Los Angeles Sharks, Michigan Stags, Baltimore Blades, World Hockey Association (WHA)
The Complete World Hockey Association
www.surgent.net/wha

Los Angeles Sharks 1972-73 to 1973-74
Michigan Stags
1974-75 (partial)
Baltimore Blades
1975 (partial)

Owners


Arthur Rhoades

Dennis Murphy

Charles Nolton

Peter Shagena

Rinks


Los Angeles Sports Arena

1972 to 1974

Cobo Hall

1974 to 1975

Baltimore Civic Center

1975

Seasons & Leaders

1972-73
Los Angeles

Record
37-35-6, 80 pts

Coach
Terry Slater

Goals
43, Gary Veneruzzo
20, Alton White

Assists
50, J.P. Leblanc
32, Joe Szura

Points
73, Gary Veneruzzo
69, J.P. Leblanc

Penalty Min.
191, Tom Gilmore
155, Jim Niekamp

Wins
19, George Gardner

Goals Against
2.91, Russ Gillow

Shutouts
2, Russ Gillow

1973-74
Los Angeles

Record
25-53-0, 50 pts

Coach
Terry Slater
Ted McCaskill

Goals
40, Marc Tardif
39, Gary Veneruzzo

Assists
46, J.P. Leblanc
30, Brian McDonald
30, Marc Tardif

Points
70, Marc Tardif
68, Gary Veneruzzo

Penalty Min.
182, Steve Sutherland
100, Ron Garwasiuk

Wins
11, Ian Wilkie

Goals Against
3.91, Ian Wilkie

Shutouts
1, Russ Gillow
1, Jim McLeod
1, Ian Wilkie

1974-75
Michigan-Baltimore

Record
21-53-4, 46 pts

Coach
John Wilson

Goals
33, Gary Veneruzzo
16, J.P. Leblanc

Assists
33, J.P. Leblanc
27, Gary Veneruzzo

Points
60, Gary Veneruzzo
49, J.P. Leblanc

Penalty Min.
100, J.P. Leblanc
93, Larry Johnston

Wins
9, Gerry Desjardins
9, Paul Hoganson

Goals Against
4.09, Paul Hoganson

Shutouts
2, Paul Hoganson

Complete Roster & Regular Season Scoring Totals

Player (G: Goaltender)
Games
Goals
Assists
Points
Penalty Min.
Veneruzzo, Gary
233
115
86
201
159
Leblanc, J.P.
233
55
129
184
207
Tardif, Marc
98
52
35
87
56
Serviss, Tom
208
29
58
87
87
White, Alton
132
37
42
79
43
Crashley, Bart
148
22
53
75
26
Odrowski, Gerry
155
10
63
73
147
McDonald, Brian
74
25
35
60
69
Thomas, Reg
127
22
34
56
64
Sutherland, Steve
137
32
23
55
317
Niekamp, Jim
154
9
41
50
250
Szura, Joe
72
13
32
45
25
Heiskala, Earl
94
14
23
37
195
Byers, Mike
56
19
17
36
20
Bredin, Gary
67
15
21
36
29
Gilmore, Tom
70
17
18
35
191
Speck, Fred
76
9
26
35
44
Ward, Ron
40
14
19
33
16
West, Steve
50
15
18
33
4
Young, Bill
66
15
15
30
50
Walters, Ron
71
14
14
28
28
Gruen, Danny
34
10
16
26
73
Richardson, Steve
47
8
18
26
58
MacSweyn, Ralph
91
0
26
26
75
McCaskill, Ted
91
13
13
26
213
Slater, Peter
91
13
13
26
89
Watson, Jim
123
5
21
26
151
Evo, Bill
49
13
9
22
32
Zrymiak, Jerry
77
5
17
22
61
Legge, Barry
36
3
18
21
20
Miszuk, John
66
2
19
21
56
Garwasiuk, Ron
51
6
13
19
100
Curtis, Paul
76
4
15
19
32
Hyndman, Mike
27
8
8
16
11
Legge, Randy
78
1
14
15
69
Whitlock, Bobby
14
4
10
14
4
Gordon, Don
29
8
6
14
24
Caron, Alain
47
8
5
13
4
Hodgson, Ted
23
3
9
12
22
MacNeil, Bernie
42
4
7
11
48
Andrascik, Steve
57
4
7
11
42
Jones, Bob
25
2
8
10
16
Guite, Pierre
13
5
4
9
11
Trottier, Guy
17
5
4
9
2
Fontaine, Len
21
1
8
9
6
Johnston, Larry
49
0
9
9
93
Horton, Bill
60
0
9
9
46
Johnstone, Ed
23
4
4
8
43
Brown, Arnie
50
3
4
7
27
Locas, Jacques
12
1
4
5
4
Rouleau, Michel
7
0
3
3
25
Heggedal, Howie
8
2
1
3
0
Willis, Hal
18
1
2
3
24
Larose, Paul
5
1
1
2
2
Sittler, Gary
5
1
1
2
14
Bowman, Kirk
10
0
2
2
0
Reichmuth, Craig
16
0
2
2
23
Mavety, Larry
2
1
0
1
2
Krupicka, Jarda
6
1
0
1
2
Desjardins, Gerry (G)
41
0
1
1
13
Chartre, Claude
1
0
0
0
0
Derksen, Brian
1
0
0
0
2
Perreault, Bob (G)
1
0
0
0
0
Goldthorpe, Bill
7
0
0
0
26
Jakubo, Mike
7
0
0
0
0
Reed, Bill
11
0
0
0
12
Wilkie, Ian (G)
23
0
0
0
2
McLeod, Jim (G)
33
0
0
0
0
Gardner, George (G)
51
0
0
0
0
Gillow, Russ (G)
56
0
0
0
8
Hoganson, Paul (G)
59
0
0
0
12

