The Complete World Hockey Association

Jets Are One of a Kind • no author byline • Winnipeg Free Press • January 31, 1975

Winnipeg has never pretended to be anything like any other city anywhere else.

Neither does its hockey team, a veritable phenomena in the contemporary world of professionalism.

The Jets have more reasons not to get along than the Oakland A's, baseball's brats. They have so many owners, even a dog is their boss.

They are men of three nationalities, speaking four tongues, none of which are forked.

Two very unusual things happened to the Jets in 1974.

They became the world's first non-profit publicly-owned major professional hockey team, and at the same time, became hockey's most cosmopolitan club when they signed five Swedes and two Finns in a wholesale swing toward Europe.

"Only in Winnipeg could this have happened," said Jim Burns, one of 22 men who gathered at Government House on a cold night in March to hear Lieutenant-Governor W. J. McKeag ask them what they would do to save the Jets from leaving the city.

That single meeting generated the first spark in a cause that steadily grew, surviving a mini-disaster when the province pulled the proverbial pin.

Like so many World Hockey Association teams, the Jets were being wooed by investors in other cities. Back-to-back losses ($452,653 and $418,260) disenchanted the team's founders, Ben Hatskin and the Simkin family.

Figures exceeding $4 million were popping up in Detroit, Milwaukee, Miami and San Diego for the "Bobby Hull franchise".

The team might have been sold at one point to Milwaukee interests, but money by then had become expensive to borrow and the deal died.

The McKeag group, headed by gas company president Bob Graham, first of all failed in a bid to form a business-city-province triumvirate to buy the Jets.

A $500,000 deposit deadline was postponed graciously by the Hatskin-Simkin group, which posted a $2.3 million price tag for the franchise. Hastily, the "group of good guys" organized a three-week campaign to raise $600,000 through the purchase of non-returnable $25 memberships, and by recruiting $1000 Founders loans, which cannot collect interest, just enthusiasm.

When it was over, 4,158 memberships had been sold raising $133,912.50. Founders loans were received from 249 sources, raising another $625,974.67. The city of Winnipeg, sticking by our promise, provided another $300,000. More than $1,000,000 had been raised. Enough.

Meanwhile, an exciting team is being built that aroused presses the world over. Russians noticed the Jets signing two of Sweden's best young players, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, then their clever leader Lars-Erik Sjoberg, 30, a world All-Star, and goaltender Curt Larsson. Then, via Detroit, Thommie Bergman.

Finland's rapidly improving hockey systems lured the Jets to Veli-Pekka Ketola, a center as big as Phil Esposito and an expert stickhandler. The Boston Bruins, meanwhile, were wanting a closer look at the Finnish defenseman with the very unusual name: Heikki Riihiranta.

But he had been in Boston only a couple of hours when the Jets told him to stay in a phone booth until they returned their call. He did, the Jets called, and soon Heikki was in Winnipeg waiting for Ketola to arrive, happy with his contract.

Hull came home from Russia more convinced than ever the Europeans, especially Russians, were the greatest fundamentalists in the game.

Playing the side Nilsson and Hedberg, Bobby is seeing passes he hasn't seen for years. They whirl their way down the ice like a cyclone.

Though troubled by injuries, the Jets were winning their share of games. But more importantly, they were providing some of the best hockey entertainment imaginable and Winnipeg fans feeling a little richer that the club is truly theirs, turning out in record numbers, filling the arena to 82 percent capacity.



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