The Complete World Hockey Association

Bill Hunter
Born: 5 May 1920, Saskatoon SK (d. 2002)


Regular Season & Playoff Coaching Record (key)

Regular Season Playoffs
year team
1972-73 Alberta
4-W (tie)
1974-75 Edmonton
1975-76 Edmonton

• Succeeded Ray Kinasewich on February 7, 1973.
• Succeeded Brian Shaw on March 7, 1975.
• Succeeded Clare Drake on January 23, 1976


Bill Hunter Speaks ... and Speaks • by Terry Jones • The Hockey Spectator • December 15, 1972

By now, all of North America had heard of the WHA.

It is, of course, "William Hunter & Associates."

The World Hockey Association? Yes, some people in the United States do call it that.

William Hunter, W. D, "Bill" Hunter. "Wild Bill" Hunter, The Fiery Red Leader. One and the same.

He's Vice President and General Manager of the Alberta Oilers and one of the founders of the new league.

And, as anyone who has ever heard about him quickly admits upon meeting the man, he is everything you ever heard he was and more.

What exactly that is, however, is a little difficult to explain.

He is a man who can usually be counted on to overstate the case yet the man has an uncanny ability to predict his successes years in advance. And they usually are successes.

As a hockey promoter, he became a success with the Edmonton Oil Kings junior hockey club after a string of less than successful attempts as a young man at promoting senior hockey on the Canadian prairies. He made his money as a salesman and that, for all purposes, still is his occupation.

A Bill Hunter press conference is something of a cross between a pep rally and a sales meeting. Consequently there is usually little news value in a Hunter press conference and one day the local media left one such event trying to figure out exactly why the press conference had been called. What it came down to, it was eventually agreed, was that Hunter had called a press conference that day to announce there would be a press conference three days later.

However, the entertainment and propaganda content is high and, thus, attendance is usually excellent.

Hunter is given to rambling for as long as an hour at any given press conference without a question from the floor.

"Believe me," WHA President Gary Davidson once said, "It's an honor to be able to speak to you today. From what I've heard, I wasn't sure that Bill Hunter would give me the chance."

This is a man who once was in on the promotion of the Bill Hunter Testimonial Dinner in Edmonton. It drew 657 paying customers the night before the Western Canada Hockey League All-Star game and was considered an outstanding success.

Hunter as a junior hockey coach could be counted on at least three times in one season to declare a win as "The Greatest Win In Oil Kings History".

In one-on-one conversation, Hunter is usually a soft-spoken low-key "how's the wife and kids" kind of man, One-on-two is an address, Three or more is either a press conference or a soapbox speech.

Some of the press conferences include the highlight of any press conference, anywhere, a Hunter versus Sportscaster argument that is half-comedy, half-crisis.

It would be easy to dismiss the man as an out and out egotist. Although surely driven by an ego of colossal proportion, there is far more to the man than that. He's a born promoter and who ever knew a promoter who undersold the product?

The real Bill Hunter is all of the above. He is also a sentimental, proud man. A traditionalist at heart. And a man whose first love has always been hockey.

The real Bill Hunter is best found by talking to his former junior players.

It's hard to find one who will knock the man, Hunter's Oil Kings always travelled first class, were paid better than any team in the league and claim to have discovered a warm compassionate man as their boss.

Hunter was the first junior hockey executive to provide any of his players who so wished a paid-in-full scholarship to study at the University of Alberta during their years as a member of his team.

It's interesting to note that more than half of the players on the Oilers were once Oil Kings.

Hunter is a man whose life consists of "proudest moments" or "greatest moments in history". Usually they're something less.

But that October night in Ottawa, when his Oilers skated on the ice for their first WHA game, probably was both.

Yes, there would have been a WHA without Hunter. But without him the WHA would never have made the noisy start that put it far ahead of the American Football League and American Basketball League in the beginning.

Without Hunter it is doubtful if there would have been Canadian teams in the league.

Hunter got wind of the infant WHA 15 months ago and flew to California to see Davidson and Dennis Murphy. He then recruited Ben Hatskin (you know, Bobby Hull, money, etc.) and Scotty Munro, They were his partners in the major Western Canada Hockey League junior franchises.

It developed into what the league is today.

"It's really significant to me that we play our first game in Edmonton," said Murphy of a preseason game between his Los Angeles Sharks and Hunter's Oilers.

"When we first began to form the league we realized that our biggest problem was simply that we didn't have a good hockey man involved. We had nobody really capable of understanding the game, Without Bill Hunter this league wouldn't have moved as quickly as it did. We just wouldn't be where we are today. It's been one of those years you look back on and say it couldn't happen. Finally we're getting on the ice and playing a game. I bet we could have got 100-to-1 odds a year ago that this wouldn't take place."

Hunter was the perfect man to get involved.

At one point he'd submitted an application for a National Hockey League franchise which meant he was at least interested in major league hockey.

But more than anything Hunter has an outstanding track record against Clarence Campbell and the National Hockey League.

He once led his junior hockey partners into a war with the NHL and the NHL-controlled Canadian Amateur Hockey Association.

It resulted with the league going outlaw and not only surviving but thriving. And winning the war.

"Campbell predicted we'd go out of business in a year without their draft money," said Hunter, "I'm happy to see that he's made the same prediction about the WHA."

Hunter, more than anything, is a winner.

This is the 10th year of the Hunter regime with the junior Oil Kings. Seven times they've won the league and twice have won Memorial Cups, emblematic of Canadian junior hockey supremacy.

Two years ago, without a Memorial Cup final because of politics, Hunter won the league with the Oil Kings, then went out on short notice and set up his own Memorial Cup final in Quebec City against the Eastern champion Quebec Nordiques. Oil Kings lost but Hunter won, Twice he has replaced coaches (one of them former NHL star Bill Gadsby) late in the season to take over the coaching and lead the team out of a prolonged slump and to league championships. The man's a motivator.

But it was all quite incidental to attempting to make a success out of his operation and the league.

It's only begun.

While a 16,000 seat arena has been approved for Edmonton and the Oilers, Hunter's club is playing its first season in an ancient 5,200 seat rink, and in the early season home games generally he couldn't fill it.

Against the Bobby Hull-coached Winnipeg Jets, the Oilers drew 3,285 to open the regular schedule. With Derek Sanderson and the Philadelphia Blazers the crowd swelled to 4,929 and against the Chicago Cougars only 2,830 paid.

It seems certain the team will now have to wait at least until mid-season next year before the new arena is ready. More likely until the third season of the league.

Hunter says the club is prepared to do that. In the meantime he's selling. And nobody is betting against him.




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