Lively Tales About Dead Teams

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October 12, 1972 – New York Raiders vs. Winnipeg Jets

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New York Raiders vs. Winnipeg Jets
October 12, 1972
Madison Square Garden
Attendance: 6,273

World Hockey Association Programs


Debut game for the ill-fated New York Raiders franchise of the World Hockey Association at Madison Square Garden on October 12, 1972.

The Raiders were supposed to plant the rebel league’s flag in North America’s biggest media market, but things went wrong from day one.  The club hoped to play in the newly opened Nassau Coliseum out on Long Island.  But the NHL outmaneuvered the WHA by fast-tracking an expansion franchise for the building – the New York Islanders – to box out the Raiders.  The Raiders wound up in downtown Manhattan at the costly Madison Square Garden, where they were stuck with garbage dates passed over by the NHL’s New York Rangers and the NBA’s New York Knicks.

An announced crowd of just 6,273 turned out at the 18,000-seat Garden for this first appearance of the Raiders on a Thursday evening in October.  New York’s opening night opponent was the Winnipeg Jets.  The Jets were expected to draw a great crowd because of the presence of Bobby Hull, the erstwhile NHL superstar who put the upstart WHA on the map by jumping to the league for a million dollars in 1972.  But the NHL retaliated with a lawsuit and Hull missed the start of the WHA season, including this game, while the matter was resolved.

Hull’s former line mate with Chicago Blackhawks Christian Bordeleau also made the jump to Winnipeg and the WHA.  He took up the slack for the absent Hull, scoring four goals on this night to lead the Jets to a 6-4 victory.  Bobby Sheehan and Ron Ward had two goals each for the Raiders in the losing effort.

Beset with a bad team and a horrible lease, the Raiders owners bailed on the club in the middle of the 1972-73 season.  The Raiders finished out the year as a ward of the league.  They were equally hapless off the ice, finish 6th (and last) in the WHA’s Eastern Division.

New ownership re-organized the team the following season as the New York Golden Blades, once again based out of the Garden.  The same problems took hold, the new owner bailed again, and the team ended up moving to Cherry Hill, New Jersey to finish out the WHA’s second season.


The Raiders had a few interesting personalities…

Alton White was one of only two black players in pro hockey in North America is 1972-73.  (The other was Willie O’Ree, the first black man to play in the NHL way back in 1958.  O”Ree was still kicking around in the minor leagues at age 37).  White started the season with the Raiders, but was shipped off the the WHA’s Los Angeles Sharks after only 13 games.  He would score 20 goals for the Sharks during the 1972-73 campaign.

The Raiders original General Manager was long-time baseball executive Marvin Milkes.  Milkes had some notoriety at the time thanks to Jim Bouton’s sensational 1970 best seller Ball Four, a diary of Bouton’s season pitching for the bumbling 1969 Seattle Pilots of Major League Baseball.  Milkes, the Pilot’s General Manager, is portrayed as an officious penny pincherTo the extent that Ball Four tapped into counterculture distrust of the establishment, Milkes was cast in the role of “The Man”.

Pro hockey didn’t work out for Milkes.  He left the team in October 1972, just a few weeks after the Raiders first and only season got under way.  Milkes spent most of the next decade working for a series of failed pro soccer teams and died of a heart attack in a Los Angeles health club  in 1982.

Long-time New York Yankees radio play-by-play man John Sterling called Raiders games on WMCA AM in one of his early broadcasting gigs.



Timothy Gassen at the World Hockey Association Hall of Fame has an entertaining interview with former Raiders beat writer Bill Verigan here.


Written by AC

December 1st, 2012 at 8:32 pm


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