Complete Playoff Scoring Totals

Player (G: Goaltender)
Games
Goals
Assists
Points
Penalty Min.
Leblanc, J.P.
6
0
5
5
2
Speck, Fred
6
3
2
5
2
McCaskill, Ted
6
2
3
5
12
Gilmore, Tom
5
1
3
4
2
Veneruzzo, Gary
6
3
0
3
4
Odrowski, Gerry
6
1
2
3
6
Niekamp, Jim
6
2
1
3
10
MacSweyn, Ralph
6
1
2
3
4
Hyndman, Mike
6
0
3
3
17
Heiskala, Earl
5
1
1
2
4
Crashley, Bart
6
0
2
2
2
Sutherland, Steve
6
0
2
2
8
Zrymiak, Jerry
2
1
0
1
0
Watson, Jim
4
0
1
1
2
White, Alton
6
1
0
1
0
Heggedal, Howie
1
0
0
0
0
Szura, Joe
2
0
0
0
0
MacNeil, Bernie
3
0
0
0
4
Gardner, George (G)
3
0
0
0
0
Gillow, Russ (G)
5
0
0
0
0
Serviss, Tom
6
0
0
0
0
Slater, Peter
6
0
0
0
2

Complete Regular Season Goaltending

Goaltender
Games
Minutes
Goals
Shutouts
Record
Average
Gillow, Russ
56
2933
165
3
21-26-2
3.38
Gardner, George
51
2833
162
1
19-24-4
3.43
Hoganson, Paul
59
3084
223
2
15-35-2
4.34
Wilkie, Ian
23
1257
82
1
11-9-0
3.91
Desjardins, Gerry
41
2282
162
0
9-28-1
4.26
McLeod, Jim
33
1663
122
1
7-19-1
4.40
Perreault, Bob
1
60
2
0
1-0-0
2.00

Complete Playoff Goaltending

Goaltender
Games
Minutes
Goals
Shutouts
Record
Average
Gardner, George
3
116
11
0
1-2
5.69
Gillow, Russ
5
247
12
0
1-2
2.91

History

In the early 1970s, Los Angeles was a vibrant sports city. The Dodgers had won three baseball World Series since moving west in 1958. The football Rams were perennial division champs with a cast of Pro-Bowlers and a frustrating habit of being bumped early in the playoffs. The basketball Lakers were the dominant team in the west, and behind Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, had just won an NBA title in 1972. The UCLA Bruins basketball team would go years between losses, while the USC Trojans were a college football powerhouse.

Then there were the Kings. Born in 1967 as part of the NHL's six-team expansion, the Kings were facing long odds to gain a foothold in a city saturated with winners, and where hockey was a niche sport at best. There was no illusion that the Kings came into being as an homage to Los Angeles' long history supporting hockey. The NHL's expansion in 1967 was done primarily to expand continent-wide (a team in Oakland was also established), to put a crimp in the Western Hockey League, and to give the NHL leverage it would need for possible future television contracts with the major networks.

Prior to the Kings, the Los Angeles Blades, established in 1961, had played competitive hockey calling the Los Angeles Sports Arena home. Coached by Alf Pike and featuring Willie O'Ree, the Blades made it as far as the Western League's Championship round in 1964. There was a following, but it was a small following. The Blades had been owned by Dan Reeves, who owned the NFL Rams, but the Kings went instead to a city-outsider, Jack Kent Cooke, who would build The Forum in nearby Inglewood to house the Kings and Lakers.

The Kings were competitive in their first year, finishing second in the new "Western Division", composed entirely of the six new teams. But then came four lean years, including a league-worst record of 14-52-10 in 1969-70, and a 20-49-9 mark in 1971-72. Kings games rarely sold out, typical attendance being in the 7,000 range. The Kings were simply invisible to the Los Angeles sports fans, and had done little to impress them.

