The Complete World Hockey Association

New York's Hockey Box Score • by Larry Bortstein • The Hockey Spectator • June 1973

The box score for New York hockey after the first year for three major league teams in this town reads a few runs and a few hits mostly by the Rangers, and lots of errors by the Islanders and Raiders.

Ranger zealots again had to settle for something less than the Stanley Cup, a bauble the Rangers haven't picked up since 1940. Partisans of the Islanders and Raiders were happy to see their favorites survive the season. All three area teams showed signs of life, however, in the biggest game of all, the box office.

"I think it's safe to say the Rangers will be an attraction for many years to come," said Bill Torrey, General Manager of the Islanders, his tongue probing deeply inside his cheek. "The other question can the other two clubs survive? I don't know about them (the Raiders: NHL execs never refer to WHA teams by name), but I know we're here to stay."

Islander fans hope Torrey doesn't mean that the players who populated his squad this past season are here for the duration, The club set an all-time NHL record for ineptitude, notching only 12 victories.

Still, attendance for Islanders games stayed at a remarkably high level throughout the campaign, as a bad team didn't seem to discourage Long Island denizens from trekking to the Nassau Coliseum. Presumably many of these fans used to flock to Madison Square Garden to see the Rangers, but elected to follow the fortunes of the team closer to home when the Islanders were born. This proves, if nothing else, that proximity may be a higher virtue than competence.

One of these years, or maybe longer than that, you might see them really tear the Nassau Coliseum down if the Islanders — shudder — become contenders. For the time being, there are a few things to shout, like prodigious rookie in Billy Harris, who tallied 28 goals despite playing with a whole collection of different centermen. Harris was the number one choice in the entire amateur draft last year, and the Islanders will tap Denis Potvin as this year's top choice. Potvin is said to be the best defense prospect since Bobby Orr, and even if he doesn't become a darling of the Long Island fans, he'll at least have a friendly shoulder to cry on. Jean Potvin, incumbent Islander defender, is his older brother.

The Raiders suffered from a case of split personality. They attempted to establish a New Jersey orientation, with original owners from a law office in Trenton, a training and practice site in Newark, and heavy advertising and promotion in the Garden State. Journalists and radio and television men from New Jersey regularly covered Raider games at Madison Square Garden.

This was in direct contrast to the Long Island afternoon paper, Newsday, which covers all sporting events at Madison Square Garden with regular staffers, but didn't offer a line about the Raiders or the WHA, even excluding daily standings all year. Explained sports editor Stan Isaacs, one of the most highly-respected newsmen in the country: "None of our readers are interested in the Raiders."

Newsday finally got around to covering the Raiders in the last weeks of the season when the club won a court battle to get playoff dates in the available Nassau Coliseum when Madison Square Garden dates became impossible. Having earned the right to home playoff dates in the New York area, the Raiders abruptly forfeited a spot in the playoffs by losing five of their last six games and ending up in the WHA East's basement.

Despite the attempted New Jersey exposure and talk of moving the club to New Jersey in the future, the Raiders probably will occupy Madison Square Garden for at least several more years, now thal it appears suitable scheduling and more realistic rental terms can be worked out.

The Raiders finished fourth in WHA attendance this past season, a respectable showing that was mostly the result of a second-half climb in fan numbers. Joe Beinhorn, the club's promotion and sales manager, has added several dozen part-time salesmen to his staff, and these men are presently lining up season ticket sales for 1973-74.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are trying to wrestle with the more pleasant problem of satisfying the thousands of patrons who seem willing to pay any price to attend games. These are fans that the WHA entry here is seeking, but with only limited success. The diehard NHL fans are a stubborn lot. They can tell you that Chicago beat New York in the Stanley Cup semifinals, but not that those were the names of two last-place teams in the "other league".

If the Islanders are outdrawing the Raiders simply on the basis of an NHL affiliation, such diverse hockey knowledge is going to take a while yet.



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