Ottawa Nationals, Toronto Toros, Birmingham Bulls, World Hockey Association (WHA)
The Complete World Hockey Association
www.surgent.net/wha

Ottawa Nationals 1972-73
Toronto Toros
1973-74 to 1975-76
Birmingham Bulls
1976-77 to 1978-79

Owners


Doug Michel

Nick Trbovich

John Bassett

Rinks


Ottawa Civic Centre

1972-73

Maple Leaf Gardens

1974 to 1976

Jefferson County Civic Center

1976 to 1979

Seasons & Leaders

1972-73
Ottawa

Record
35-39-4, 74 pts

Coach
Bill Harris

Goals
42, Wayne Carleton
28, Gavin Kirk

Assists
49, Wayne Carleton
40, Bob Charlebois
40, Gavin Kirk

Points
91, Wayne Carleton
68, Gavin Kirk

Penalty Min.
121, Rick Cunningham
93, Ken Stephanson

Wins
25, Gilles Gratton

Goals Against
3.71, Gilles Gratton

Shutouts
none

1973-74
Toronto

Record
41-33-4, 86 pts

Coach
Bill Harris

Goals
37, Wayne Carleton
33, Tom Simpson

Assists
55, Wayne Carleton
48, Gavin Kirk

Points
92, Wayne Carleton
68, Gavin Kirk

Penalty Min.
88, Rick Cunningham
84, Brian Gibbons

Wins
26, Gilles Gratton

Goals Against
3.27, Les Binkley

Shutouts
2, Gilles Gratton

1974-75
Toronto

Record
43-33-2, 88 pts

Coach
Bill Harris
Bob Leduc

Goals
52, Tom Simpson
41, Vaclav Nedomansky

Assists
66, Wayne Dillon
58, Gavin Kirk

Points
95, Wayne Dillon
82, Frank Mahovlich

Penalty Min.
117, Rick Cunningham
105, Brian Gibbons

Wins
30, Gilles Gratton

Goals Against
3.59, Les Binkley

Shutouts
2, Gilles Gratton

1975-76
Toronto

Record
24-52-5, 53 pts

Coach
Bob Baun
Gilles Leger

Goals
56, Vaclav Nedomansky
43, Mark Napier

Assists
55, Frank Mahovlich
51, Jim Dorey

Points
98, Vaclav Nedomansky
93, Mark Napier

Penalty Min.
185, Jerry Rollins
134, Jim Dorey

Wins
7, Dave Tataryn

Goals Against
3.59, John Garrett

Shutouts
1, John Garrett

1976-77
Birmingham

Record
31-46-4, 66 pts

Coach
Gilles Leger
Pat Kelly

Goals
60, Mark Napier
36, Vaclav Nedomansky

Assists
48, Dale Hoganson
37, Peter Marrin

Points
96, Mark Napier
69, Vaclav Nedomansky

Penalty Min.
166, Lou Nistico
133, Gilles Bilodeau

Wins
24, John Garrett

Goals Against
3.53, John Garrett

Shutouts
4, John Garrett

1977-78
Birmingham

Record
36-41-3, 75 pts

Coach
Glen Sonmor

Goals
38, Ken Linseman
37, Paul Henderson

Assists
43, Peter Marrin
38, Ken Linseman

Points
76, Ken Linseman
71, Peter Marrin

Penalty Min.
284, Steve Durbano
279, Frank Beaton

Wins
24, John Garrett

Goals Against
3.81, John Garrett

Shutouts
2, John Garrett

1978-79
Birmingham

Record
32-42-6, 70 pts

Coach
John Brophy

Goals
28, Michel Goulet
26, Louis Sleigher
26, Rick Vaive

Assists
40, Craig Hartsburg
36, Rob Ramage

Points
59, Rick Vaive
58, Michel Goulet

Penalty Min.
248, Rick Vaive
212, Dave Hanson

Wins
16, Pat Riggin

Goals Against
3.76, Ernie Wakely

Shutouts
1, Pat Riggin

Complete Roster & Regular Season Scoring Totals

Player (G: Goaltender)
Games
Goals
Assists
Points
Penalty Min.
Kirk, Gavin
355
102
207
309
249
Henderson, Paul
360
140
143
283
112
Napier, Mark
237
136
118