The World Hockey Association founders, Gary Davison and Dennis Murphy, both lived in the Los Angeles metro area. Los Angeles was assured of receiving a team for this alone, and for the realization that any future television contracts would require a team in the United States' third-biggest city and the center of the movie and television empire. Murphy would co-own the Los Angeles team, while Davidson held onto the rights of a San Francisco team. He sold those rights to a group from Quebec, leaving the Los Angeles team alone in the west, their nearest rivals being in Edmonton and Houston.

The new team was originally to be called the Aces (Aces beat Kings in cards), but then adopted the Sharks name after the loss of the San Francisco team. Dr. Arthur Rhoades, a connection of Murphy's from his ABA days, was the team's primary bankroller. The team would play at the Sports Arena, with a few games also played at the nearby Long Beach Arena.

Had some thought been put into the team and how to market it, the Sharks could have given the Kings a scare, seeing that the Kings were hardly established themselves by 1972. There were still some Blades fans who were put off by Cooke and his Kings who might have gravitated to the Sharks. The Sharks, ironically, could be Los Angeles' true team, playing downtown, while the Kings toiled in suburban Inglewood.

The Sharks were the first team to sign a coach, Terry Slater, who had coached in Des Moines of the Central League. The Sharks were stocked with players who mostly had played in the minors in the previous season, largely through Slater's own personal knowledge. If there was one WHA team that should have sought a star player to attract attention, it was the Sharks, but they made no effort to sign any one of note. Many on the 1972-73 team had some NHL experience, and a few had been regulars, but there was no marquee name.

Slater liked big, tough, fighting teams, and he made sure the Sharks had plenty of those types of players. Players like Earl Heiskala, Jim Niekamp, Tom Gilmore, Ted McCaskill and Steve Sutherland were apt to drop the gloves whenever necessary. Tasked with putting the puck into the other team's nets were small forwards such as Gary Veneruzzo and J.-P. Leblanc. Both had played very briefly in the NHL, but Veneruzzo lead the team with 43 goals, whole Leblanc led in assists with 50. Alton White, only the second black to play at the major league level and the first since Willie O'Ree, was the only other Shark to net 20 goals.

Surprisingly, the Sharks were a competitive team. They won 37 and lost 35, good for third in the Western Division. They had the league's best road record, but lost more than they won at home. Attendance was respectable, usually in the 6,000 range, with one game drawing in over 12,000, a March contest against Ottawa that was televised live in Canada. It was a matinee game and to account for the time difference, puck drop was at 11 a.m., the only morning start to a WHA game in the league's history. But these numbers were illusory, as many were based on cut-rate tickets and give-aways. In the playoffs, the Sharks were bumped in the first round by Houston.

For the 1973-74 season, the Sharks signed a star-caliber player, Marc Tardif from the Montreal Canadiens. Tardif, while a very talented player, was still a relative unknown who had yet to put up the big numbers he would later be known for, and certainly, very few hockey fans in Los Angeles, even the knowledgeable ones, would have heard of him. The rest of the team was primarily the same as from the previous season. Tardif would earn his keep by scoring 40 goals to lead the team. But he was the lone highlight.

Nothing went right for the 1973-74 Sharks. The biggest problem were the Kings, who had suddenly become an interesting team in 1972-73, being coached now by Bob Pulford and featuring star goaltender Rogie Vachon and a core of promising players such as Butch Goring, Juha Widing and Dan Maloney. The Kings of 1973-74 were an improving team while the Sharks were suddenly on the outside, losing most of their games, losing their fans, and having no money.

It was clear even partway into this second season that the Sharks were unlikely to stay in Los Angeles for very long. Dr. Rhoades had packed up and left, leaving the team with little cash. In his place, Dr. Leonard Bloom of San Diego purchased control of the team, but his motives were mixed. Bloom also owned the San Diego Conquistadors of the ABA and purchased the Sharks as leverage to have a new sports arena built in suburban Chula Vista, the assumption being that the Sharks would relocate to the San Diego area. However, for the time being, the official party line was that the Sharks were staying put in Los Angeles.

On the ice, the Sharks were not competitive. Although Tardif hit for 40 goals and Veneruzzo had 39, the Sharks as a team managed just 239 goals for the season, worst in the league. The defense did not hold up, allowing 339 enemy goals, causing the Sharks to stumble to a last-place finish at 25-53-0, losing 24 of their final 29 games.

