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1972-1978 Houston Aeros

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Gordie Howe Houston AerosWorld Hockey Association (1972-1978)

Born: March 1972 – The WHA’s planned Dayton, OH club shifts to Houston
Folded: July 9, 1978

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The Houston Aeros were a powerhouse club in the World Hockey Association, a 1970’s-era rival to the NHL.  The franchise was originally announced for Dayton, Ohio when the WHA was formed in late 1971, but arena and community issues forced the shift of the club to Houston before the league got under way in 1972.

The Aeros are best remembered for luring pro hockey’s all-time leading scorer, Gordie Howe ,out of retirement in 1973 and signing him to play alongside his sons Mark and Marty Howe.  There was no rust on the 45-year old star.  He scored 31 goals and added 69 assists to finish 3rd in the WHA in scoring and win league MVP honors in 1974.  The Aeros won the first of two straight AVCO Cup championships that spring.

Gordie Howe Houston AerosThe Aeros would win the Western Division title all four seasons that the Howe family play in Houston from 1974 through 1977.  The Aeros had great depth beyond the Howes as well.  Goaltending was a consistent strength of the club, first with Don McLeod (1972-1974) and later with the platoon of Ron Grahame and Wayne Rutledge.  Frank Hughes and Larry Lund were the Aeros’ all-time leading scorers with 149 goals a piece and both played all six seasons for the club.  Andre Hinse, Gord LaBossiere and Ted Taylor were also prolific scoring threats.  Future NHL stars Terry Ruskowski and John Tonelli both got their starts with the Aeros and the WHA in the ’70’s.

After winning their second straight WHA title in the spring of 1975, the Aeros moved out of the old Sam Houston Coliseum and into the brand new 15,000-seat Houston Summit later that fall.  Aeros attendance reached an all-time peak at 9,180 per game during the 1975-76 season.  The Aeros (53-27) made a third straight trip to the AVCO Cup finals in 1976, but were swept by their arch-rivals, the Winnipeg Jets, in four games.

Financial cracks began to show in February 1977, as the Aeros missed their payroll for the first time and players were asked to accept an indefinite deferment that drifted through the summer of 1977.  The Howe family departed en masse via free agency with Gordie and sons all signing with the WHA’s New England Whalers in free agency. Owners George Bolin and Walter Fondren – the team’s third investor group in five years – withdrew their backing and Summit arena chairman Kenneth Schnitzer had to step in to re-capitalize the team in late 1977.

Meanwhile, merger talks with the National Hockey League got underway in 1977.  At first blush, the Aeros seemed like a strong bet for acceptance into the senior circuit (which would require a rumored fee of around $3 million).  The team was an annual contender and played in a brand new 15,000-seat arena in a large media market.  But NHL owners voted down the proposal.  When merger talks resumed in 1978, a shorter list of four WHA remained under consideration for entry to the NHL and the Aeros were left off the list .  From the time he took control of the team in November 1977, Kenneth Schnitzer made clear that he wanted into the NHL.  Schnitzer sought to purchase the NHL’s struggling Colorado Rockies in June 1978 and relocate the franchise to Houston, but NHL owners let it be known that they opposed the move.  Frustrated with the various roadblocks to NHL membership, Schnitzer folded the Aeros on July 9, 1978.

 

Houston Aeros Memorabilia

 

Aeros Video

Broadcast highlights of the Aeros vs. the Cincinnati Stingers at The Summit on January 21, 1978

 

In Memoriam

Defenseman Dunc McCallum (Aeros ’72-73) died on March 31, 1983 at age 43.

Kenneth Schnitzer, the final owner of the Aeros, died of lung cancer on November 1, 1999 at 70. New York Times obit.

Former Aeros goaltender Don McLeod passed away on March 11, 2015 at the age of 68. Calgary Sun memoriam.

 

Links

World Hockey Association Media Guides

World Hockey Association Programs

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