Jump to content

Houston Aeros


Recommended Posts

  The World Hockey Association is one of my favorite slivers in the history of the game, I do not know if I will get around to posting an article about each and every team from the era, but here is the Houston Aeros segment.


  The WHA was opening for operation in 1972-73, with the decision to not take the NHL head on in established cities, so instead they decided to open new markets. Thus their decision to open in.....Dayton.

  Really. The Dayton Arrows were an original WHA city, along with the Miami Screaming Eagles they never played a game in the chosen city, instead Miami moved to Philadelphia and became the Blazers and the Arrows were moved by owner Paul Deneau to Houston after Dayton was found to have no suitable arena and no fan interest. Less than three hundred season tickets were sold, so the move was a no brainer. The story goes that everything was outer space at the time, so the owner in a pique chose the spelling 'Aeros' instead of the more conventional spelling while standing in  an airport waiting to catch the flight to Houston with long time NHLer Bill Dineen who would coach and select talent throughout the history of the league.

   Unlike other teams who loaded up with pricey veterans such as Derek Sanderson, John Mckenzie, Bobby Hull, Gerry Cheevers, ect... Houston the first year went with career minor leaguers for the most part. Dineen who had scouted for a decade knew the talent trapped at the lower levels, and back then minor leaguers made about 12,000 a year so luring them to the WHA for 30,000 was simple. They were competitive the first year much more so than many of the teams with triple the payroll. But no star power in a warm weather city was hurting.

  That changed during year two when Dineen lured his former teammate Gordie Howe out of retirement and signed his sons Marty and Mark out of Junior, earlier than the agreement which the juniors had established with the NHL causing one of the many lawsuits that encompassed the game during the era. Mark played forward on a line with his father, both boys making more in their first season than their father had made during his prime with the penny pinching Wings, and Gordie discovered the fountain of youth, scoring 100 points in 70 games, winning the league MVP and winning the Avco cup, the league championship defeating the Chicago Cougars who were led by Pat Stapleton and Dave Dryden.

  Dineen continued to mix minor leaguers and the three Howes effectively the following season winning another cup led by Howe with 99 points and the talented but underappreciated Larry Lund, Frank Hughes and Andre Hinse, the team was loaded, steamrolling over the Quebec Nordiques.

  They Lost in the finals the following season, first to the Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulfie Nilsson led Winnipeg Jets, arguably the best team of any season in the WHA, then winning their division the following year before bowing out the in the second round. At the end of that season the league was in big trouble financially, hanging on by a thread (though they would make it for two more years) and a negotiation was in place to admit the Whalers, Nordiques, Cincinnati Stingers, the Aeros, Jets and Oilers under favorable terms to the WHA teams. But the overwhelming pressure put on by Harold Ballard and the Bruins ownership nixed the deal.

  Gordie moved on to New England following Dineen. The Howe's had been resented by a lot of the run of the mill players as time went by, sighting favoritism and the fact that they were making so much more than anyone else on the club. They stumbled through the 1977-78 season, the WHA second from last, and when it became obvious that the club was not going to the NHL they simply ceased to be, the most successful team in the history of the WHA just stopped playing, coming up one season short of the finish line.



Right Wing GORDIE HOWE. Not enough can be said about this man. He is a legend and unlike so many legends where stuff gets made up and embellished near everything written about him is true. A God of the game, him and Hull kept the league alive for as long a s it lasted. In his four years in Houston they won two cups and reached another final. He played the final two seasons of the WHA with the Whalers then rejoined the NHL after the merger, actually appearing in the all star game his final season and scoring his final NHL goal in the playoffs. He was 52.


Forward   MARK HOWE    Hall of fame defensemen Mark began his career playing off wing for the Aeros along side his Dad. He averaged well over a point a game with the Aeros, and the the New England Whalers. At one point shortly after Bobby Orr saw his career sliding down the operating room with knee surgery after knee surgery, it was rumored that Mark was Boston bound, to play alongside Brad Park who would help convert him to defense and lead the way. Mark was tempted by the money but loyal to his dad and stayed with him instead. If Howe had went to Boston, Cherry and the Big and bads would have won at least a cup or more.



  The secret tot he success of the franchise was this collection of nobodies, a bunch of guys who could flat out play and were all in truth NHL caliber players trapped in the minors until the WHA came calling. Between them they didn't have 100 games in the NHL but all could play and score. Weaknesses? Sure, too small, couldn't play a 200 foot game, you name it, but all brought something to the table. the genius of Dineen is he recognized it and allowed them to show what they could do, and kept them together in a league known for its chaos.

  other forwards JOHN TONELLI, MORRIS LUKOWICH, RICH PRESTON Long time NHLers who began their career in Houston after being raided from Juniors.

  Tonelli tells the story of being on a line with his idol Gordie howe, and after a shift, sitting on the bench Howe leaned over. Tonelli thought Gordie was going to whisper words of wisdom, instead Gordie blew his nose and wiped it on Tonelli's sleave, while John sat there mute.


DEFENSE MARTY HOWE The lesser of the Howes but a solid player who went on to play for a dozen seasons as a pro as a mostly stay at home d-man.

Defense PAUL POPIEL  His kind of nothing NHL career was winding down at 29, bounced around between the Wings, Canucks and Kings before Dineen stole him away. Only five foot ten he played big, a booming shot from the point and a nasty streak. He led the blue line averaging double digit goals and 100 plus PIMs during his time with the Aeros.

 other defensemen LARRY HALE, JOHN SCHELLA Steady stay at home Hale and fiery Schella rounded out the regulars who couldn't buy a break but played forever for the Aeros. Solid players.


goaltending WAYNE RUTLEDGE Another one. A few seasons with the Kings bouncing between the NHL and the minors, signed with the WHA and along with Ron Grahame formed a solid one two combo for the Aeros. GRAHAME actually put up slightly better stats but not as many games played as he joined the club in year two.

  So a collection of nobodies and the Howe family led by Dineen who knew talent and kept it together for the run made up a successful run, just not quite enough to get them to the NHL. Doug Harvey arguably the greatest blueliner in the history of the game during his last sober years scouted for the Aeros.

  A Gordie story. Marty was in the corner with Roger Cote, a rugged d-man who patrolled the line for the Oilers. The two of them wound up on the ice with Cote on top of Marty, getting in all the punches. When Cote cursed at Gordie who told him to get off of Marty Gordie broke loose and skated over to Cote and lifted him off his son, and six inches off the ice, WITH TWO FINGERS IN HIS NOSTRILS. Yes, he lifted him up in the air by his nostrils and held him there. End of fight. "I found that people usually go where their nose goes." Gordie said after.

Edited by yave1964
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...