Blades Depart Garden for Greener Pastures in Jersey by Stan Fischler The Sporting News December 8, 1973|
The World Hockey Association's skating tragedy, the New York Golden Blades, are now the Jersey Knights, at least until new owners are found.
In hock to Madison Square Garden for approximately $8,000, the bedeviled WHA sextet conducted an orderly retreat to the Cherry Hill (New Jersey) Arena where the Blades will be temporarily operated as wards of the league.
"Hopefully, we'll be back in New York next season," said WHA trustee Howard Baldwin. "And with a strong owner."
WHA governors ordered a complete housecleaning of the bankrupt team which now is under the direction of Marvin Milkes, the club's original manager in 1972-73, and former baseball official with the Seattle Pilots.
At a team meeting at noon November 20, Milkes announced that veteran defenseman Harry Howell had been named the Knights' playing-coach, replacing Camille Henry, who became assistant general manager.
"We had to make a major shakeup," declared Milkes, "if we expect to achieve our goals, which include an eventual return to Madison Square Garden and a rise in the standings."
Although the WHA had been paying the Blades' salaries since October 18, the league allowed the bankrupt ownership several weeks to sell the club. But WHA governors became increasingly disenchanted with the Blades' management and their futile attempts at selling.
Milkes, a veteran sports administrator, was imported from Los Angeles to reclaim the wreckage of the Blades' front office.
"Our only hope," said a WHA official, "was to completely disassociate ourselves from the bankrupt ownership. And the only way to legally do that was to get out of the Garden, at least for the moment."
The Blades split their last Madison Square Garden games, losing, 3-2, to Houston on Saturday, November 17 and beating Chicago, 5-3, on November 18.
The WHA advanced the Garden approximately $16,000 to cover those games but decided that it wouldn't bail out the old owners any more.
Their next "home" game, which had been scheduled for Sunday, November 25 at Madison Square Garden against Quebec, was transferred to the 5,500-seat Cherry Hill rink, near Philadelphia, which once housed an Eastern League team.
Because of a web of legal entanglements, the WHA believed that the only way it could gain re-entry to the Garden was first by moving out, laundering the operation, and presenting a clean package to prospective new buyers, of which there supposedly are at least three in the wings.
"This move to Jersey gives us a breather," said Milkes, who was appointed a consultant by the WHA to operate the club. "We feel we can come up with real solid ownership this time and return to the Garden with a fine team."
If plans for a South Jersey convention center materialize, it is possible that the Knights will remain in Cherry Hill next season.
The Blades' move marks the third time a WHA team has left its original city, the others being Ottawa (to Toronto) and Philadelphia (to Vancouver).
A combination of poor playing dates, inept ownership and a lacklustre record torpedoed the New York sextet, which suffered a 13 percent decline in attendance this season. They have been at or near last in the East ever since the start of the 1973-74 season.
However, many league governors believe that a WHA team could successfully make it in New York with solid ownership.
"At least now," said one WHA governor, "we'll have some sanity. With this breather, we should be able to get a good group together."
Victims of the shakeup include the entire Blades' office staff as Well as managing director Jerry DeLise and player personnel director Bill McDermott.
Remaining are the players, trainers, Henry and Howell.
This latest episode marks the third set of owners the Blades have had in their short history. The first, a Long Island lawyer named Neil Shayne, sold the franchise in 1971 for $50,000 after an unsuccessful attempt to install it in the Nassau Coliseum.
Guided by two New Jersey lawyers, Sy Siegel and Richard Wood, under the second regime, the team was christened the New York Raiders in 1972. They hired Milkes as general manager and Herb Elk as his assistant. But halfway through 1972-73, the league took control of the club when it lost more money than anticipated, although attendance climbed in the last half of the campaign, averaging almost 8,000 fans a game, best in the league.
Amazingly, the latest set of owners, who changed the name of the team to the Golden Blades, didn't make it to their first payday. The league intervened in October and paid astronomical bills.
Each of the 12 payroll installments cost $40,000. Rent for the Garden was an estimated $10,000 a game. An additional $8,000 was required each game for administrative expenses, all of which the league paid. A crowd of 8,000 was their break-even point, but the announced 6,473 who came to see the Gordie Howe family on November 17 was the Blades' high mark for the year.
One of the more bizarre aspects of the Blades' operation was Manager DeLise's intervention to put up $20,000 of his own money to help pay travel expenses early in the season.
Much of the blame for the club's failure was believed to be the fault of the 1973-74 owners who were naive about the high costs of operating a hockey club.
The outfit was headed by former record promoter Lee Matison and one-time radio executive Ralf Brent.
The other original owners were Larry Stern, club secretary, commissioner for New Jersey; Michael L. Allen of Tenafly, N. J., a lawyer; James Sheeran, a lawyer and former mayor of West Orange, N. J.; William Lax of Millburn, N. J., an accountant; Henry Geyelin, executive vice-president of the Council of Americas; Glenn Bassett, investment executive; Steve Seymour, general manager of a Baltimore radio station; Seymour Kleinman, a New York lawyer; Joseph Noto, a New Jersey business executive, and Norman Glenn, a magazine publisher.
Where the Blades-Knights go from here is a moot point. One school of thought says they'll find new owners and eventually return to Madison Square Garden.
Another has them relocating in Milwaukee or Baltimore next year, if not Cherry Hill.
Under captain Norm Ferguson and new Coach Harry Howell, the team has been surprisingly united and competitive. But at times they fall victim to their depressing condition.
"My husband felt like a waif," said ... one of the players' wives. "There just wasn't anyone around. It seemed like no one wanted us."'
Perhaps life can be beautiful in Cherry Hill!
Home Credits & Legal Stuff
Reviews, Podcasts and Media
Reviews, Podcasts and Media
Article: Color of Hockey: Alton White (The Hockey News), by William Douglas — March 8, 2020
Review: US Sports History, by Rick Macales — Feb 6, 2021
Podcast: Good Seats Still Available, by Tim Hanlon — Feb 28, 2021
Podcast: Digital to Dice (Youtube), by Dave Gardner — July 3, 2022
WHA Fact Book, 2nd ed
Complete WHA, 11th ed
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