It has been a long time since I’ve done one of these and I think a big reason for it is that I have this set in the wrong place. Part of each write-up involves justifying (at least to myself) why I rank this higher than the set immediately prior, and I just can’t figure it out here. When I did my initial ranking, my tie-breaker basically came to “if I could only buy one, which would it be?” This ranked a little bit ahead of 1976-77 OPC NHL in my mind, so ahead it went. I’d probably go the other way now.
That said, this isn’t a bad set. It’s the most professional-looking of all the WHA sets and it has a pretty solid crop of players in it. It’s just a little boring, that’s all.
The WHA was down two teams to an even dozen, but having shed two troubled franchises in mid-season the year before, things were supposed to be more stable. They weren’t. The Toronto Toros moved to Birmingham, Alabama to become the Bulls. They would survive there until the end of the WHA in 1979. The Cleveland Crusaders moved to Minnesota to become the second iteration of the Fighting Saints, but just like the previous version, they’d go bust before the season ended. Merger talks with the NHL were already being held.
The Jets, Aeros and Nordiques were the class of the league. The Nordiques would top the Jets 4-3 in the Avco Cup final. Real Cloutier would have the season of his career, scoring 141 points on 66 goals and 75 assists. Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson would have great seasons, scoring 131 and 124 points despite missing linemate Bobby Hull for more than half the year. Gordie Howe, age 48, would slip to just 68 points in 62 games.
The 1976-77 OPC WHA set had 132 cards, same as the year prior. It was the last “big” set prior to going back to just 66 cards for 1977-78 (and none at all for 1978-79). There were leader subsets, playoff subsets and all-star cards (“Canadian” vs. “American” rather than First/Second Team), leaving enough for about 10 cards per team.
Of all the WHA sets, I’ve always felt that this one was the best-designed and produced. A lot of the other sets feel kind of hacked together. This one has a little class. The design is nice with a yellow border that becomes a flag at one end and a stick blade at the other, leaving enough room for the team logo in the corner. The flag at the base has both the player and team name and the stick blade has the position. Everything is nice and legible and nothing is cramped. It works.
The photography is nothing notable. There are a handful of game shots, though none would really be called “action”. There is still a reliance on posed shots, though at least many are on-ice and not simply in front of a concrete-block wall somewhere in the arena.
The backs are typical WHA bland. OPC did try to break it up by using ovals to organize the text, but these backs scream out for either complete stats or a cartoon. The limited stats and lack of cartoon do leave space for a good write-up, which always helps for WHA players nobody knows.
While the NHL set was weak for rookies, the WHA set is abysmal this year. There isn’t a single rookie of note this season. (There is Pekka Rautakallio, who I quite liked, but if that’s the best there is, it’s a bad crop.) There are a number of final cards, the most notable of which is Norm Ullman wearing the red socks of the Edmonton Oilers. Glen Sather and Ted Green also have their last cards in this set.
It’s also the last time the Calgary Cowboys, Minnesota Fighting Saints, Phoenix Roadrunners and San Diego Mariners appear as teams. The Fighting Saints only last 42 games while the rest would vanish before the ’77-78 season began.
The ancient superstars – Howe, Hull, Mahovlich, Keon et al – are always present and noteworthy.
Sadly, the WHA sets never suffered from an overabundance of available images. Note that “Canadian” vs. “American” All-Stars were dependent on team location, not citizenship.
Come for the cards but stay for the
OK – I’m biased. I lived in Calgary at that time and I remember people having this odd hat-shaped logo thing stuck in their windows. But still – look at that uniform. The crest is a hat. It’s just so much more fun than the Mariners. Besides, I don’t have any Roadrunners scanned.
Rick Jodzio is best known for knocking out Nordiques star Marc Tardif during the 1976 playoffs. The resulting brawl is one of the few pieces of evidence the Cowboys ever existed.
This is the only WHA set with leaders cards, and the only set period that ever tabulates “Important Points Leaders.” I have no idea how “important points” were determined, but Marc Tardif had the most of them.
This is a good set. It’s not a great set, but it’s the best-made of all the WHA sets and it does have Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe and a bunch of teams that would never be seen again. It also tracks important point leaders. That should mean something.