254
53
Nedomansky, Vaclav
252
135
118
253
43
Mahovlich, Frank
237
89
143
232
75
Simpson, Tom
299
122
82
204
145
Dillon, Wayne
212
71
128
199
78
Marrin, Peter
278
81
112
193
127
Carleton, Wayne
156
80
104
184
73
Turkiewicz, Jim
392
24
119
143
234
Martin, Tom
213
59
76
135
59
Stewart, John C.
170
54
73
130
193
Trottier, Guy
149
55
69
124
85
Hickey, Pat
152
61
63
124
102
Farda, Richard
177
34
86
120
12
Jacques, Jeff
199
50
68
118
231
Nistico, Lou
186
44
72
116
375
Leduc, Bob
158
47
66
113
109
Cunningham, Rick
323
23
90
113
458
Gibbons, Brian
224
15
88
103
251
Sentes, Dick
138
48
53
101
124
Gorman, Dave
175
42
58
100
149
Dorey, Jim
117
20
74
94
203
King, Steve
136
32
56
88
54
Linseman, Ken
71
38
38
76
126
Featherstone, Tony
108
29
45
74
31
Hoganson, Dale
124
8
60
68
77
Charlebois, Bob
78
24
40
64
28
Cassolato, Tony
141
31
32
63
121
Alley, Steve
105
25
36
61
37
Stephenson, Bob
117
30
30
60
105
Vaive, Rick
75
26
33
59
248
Gibson, Jack
122
38
21
59
108
Beaudoin, Serge
136
13
46
59
232
Goulet, Michel
78
28
30
58
65
Sheehy, Tim
63
30
23
53
49
Adduono, Rick
80
20
33
53
67
Amodeo, Mike
233
6
46
52
244
Hanson, Dave
95
13
38
51
453
Hughes, Brent
128
12
38
50
69
Hartsburg, Craig
77
9
40
49
73
Ramage, Rob
80
12
36
48
165
Cuddie, Steve
144
10
34
44
114
Sleigher, Louis
62
26
12
38
46
Gingras, Gaston
60
13
21
34
35
Climie, Ron
31
12
19
31
2
Selby, Brit
81
10
21
31
21
Noris, Joe
45
9
19
28
6
Roberto, Phil
53
8
20
28
91
Conacher, Brian
69
8
19
27
32
Lagace, Jean-Guy
78
2
25
27
110
Brewer, Carl
77
2
23
25
42
Phaneuf, Jean
78
10
15
25
6
Westrum, Pat
111
3
21
24
145
Langway, Rod
52
3
18
21
52
Stephanson, Ken
77
3
16
19
93
Gallant, Gord
34
4
13
17
62
Boland, Mike
41
1
15
16
44
Beaton, Frank
56
6
9
15
279
Heaver, Paul
71
2
12
14
83
D'Alvise, Bob
59
5
8
13
10
Bilodeau, Gilles
107
4
9
13
429
Kuzmicz, George
35
0
12
12
22
Orr, Bill
46
3
9
12
16
Syvret, Dave
58
1
11
12
14
Rollins, Jerry
60
5
7
12
202
Warr, Steve
72
3
8
11
79
Durbano, Steve
45
6
4
10
284
Mavety, Larry
17
0
9
9
24
Folco, Peter
21
1
8
9
15
Gratton, Gilles (G)
161
0
9
9
46
Atkinson, Steve
52
2
6
8
22
Ball, Terry
23
1
6
7
8
Meloff, Chris
28
1
6
7
40
Tebbutt, Greg
38
2
5
7
83
Garrett, John (G)
132
0
7
7
47
Gibbons, Gerard
31
2
4
6
30
Zrymiak, Jerry
17
0
5
5
11
Riley, Ron
22
0
5
5
2
Wood, Wayne (G)
74
0
4
4
28
Foley, Rick
11
1
2
3
6
Evans, Chris
12
1
2
3
4
Wakely, Ernie (G)
37
0
3
3
0
Riggin, Pat (G)
46
0
3
3
22
Donnelly, John
15
1
1
2
44
Titcomb, Gord
2
0
1
1
0
Arndt, Danny
4
0
1
1
0
Crowder, Keith
5
1
0
1
17
Haney, Merv
7
0
1
1
4
Terbenche, Paul
11
1
0
1
0
Neeld, Greg
17
0
1
1
18
McKay, Ray
19
0
1
1
11
Holden, Bill (G)
1
0
0
0
0
Marsh, Jim
1
0
0
0
0
O'Neil, Paul
1
0
0
0
0
Stewart, John A.
1
0
0
0
0
Dupras, Rich
2
0
0
0
0
Van Horlick, John
2
0
0
0
12
Crowley, Paul
4
0
0
0
0
Hart, Dick
4
0
0
0
0
Schneider, Buzz
4
0
0
0
2
Kokkola, Keith
5
0
0
0
21
Blum, Frank (G)
7
0
0
0
0
Tataryn, Dave (G)
23
0
0
0
0
Vien, Mario (G)
26
0
0
0
0
Shaw, Jim (G)
37
0
0
0
0
Binkley, Les (G)
81
0
0
0
0

