The Cleveland Crusaders were the final of the 12 original teams to be given franchise life in the new WHA. Originally planned for Calgary Alberta, the franchise stalled when the health of its owner took a bad turn and with only months to go before the start of play a Cleveland sports mogul by the name of Nick Mileti stepped in to save the day.
Mileti already owned the Cleveland Indians and Cavaliers, in addition to the AHL’s Barons. Perhaps most importantly he owned the Cleveland Arena, and the franchise had a place to call home. With only months to prepare a roster, Mileti lured Boston Bruins star goalie Gerry Cheevers by offering him a lucrative 5-year deal. He had trouble finding other name players and the initial roster was comprised of a bunch of lesser known names. That first season saw the bunch of no namers and their backbone Cheevers finish in 2nd place while also winning a playoff round. They would never achieve any real playoff success, though they were frequent visitors to post season play.
The Crusaders were well run both on and off the ice and their owner Mileti had built them a brand new arena to begin play for the 1974-75 season. The arena was located in the Cleveland suburb of Richfield Ohio. This new arena proved to be part of the team’s eventual downfall. Being away from the city hurt attendance and they didn’t draw from nearby Akron the way they expected to. Playing in front of 12,000 empty seats a night proved demoralizing to the team.
Owner Mileti would sell the franchise amidst financial woes to Jay Moore in 1975 and the end was ultimately near. In January of 1976, the face of the franchise, Gerry Cheevers, opted out of his contract and returned to the Boston Bruins. When play concluded in 1975-76, the Crusaders found themselves homeless, as the NHL had granted the California franchise’s move to Cleveland to be called the Barons. Former owner Mileti again stepped in to save the day, this time bringing Cleveland to Minnesota to play in the St Paul Arena that was vacated a year earlier by the Minnesota Fighting Saints. The Crusaders assumed the Minnesota Fighting Saints as their team name, hired Glen Sonmor to be their coach and also brought back star player Dave Keon. It was all for naught as the 2nd version of the Fighting Saints faced similar small crowds and poor season ticket sales, as had their predecessors. After only 42 games, with lawsuits flying about between the ownership and the city of St. Paul, the team on January 17th 1977 officially folded.
This home white dureen gamer by Rawlings was worn by Ron Ward during the 1975-76 WHA season. Ward’s NHL career spanned a couple of seasons in the late 1960’s thru the early 1970’s where he represented the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Cancucks. He became an original member of the WHA when he suited up for the New York Raiders in 1972-73 and made the hockey world take notice. That season, Ward scored 51 goals and added 67 assists for a resounding 118 points to place him among the new league’s scoring leaders. He would spend another 4 seasons, 5 all told in the World Hockey Association. During that time he played for the Raiders, Blazers, Sharks, Crusaders, Jets, Fighting Saints and the Cowboys.
Sewn into the collar of this vintage offering is the Rawlings size 46 tag. The game wear on this striking dureen is solid and consists of numerous stick and slash marks, board burns, board paint transfer, pulls and pilling. Worn during this 50-goal man’s final year with the Crusaders, this stunning all-original dureen will please the most ardent WHA fan.