The Sharks were in severe turmoil. Bloom had lost his bid to have community support to build his arena, and he simply wanted out. Murphy had left the team to assume the presidency of the WHA on an interim basis. Coach Slater had assumed the general manager's role, relinquishing the coaching role to Ted McCaskill. In February 1974, Charles Nolton and Pete Shagena, both from the Detroit area, purchased the team, keeping alive the illusion that the team was staying in Los Angeles. But the new owners cut costs, returned Slater to the coaching role, stopped radio broadcasts, and squashed any lingering support the team may have had in Los Angeles. To no one's surprise, Nolton and Shagena announced the transfer of the Sharks to Detroit within a week after the end of the season, and the team was renamed the Michigan Stags.

The Stags were intending to compete against the established Red Wings, playing its home games at the Cobo Arena. Coaching the team was John Wilson, a former Red Wing who had won four Stanley Cups with Detroit during the 1950s. There was one new player of note, goaltender Gerry Desjardins, a promising netminder who had the misfortune to play for two of the worst teams in NHL history (Los Angeles, 1969-70, and the New York Islanders, 1972-73) in his brief major-league career. Gary Veneruzzo, Marc Tardif and J.-P. Leblanc would score the goals, and a trio of veteran NHL defenders, Larry Johnston, Arnie Brown and Paul Curtis, would try to keep the other teams from doing the same.

The Red Wings had been around for decades, had won numerous Stanley Cups, and had many great players in its storied history, but in recent years had fallen on lean times. Nolton and Shagena hoped that Stags could draw fans away from the Red Wings, but it became clear that no matter how bad the Red Wings may be in any given season, its fans were loyal and not interested in the WHA squad down the road.

The Stags were over-extended on player contracts and had little money to promote the team. Its inaugural game (in Indianapolis) was televised — and they won — but that would be the only game shown on television. Only 2,500 people attended the home-opener a few nights later, which also happened to be the same night as the Ali-Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" championship boxing match. The Stags won, but then lost their next home game, with less than 1,500 in attendance. This was the theme for the next three months, crowds too small to support the team financially. Surprisingly, the schedule-maker chose not to book the Houston Aeros, and Gordie Howe, into Detroit until February, by which time the team had left town altogether.

By January 1975, the Stags were finished in Detroit. For two weeks the team did not function, except for one game in which the team wore generic sweaters with no name or crest. Folding the team and distributing the players was financially unwise, as few teams were willing to take on these players and their over-sized contracts. Since the WHA was on the hook for the contracts anyway, it was cheaper to play out the schedule (rather than fold) by forming a replacement team in Baltimore, called the Blades. Not surprisingly, the new Blades played as well as they had in Detroit, winning rarely, the team finishing 21-53-4. Even when the Stags-Blades won, it wasn't easy: every one of the team's 21 wins was by one or two goals. The league tried to peddle the franchise, but no substantive offers came forth. The league then formally disbanded the Blades on June 19, 1975. A dispersal draft and auction was held allowing for the remaining WHA teams to claim the former Stags and Blades players.

What's In A Name? by David Klement • Detroit Free Press • July 23, 1974

For once, someone's been practical about naming and bringing out a new product. In this case, the "product" was the Michigan Stags, the new Detroit entry in the World Hockey Association, transferred here from Los Angeles this spring.

The Stags' owners have endeared themselves to every sports copy editor in Detroit by picking a name that fits almost any headline format --- even the stingiest one-column.

Of course, making life easier for copy editors wasn't the only criterion for picking the name. But that was an indirect result of the reasoning that went into selecting the name, said Larry Evoe, Stags account manager for Anthony M. France Associates, Detroit public relations firm.

Franco was given only a few days' notice to come up with a new team name and logo before the franchise move was to be announced, so there wasn't much time for the normal agonizing over the significance of squiggles that usually accompany a logo design.

Following a fruitless brainstorming session, all 23 members of Franco's staff were invited to submit suggestions for the team name. From 100 proposals, 15 names were submitted to the team's owners, with a strong recommendation for one: Michigan Stags.

Evoe, who admits to being prejudiced about the name since it was his idea, says it's a natural: "It's short, has punch, and is easy to remember; the stag deer is featured in the Michigan flag, and the name lends itself to a strong promotional graphics program."

And then there was the matter of the headline writers, said ex-newsman Evoe. "Besides being short, you can't fool around with it too much in headlines, like 'Loves Broil Lobster' in a recent story on the tennis teams."

After the name was picked, the next step was graphics. Franco called in an art specialist, George Sepetys & Associates of Southfield, which came back with a complete graphics program within 24 hours, a process that usually takes weeks and even months of deliberation.

"It was simply a matter of timing," said Evoe. "We had to come up with something fast, and I think everyone's happy with the results."

The logo features a stylized deer super-imposed over a circle, which can represent whatever you want it to, in the team colors of red, white and black.

Incidentally, among the proposed names that were tried and discarded were Mallards, Muskies, Glaciers, Marksmen, Trappers and my favorite, MichiGanders.

 

_______________________________________

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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

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Complete WHA, 11th ed

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(c) Scott Surgent