The brief history of the Philadelphia Blazers in the WHA
Like many teams in the World Hockey Association, the Philadelphia Blazers were a year-long flop. The Blazers played in the inaugural season of the WHA, 1972-73. The franchise was born as the Miami Screaming Eagles, but the team moved to Philadelphia before a single game was played in Florida.
The Blazers did not share the Spectrum with the NHL Flyers. The WHA team played in the Philadelphia Civic Center, a 9,000-seat stadium built in 1931. The Civic Center closed in 1996 and was demolished in 2005.
Although 1972-73 started off as a disaster for the Blazers, the team picked it up and finished with a 38-40-0 record. Philadelphia finished third in the Eastern Division behind the New England Whalers and the Cleveland Crusaders. The Crusaders swept the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite the expensive signings of National Hockey League stars Gerry Cheevers and Derek Sanderson, it was Andre Lacroix and Danny Lawson who were the bright lights of the team. Lacroix leads the league in total points with 124, earning him the Bill Hunter Trophy. Andre would win the award again in 1974-75 with the San Diego Mariners. Lawson finished third in points and led the league with 61 goals.
Cheevers played the majority of the Blazers’ games at the net. Gerry played 63 games, while Marcel Paille, an American Hockey League Hall of Famer in the twilight of his professional hockey career, played 15. Cheevers played one game in the playoffs before walking away from the team. He joined the Boston Bruins the following season.
Derek Sanderson signed a massive contract and was going to be the centerpiece of the team, if not the league. He played a total of eight games and contributed six points. In those eight games, Sanderson excelled at stupidity with 69 penalty minutes. Derek was back in Boston before most Bruins fans knew he was gone.
Another Boston Bruins veteran jumped ship to the Blazers and acted as player/coach. Johnny ‘Pie’ McKenzie played in 60 games and scored a very respectable 78 points.
Fans of the Ontario Hockey League might be interested to know that current Kingston Frontenacs General Manager Larry Mavety played a total of four games with the Blazers. Mavety began the season with the Los Angeles Sharks, playing two games. He wound up with the Chicago Cougars and played 67 games to finish the season. Larry played for six different teams during his WHA career.
The Blazers moved to Vancouver for the 1973-74 season, where they kept the nickname. Two years of direct competition with the NHL’s Canucks proved too much, and the team moved to Calgary for the 1975-76 season. As the Calgary Cowboys, the franchise lasted until the end of the 1976-77 season before folding.