Complete Regular Season Goaltending

Goaltender
Games
Minutes
Goals
Shutouts
Record
Average
Gratton, Gilles
161
9102
560
4
81-66-7
3.69
Garrett, John
132
7660
467
7
51-71-5
3.66
Binkley, Les
81
4228
262
1
30-36-2
3.72
Wood, Wayne
74
3775
260
1
26-32-2
4.13
Riggin, Pat
46
2511
158
1
16-22-5
3.78
Wakely, Ernie
37
2060
129
0
15-17-1
3.76
Shaw, Jim
37
1832
133
0
11-16-2
4.36
Tataryn, Dave
23
1261
100
0
7-12-1
4.76
Vien, Mario
26
1228
105
0
4-14-3
5.13
Blum, Frank
7
158
8
0
1-0-0
3.04
Holden, Bill
1
10
0
0
0-0-0
0.00

History

The WHA granted a regional franchise on November 21, 1971, to be placed somewhere in Ontario Province. Doug Michel, a businessman with a background in construction, convinced the WHA to grant him the franchise while he would take care of finding a place to play. Hamilton was everyone's preferred choice, but the city at the time did not have a major-league arena. Toronto was the next logical choice, and Michel negotiated -- without success -- with Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard, for use of the Maple Leaf Gardens. Ballard was already an outspoken foe of the WHA but still heard Michel's case to place a WHA team in Toronto, if for no other reason, to cut off a potential bid by another well-connected, wealthy Toronto family, the Bassetts, to bid for a Toronto-based WHA club. Ultimately, negotiations between Ballard and Michel waned, with Ballard's attentions sidetracked by personal and legal troubles that would land him a spell in prison.

Ottawa became the franchise's home in February 1972, once Michel was able to wrangle a deal with the city to use the Ottawa Civic Centre Arena. The Civic Centre was brand new and sat just under 10,000 people, but the populace did not exactly warm to Michel or the WHA when they learned that Ottawa was his third choice for a home site. The Civic Centre's management were highly skeptical of Michel and of the WHA, and protective of the main hockey attraction, the junior 67's. The management compelled Michel to post a $100,000 bond to secure dates, which left Michel with essentially nothing afterwards. With still nine months before the start of play, Michel faced an uphill battle to secure funding, sign players and convince a skeptical Ottawa public that his team was for real. The new team was named the Nationals, a nod to Ottawa's status as the national capital and to Michel's previous role as co-founder of the amateur Young Nationals during the 1960s.

Spending most of his time and money searching for a home left Michel short on funds and the possibility of having to withdraw from the league if outside help could not be secured. Through league channels, Buffalo industrialist Nick Trbovich joined the team in May as a co-owner. Trbovich controlled the money, and Michel oversaw the operations, assembling it from scratch and hiring the coaching staff. A. J. "Buck" Houle signed on as the General Manager, and former player and Swedish Nationals coach Billy Harris assumed the same role with Ottawa. A few players had signed, but until Trbovich's role was solidified, none of the contract guarantees could be made until August 1972, at which time the Ottawa Nationals were presented to the public. Wayne Carleton and Les Binkley were the biggest names, the rest of the roster a collection of fringe NHLers, minor-league players, and amateurs from the college and Junior ranks.

Michel realized he needed to sign a big name to launch the new team, and to that end, he pursued Toronto's Dave Keon. Negotiations carried on for weeks during the summer of 1972, at times Keon virtually a National, and at other times the parties back to square one. Ultimately, Keon used this as leverage to secure a better deal with the Maple Leafs, and the Nationals were back to where they were at the start of the summer: no star players and an Ottawa crowd thoroughly unimpressed.

