Sunday, September 10, 2006

THE WHA Returns... Sort of

Durring the 2003/04 season, as a NHL strike loomed, the World Hockey Association (WHA) decided it would be a great time to make their big comeback.
The plan was to start the 03/04 season with a minor developmental league, the WHA2, and then in 2004/05 when the NHL was in their lockout year, they would start up the rival WHA. The thought was that with hockey starved NHL fans looking for a hockey fix, the WHA was a sure thing!
It was projected that the league would begin operation in the 2004-2005 season with teams in Dallas, Detroit, Halifax, Hamilton, Miami, Toronto, Vancouver and Quebec City. Most hockey writers and many fans felt that the leagues best hope was to operate while the NHL plays were locked out and try to develop enough of a following to survive once the NHL labour problems were resolved. Their big chance was squandered as they didn't ice any teams for the 2004/05 lockout season. The following year the WHA Super Junior League was created in the Florida area with just a few teams. This version of the league was a fry cry from the original grand plans of the WHA.
When all plans failed to materialize, the rights to the organization's name and logo were sold to a British Columbia investor.
Current plans have the WHA working on two leagues. One league plans on being the main WHA and beginning play in 2007-2008 with the eight teams: Bay City Bulls, Columbus Stingers, Dearborn Sharks, Jamestown Jets, Lansing Racers, Long Island Cougars, Philadelphia Blazers, Pittsburgh Fighting Saints.
The other circuit is a developmental league called the WHA Junior West Hockey League. Their inaugural season begins in September 2006 with the following teams: Armstrong Crusaders, Bellingham Bulls, Lumby Fighting Saints, New Westminster Whalers, Osoyoos Spurs, Pierce County (Tacoma/Spanaway) Sharks, Squamish Cougars.
Sound confusing? Well, I am a huge minor league hockey fan, and I have had trouble following this all. I had seen on the WHA web site that they planned a new junior league in my area, but the web site was, and is, very poorly updated, and info is next to impossible to find.

Then, yesterday, as I was in New West shopping, I saw a poster for the WHA New Westminster Whalers in the window of an old run down convenience store. I went in with hopes of getting the shop owner to give me the poster to take home for my collection. The woman behind the counter said he had not even noticed the poster and would have to call the shop owner to ask about it. She then told me that they could not give it away, as the guy who dropped off the poster would be back to drop off some tickets for them to sell for the upcomming games. I then decided to stop by the Queens Park Arena to see if I could talk to someone in the Whalers office, or pick up some pocket schedules etc. When I got to the arena, all I found was the same poster, hung on the bulletin board along with ads for garage sales etc. To their credit, I did notice that they had painted the teams logo at centre ice.
As a huge minor league hockey fan, I am looking forward to the home opener of the New Westminster Whalers. Especially since they will be playing at the historic old Queens Park Arena, which has been hockeyless for a few seasons now.
As much as I am looking forward to the home opener and perhaps attending a few of their other Sunday afternoon games throughout the season, I don't think this league has a snowballs chance in hell.
The WHA has a pretty impressive history (Wayne Gretzky & the Edmonton Oilers came from the WHA after all!), but their only window of opportunity was 2004/05 when there would have been no competing national level hockey league on the ice. At this point, they might as well leave the name WHA to the history books, because it's never going to rival the likes of the NHL or any other league for that matter.
I'll be sure to give you a full report of the Whalers home opener on September 24, 2006.

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