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1978-79 Rick Vaive WHA Birmingham Bulls - Rookie
Lot #18

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1978-79 Rick Vaive WHA Birmingham Bulls - Rookie
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1978-79 Rick Vaive WHA Birmingham Bulls - Rookie
Lot #18

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 among others 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 home white mesh gamer by Russell Athletic was worn by Rick Vaive during the 1978-79 WHA season, his rookie year. Vaive was the 5th overall selection in the 1979 NHL entry draft. The Vancouver Canucks were Vaive’s first NHL team, after having played for a lone season with the WHA’s Birmingham Bulls. His stay in Vancouver was short, lasting a mere 47 games before being dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a blockbuster exchange for Tiger Williams. Vaive would play for parts of 8 seasons with the Leafs before moving on to the Chicago Blackhawks and later the Buffalo Sabres. Vaive was an instant hit in Toronto. When team Captain Darryl Sittler stepped down from that role following the 1980-81 season, Rick stepped up and assumed the role of leadership after only 3 NHL seasons! He was named the Maple Leafs team Captain prior to the start of the 1981-82 season holding the title thru the 1985-86 season. In Vaive’s first season as Captain, he joined the 50-goal club with a 54-goal outburst. The next two years also saw Vaive net better than 50 goals and a new Leafs hero had been born. Rick is one of the Maple Leafs all time leading goal scorers sitting along with the likes of Sittler and Keon. Vaive also played with an edge to his game racking up 229 PIMS in his first full season with the Leafs. In 876 career games Rick scored 441 goals and amassed 1445 PIMS.  He was an NHL All Star game participant in 1982, 1983 and 1984.

Worn during what was a tremendous rookie season as WHA fans witnessed a budding 19-year-old star who scored 59 points and racked up 248 PIMS in 75 games played. The game wear on this rookie sweater is reflective of the season that Vaive put forth. There are stick marks, numerous board burns, board paint transfer, un-repaired burn holes, a tear to the left wrist seam and inner pilling. The all-original sewn-on nameplate is certainly a treat. Vaive was part of the ‘Baby Bulls’ that were an exciting group of talented youngsters who were primed to take the WHA by storm had the league not folded. A tremendous offering of one of the 1980’s brightest stars.