The WHA debuted, playing its first game in Ottawa on October 11, 1972, the Nationals hosting the Alberta Oilers. The game was to be televised nationally across Canada, but the same luck that had dogged the Nationals appeared again. The arena was just half-filled, and a few minutes into the game, an electrical transformer blew, blacking out the broadcast. And the Nats lost the game. The Ottawa fans remained wary of this team, and the Nationals didn't help their cause by losing consistently, sometimes to home crowds in the hundreds.

By early February 1973, the Nationals were playing down to everyone's expectations, sporting a 19-31-4 record and a tight hold on last place. Attendance was growing but still very low, and in January, the team was nearly sold to Marv Fishman, who would have uprooted the team immediately to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The deal fell through and the team stayed in Ottawa, facing an even more skeptical audience. At this low point of the season, the team caught fire. The Nats won 16 of their next 22 games to vault into a playoff berth, and for the first time, had developed a small but devoted following of fans in the Canadian Capital. Wayne Carleton led scorers with 42 goals and 91 points, Gavin Kirk was the best of the no-name rookies with 28 goals and 68 points, while Gilles Gratton won 25 games in goal.

While the public may have shown some belated affection for the Nationals, the city's government, and the group that controlled the lease on the Civic Centre and the arena, did not. The city demanded another full payment of $100,000 on March 15, 1973 to secure dates for the following season, a steep sum that Michel and Trbovich weren't willing to pay. Particularly troubling to the owners was that while the Nationals could play out their 1972-73 home schedule at the Civic Centre, there was no guarantee they could play their home playoff games there unless they paid the money for the next season. Viewing this as a strong-arm tactic, Trbovich sent Michel down to Toronto to aggressively work a deal with the Maple Leaf Gardens, at the very least for its possible 1973 playoff dates. A deal was struck (helped by the fact the Maple Leafs missed the 1973 playoffs), and the team (now referred to as the Ontario Nationals in the program) played its two home playoff games in Toronto. Almost immediately, the team was sold to John F. Bassett Jr, heading a group of over 20 investors. The team was relocated to Toronto in May 1973 and renamed the Toros.

Bassett housed the Toros at the University of Toronto's Varsity Arena during 1973-74, with selected games in Ottawa. More significantly, Bassett sought underage Junior players (younger than 20 years of age), signing them to small but attractive contracts and circumventing the league's selfimposed age restrictions. Bassett was unapologetic, reasoning that if an 18-year old man can vote and fight in wars, he can play hockey professionally. In 1973, he signed Wayne Dillon, who scored 30 goals for the 1973-74 Toros. Vet Wayne Carleton led with 37 goals, and seven other Toros scored at least 20 goals. The Toros finished second in the Eastern Division, lasting two rounds in the 1974 Playoffs.

The 1974-75 Toros added Frank Mahovlich and his 500 NHL career goals, 1972 Summit Series hero Paul Henderson, Czech defector Vaclav "Big Ned" Nedomansky, and youngster Pat Hickey to the attack, and the Toros finished second again, winning 43 games. Tom Simpson, an original National from 1972, broke through with 52 goals. Unfortunately, the Toros lasted just a single round in the 1975 Playoffs, bumped by San Diego. Toronto fans had "embraced" the team on a conditional basis, certainly not ready to abandon the Maple Leafs quite yet. Attendance for the Toros, now playing at the Maple Leaf Gardens, was above 10,000 per game, but the per-game rental fee demanded by Ballard was one of the highest in the league.

The bottom fell out from beneath the team in 1975-76. Despite the addition of rookie Mark Napier and former Leaf hero Bobby Baun as coach, the Toros lost 52 games and endured a league-record 17-game winless streak, which cost Baun his job. The offense was healthy, scoring 335 goals, but a team-wide lack of interest to back-check or play actual defense meant that 398 opponent pucks found the back of the Toronto net. Whatever support Toronto fans had for the Toros had evaporated. Bassett already sensed this, and seeking to get out from under Ballard's control, had already started looking for a new home for his team.

Bassett had his eye on the southeast United States. He previously had business interests in Florida and had briefly owned the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League. He saw potential in this region where others did not. In June 1976, he moved his team to Birmingham, Alabama, rebranding the team as the Bulls. The 1976-77 Bulls were essentially the same team that had left Toronto a few months earlier. The Bulls gave up lots of goals and won about a third of their games. Vaclav Nedomansky scored 36 goals, and Mark Napier put in 60. A mid-season coaching change (Gilles Leger went back to the general manager role, replaced by Pat Kelly) gave the Bulls some life, but at season's end, the Bulls were still in last place in the Eastern Division, out of the playoffs again.

