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1972-73 Rick Cunningham Ottawa Nationals Game Worn Jersey
Lot #46

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1972-73 Rick Cunningham Ottawa Nationals Game Worn Jersey
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1972-73 Rick Cunningham Ottawa Nationals Game Worn Jersey
Lot #46

The Ottawa Nationals were an original WHA franchise. Doug Michel would be the team’s first owner, but it would take bringing on a well funded co-owner to keep the franchise alive before they had even played a game. In May of 1972 Mick Trbovich became the co-owner that the team needed. Now amply funded, but short on time, Michel set out to build a franchise with only months to go before play would commense. After failing to strike a deal with Howard Ballard to use Maple Leaf Gardens, Michel would settle on the Ottawa Civic Center, a small 10,000 seat arena that played home to the junior 67’s. Because the National’s had such a limited amount of time to procure a roster, they didn’t wind up with a bunch of name players as some of their competition did.

Billy Harris was the team’s coach and behind the leadership of Wayne Carleton and Brian Conacher the team made the Eastern Division playoffs. The major problem that arose for the franchise was that the city of Ottawa demanded a $100,000 payment prior to the playoffs beginning to secure the Civic Center thru the next season. Playing their home playoff games in Ottawa would be contingent on this payment which the owners ultimately decided against. Instead, they chose to negotiate a deal to play their playoff games in Toronto. Maple Leaf Gardens did play host to the 2 home playoff games that the Nationals played that season. Drawing crowds of 5,000 were quite good by Ottawa standards and it wasn’t long before Michel and Trbovich sold the franchise to John Bassett Jr. who headed a group of 20+ investors and renamed the new Toronto franchise the Toros.

Despite playing their playoff games at the Gardens, the Toros were forced to play their 1973-74 home games in front of fans at a small university rink named the Varsity Arena. They were able to get playing dates at the Gardens for 1974-75 and 1975-76. Under new ownership, and playing in hockey mecca Toronto, the team was able to secure players such as Frank Mahovlich and Czech defector Vaclav Nedomansky. Toronto became an offensive force during the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons, finishing 2nd both seasons but lacking any real playoff success. Hockey fans in Toronto embraced the team for those two seasons as attendance averaged 10,000 per game. 1975-76 saw the club finish with a horrible 24-52-4 record and attendance dipped. Owner Bassett decided it wise to relocate the franchise and on June 30th of 1976, the Toros were no more.

The new city was Birmingham in the state of Alabama and the new team name was now the Birmingham Bulls. Bassett began targeting teenagers as a way to bolster his team and thus the nickname the Baby Bulls was born. Youngsters such as Mark Napier, Michel Goulet, Rod Langway, Rob Ramage, Pat Riggin and Rick Vaive were all signed up under the aggressive Bassett. The Bulls, while exciting offensively each season, would never find playoff success. They were able to field a team for the league’s final 3 years making them one of only five original franchises to survive the entire 7 years of the WHA.    

This road red dureen tie down gamer by Maska was worn by Rick Cunningham during the 1972-73 WHA season. Cunningham was a rookie when he began play for Ottawa in 1972-73. Playing defense, he contributed offensively with an impressive 9 goals and 41 points while also leading the team in PIMS with 121, all while wearing this sweater. Cunningham would remain with the franchise all the way to Birmingham, eventually retiring following the 1976-77 season.

This striking red white and blue tie down is one of the WHA’s true rarities. The game use on this sweater is fantastic as one would expect from the team’s penalty minutes leader. There are stick marks, board burns, fine inner pilling and a combination of straight line, traditional and patchwork team-sewn repairs numbering in excess of a dozen in all. Fight abuse is evident as the front collar, just beneath the eyelets, has been torn and resewn. The Ottawa Nationals existed as a team for only the WHA’s first season thus making their gamers nearly impossible to find. This jersey has been impeccably preserved over the past 35 years. The original nameplate remains sewn high between the shoulders which helps make this one of the WHA’s truly choice examples.