Friday, May 20, 2011

Winnipeg Jets, 1979 Champs

From the files of the Canadian Press, May 21, 1979

Winnipeg Jets were in their glory Sunday night after knocking off Edmonton Oilers 7-3 in the sixth game of the World Hockey Association Championship to win the Avco Cup. The Jets accomplished the feat before a home crowd of 10,195 screaming, clapping, horn-blowing fans who had given the team the same emotional boost when they swept a four game semi-final series with Quebec Nordiques.

As the final whistle sounded Sunday, giving the Jets the best-of-seven final series four games to two and marking the end of the WHA, the fans poured adulation on their heroes and some of the men who founded the league and struggled with it for seven years. Ben Hatskin, who was instrumental in luring former National Hockey League star Bobby Hull to Winnipeg in 1972, got a rousing cheer when he was called to centre ice to stand next to the Cup.

"I know the Jets will keep this (the trophy) in a safe spot to remember the WHA, which did a great thing for a lot of people in hockey," said a jubilant Hatskin. The Cup will be the permanent property of the Jets who are joining the NHL this summer along with Edmonton, Quebec and New England Whalers. At the same time, the WHA will fold.

Rich Preston, who was named most valuable player of the playoffs, grabbed the microphone at centre ice and gave all the fans a message from the players. "When I came here and saw all you fans, I felt like crying," he shouted to them. "You are so great. We love you." The Jets won a WHA title for each of the three coaches they had over seven years-Bobby Kromm in 1975, Larry Hillman in 1978 and Tom McVie this year. McVie came to the team during it's late February slump. His arrival, along with that of goaltender Gary Smith and the return of captain Lars-Erik Sjoberg, resulted in one of the most exciting turnarounds in WHA history.

The big gun was Terry Ruskowski, who missed game five with a severe shoulder injury. He picked up four assists, including one on each of the Jets first two goals. Willy Lindstrom and Barry Long scored two goals each for the Jets. Lyle Moffat, Kent Nilsson and Paul MacKinnon had singles while Morris Lukowich had three assists.

Ron Chipperfield, Bill Flett and Dave Semenko scored for Edmonton. Smith played strongly as Winnipeg outshot Edmonton 33-30. Dave Dryden started in the nets for the Oilers but was replaced by Ed Mio after Winnipegs' fifth goal, late in the second period. While Ruskowski was getting much of the praise in the Jets' dressing room, the losers' dressing room was a scene of beer and tears. A downcast Peter Pocklington, the team owner, met briefly with his players before crossing the ice, beer in hand to watch the wild champagne party in Jets' quarters.

"It's too bad, I hate losing," said Pocklington. He said even the fact the Oilers are bound for a better life in the NHL next season didn't take the sting out of the loss. Oilers' sensational rookie Wayne Gretzky had a frustrating night trying to put the puck in the net. Oilers were also hurt by the absence of forward Dennis Sobchuk, who spent most of the day in hospital for suspected food poisoning.

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