The existence of the team now rested on the outcome of the 1977 WHA-NHL merger talks. If successful, the Bulls would be paid to fold. In August 1977, the vote was close, but not enough for approval. Two teams had folded outright in 1977 (San Diego and Phoenix) and a third would fold soon (Calgary), but Bassett's Birmingham Bulls would reassemble for the league's sixth season, now an eight-team league. Returning to the Bulls was the core of the 1976-77 team, minus Mark Napier, but now featuring two promising under-age players, Ken Linseman and Rod Langway. Unfortunately, the Bulls played more of the same hockey they had since 1975, in which the forwards lingered at center ice and the defense gave up its five goals a game. A month into the 1977-78 season, the Bulls had won just 2 of 14 games.

Over a period of a few days in November 1977, the Bulls unloaded their top scorers in return for players with more colorful backgrounds. Vaclav Nedomansky and Tim Sheehy were sent to Detroit of the NHL in return for the rights to Dave "Killer" Hanson and Steve "Mental Case" Durbano. Frank "Seldom" Beaton signed as a free agent, joining carry-over Gilles "Bad News" Bilodeau. As their nicknames indicate, they were not known for playmaking. The Bulls now had a new identity: a team more than willing to hit, fight and brawl. The top four penalty-minute totals were occupied by Bulls players, and bench-clearing brawls were not uncommon. The Bulls were now the villains of the league ... but they were also winning more often too. In one of their first games together, the new-look Bulls destroyed Cincinnati by a 12-2 score, a game in which coach Sonmor started his tough guys to take the opening face-off. Predictably, a line brawl broke out at the 24-second mark, but the message was clear: these are the new Bulls, and beware. The team now had life, and led by Linseman's 76 points, Paul Henderson's 37 goals and John Garrett's 24 wins in nets, the Bulls were able to fight and intimidate their way to 36 wins and a playoff spot. They were quickly bumped by Winnipeg in the first round of the 1978 Playoffs, featuring a famous "fight" in the first game in which Dave Hanson inadvertently yanked off Bobby Hull's hairpiece during the scuffle. Hull would play the rest of the game wearing a helmet, with Hanson seeking his forgiveness.

Merger negotiations failed to produce results in 1978, and the Bulls again convened for the 1978-79 season. Linseman and Langway had now graduated to the NHL, and goaltender John Garrett had signed with New England. To augment the roster, Bassett unabashedly raided the Juniors for six top-level players, collectively known as the Baby Bulls. Led by teenagers Rick Vaive, Michel Goulet, Louis Sleigher, Rob Ramage, Gaston Gingras and Pat Riggin, and their dependable veterans including Paul Henderson and goaltender Ernie Wakely, the 1978-79 Bulls played well, but not well enough to secure a playoff berth. Coached by legendary minor-league fighter John Brophy, the Bulls played hard but with restraint, not engaging in all-out brawls as in the previous season. Still, Vaive led the league in penalty minutes with 248, and Dave Hanson was fourth with 212. However, the fate of the Bulls was sealed in March 1979, when the NHL agreed to absorb four of the WHA teams the following season. The Bulls were not part of the merger, and were folded at the season's close, one of just five teams to endure for the entire seven-year run of the WHA.

Although the Bulls never had a winning record, their legacy lived on for many years, as many of the teenagers who once skated for Birmingham went on to illustrious careers in the NHL. Ken Linseman played many seasons in Philadelphia and later with Edmonton, winning the Stanley Cup in 1984. Rob Ramage would play for many teams, retiring in 1994 and the only former WHA player to play with a 1990s-era expansion team. Rick Vaive would score 50 goals in three successive seasons for Toronto in the 1980s, and a total of 441 goals in his NHL career. Gaston Gingras, Pat Riggin and Craig Hartsburg would all have lengthy and productive careers in the NHL.

However, two Bulls in particular deserve mention: Rod Langway (a member of the 1977-78 team) and Michel Goulet (a Baby Bull of 1978-79). Both had long and productive careers in the NHL, and both were rewarded with induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, a lasting legacy of the short-lived Birmingham Bulls.

 

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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