It took three seasons for the WHA to merit its own set of cards from OPC.
In ’72-73, WHA players made up the high series of the regular set. In ’73-74, OPC made a 20-player poster set, but no cards (leaving the field open for Quaker Oats). Finally, in 1974-75, they were ready.
The 1974-75 WHA set was the first time since the late 1930s that OPC put out a hockey set that had no Topps equivalent. I don’t know whether Topps even had a hand in the design – if not, this would be the first hockey set OPC had designed on its own since 1938. (The 1939-40 set is really just an issue of full-sized glossy photos.) The wrapper still shows the cards as being made under license from Topps.
It’s interesting if Topps did in fact hold the WHA license, given that they never once produced a WHA set under their own banner.
The set is small – just 66 cards, one of which is a checklist. They were released in wax packs – 8 cards per pack – with one stick of wonderful OPC gum (the way things should be).
One of the reasons I tend to think that Topps wasn’t involved in the design of this set is that its execution is so incredibly boring. The cards are landscape-oriented with a banner on the left that includes the team name (standard font) and a stock image of a hockey player. It might be more interesting if the image was related to the position of the player depicted (like ’73 baseball) or even varied from card to card. It doesn’t. Every card has the same image. At least they’re colour-coded to each team.
The pictures are all posed studio shots – a mix of portraits and full-body images. There is a facsimile autograph on each photo.
The backs draw fairly heavily on the 1974-75 NHL set. It uses the same basic layout (though they do away with the puck and move the cartoon to the top), colour scheme and card stock. There is a single year of stats and career totals. (WHA sets oscillated back and forth between offering combined NHL/WHA stats and WHA-only. NHL sets never really acknowledged the WHA until it was gone. In this case, players with WHA experience get their WHA totals. Players without get their NHL numbers.)
The cartoon, instead of relating to the player on the card, gives general hockey information. This is kind of odd, given that while a lot of WHA teams were in new markets that may or may not have known hockey, this set was released in Canada, where collectors certainly weren’t learning anything new.
The thing that makes this set stand out from the ’73-74 Quaker Oats set is that the 65 player cards actually include a reasonable number of players that most people a) will have heard of and b) might actually want to collect. The WHA was beginning to inherit a number of more significant names, so on top of Hull, Cheevers and Tremblay, there are cards of Paul Henderson, Frank Mahovlich and Jacques Plante.
There are also some rookie cards worth mentioning in the set, which is another departure from Quaker Oats. They aren’t particularly high value, which is a shame because Anders Hedberg, Ulf Nilsson and Real Cloutier were really talented players and names worth remembering. Nilsson and Cloutier both put up good numbers in short NHL careers. Hedberg lasted the longest.
Vaclav Nedomansky, the first player from Eastern Europe to defect to North America, has his RC in this set. Playing in Toronto alongside Frank Mahovlich, he’d score 41 goals as a 30-year-old rookie and 56 in his second year. He’d later play in the NHL until he was almost 40, scoring 35 and 38 goals for Detroit in the late 1970s.
Come for the cards but stay for the
Maybe it’s just the lighting, but the uniforms don’t seem as garish as in 1973-74 and a number of players seem to have located a comb. With no funky action shots to speak of, the one standout element is the cartoon on the back of each card. Cartoons had been a staple on the backs of cards for a lot of years, so that’s not surprising. These, however, might be the worst lot I’ve ever seen. Look at the fascinating information to be gleaned – remember that these are marketed to kids who watch hockey and quite likely play it, as well:
Card #1 in the set is the best card of the whole bunch. Gordie Howe and his two sons skated together as professionals for the first time in 1973-74, and this card captures it. It’s also the best-looking card in the set, bar none. If there’s one particular reason I rated this set above the Quaker Oats release, it’s because of the Howes.
In terms of general esthetics, this isn’t much of a set. There are designs I like less, but not by much. What makes it worthwhile is that for a set this small, it contains a pretty good number of interesting cards and the family card of the Howes is one of the standout WHA cards ever made. If you only ever get one WHA card, it should be this. (The ’72-73 Hull would be right on its heels, though.)