NHL along with the Nordiques, Oilers and Hartford Whalers. They had to pay a high price for a berth in the more established league, however. They had to give up three of their top six scorers – the core of the last WHA champion – in a reclamation draft. They were also forced to draft 18th out of 21 teams. In the draft, they opted to protect defenceman Scott Campbell, who had shown a good deal of promise in the last WHA season. However, Campbell suffered from chronic asthma that was only exacerbated by Winnipeg’s frigid weather. The asthma drove him out of the league entirely by 1982.

With a decimated roster, the Jets finished dead last in the league for the next two seasons, including a horrendous nine-win season in 1980–81 that still ranks as the worst in Jets/Coyotes history. This stands in marked contrast to the other 1979 Avco Cup finalist, the Oilers, who became one of the most successful teams during the 1980s.

The Jets’ first two wretched NHL seasons did net them high draft picks; in the 1980 draft they picked Dave Babych second overall and in 1981 they drafted future Hall of Fame member Dale Hawerchuk first overall. The team developed a solid core of players by the mid-1980s, with Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, Paul MacLean, Randy Carlyle, Laurie Boschman, Doug Smail, and David Ellett providing a strong nucleus.

Led by Hawerchuk, Steen, Babych and Carlyle, the Jets returned to respectability fairly quickly, and made the playoffs 11 times in the next 15 years. However, regular-season success did not transfer over into the playoffs. This was because Winnipeg played in the same division as the Oilers and Calgary Flames – by some accounts, the two best teams in the league during the second half of the 1980s. Due to the way the playoffs were structured at the time, the Jets were all but assured of having to beat either the Oilers or the Flames (or both) to get to the Campbell Conference Finals. For example, in 1984–85, they finished with the fourth-best record in the entire league (behind only Philadelphia, Edmonton and Washington). They also notched 96 points, which would remain the franchise’s best as an NHL team until the 2009–10 Coyotes racked up the franchise’s second 100-point season (and first as an NHL team). While they managed to dispatch the Flames in four games in the best-of-five division semi-final, they were swept by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Oilers in the division final. In fact, Winnipeg and Edmonton played each other in the playoffs six times between 1983 and 1990. The Oilers not only won every series, but held the Jets to only four total victories. Five of those times (1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990), the Oilers went on to win the Stanley Cup. The Jets would win only one other playoff series, in 1987 (defeating Calgary in the division semi-final before losing to Edmonton in the division final).

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The famous White-out that was started in Winnipeg and subsequently copied by other NHL teams.

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The White-out revived with the new Winnipeg Jets

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The current Jets are members of the Central Division of the Western Conference of the National Hockey League (NHL). The team is owned by True North Sports & Entertainment and plays its home games at the MTS Centre.

The Jets began play as the Atlanta Thrashers in the 1999–2000 NHL season. True North Sports & Entertainment then bought the team in May 2011 and relocated the franchise from Atlanta, Georgia to Winnipeg prior to the 2011–12 season (the first NHL franchise to relocate since the Hartford Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997). The team was renamed the Jets after Winnipeg’s original WHA/NHL team, which relocated after the 1995–96 season to become what is now known as the Arizona Coyotes.

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First Jets game - Winnipeg - Winnipeg Jets vs. Montreal Canadians. Players leave the ice after a 5-1 loss. Oct. 9, 2011 (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

First Jets game – Winnipeg – Winnipeg Jets vs. Montreal Canadians. Players leave the ice after a 5-1 loss. Oct. 9, 2011 (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

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FOR DOUBLE TRUCK SPECIAL Winnipeg jets take on the Montreal Canadiens for the NHL regular season home opener Sunday, October 9, 2011 at the MTS Centre. Jet Bryan Little faces off with Canadien Tomas Plekanec to start the game. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

FOR DOUBLE TRUCK SPECIAL Winnipeg jets take on the Montreal Canadiens for the NHL regular season home opener Sunday, October 9, 2011 at the MTS Centre. Jet Bryan Little faces off with Canadien Tomas Plekanec to start the game. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

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WHA stars Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson with current Jets captain Blake Wheeler

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