Book Review: The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association

The Rebel League The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association

Author: Ed Willes
ISBN 0-7710-8947-3.
277 Pages
Published by: McClelland & Stewart

The WHA only existed for 7 years, but what an entertaining and tumultuous time it was. Owners came and went as did their money! It seemed like franchises were constantly on the move. Take for instance, the Miami Screaming Eagles (never played) / Philadelphia Blazers (1972–73) / Vancouver Blazers (1973–75) / Calgary Cowboys (1975–77). Do you remember the Michigan Stags?

The history of the WHA, included the greats of the past like Gordie Howe, future stars of the NHL including Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and the league was widely known for the off-the-wall characters like "Wild" Bill Hunter and Steve Durbano.

The Rebel League, tells the story of the founding of the WHA from the same group that put together the old ABA (American Basketball Association). Ironically, neither league survived but each had a massive impact upon their respective games. The signing of Bobby Hull with the Winnipeg Jets legitimized the league. That coupled with an influx of Europeans, namely the Swedes in Winnipeg who would later form one of the greatest lines in hockey history, would open the 'minds' (as much as that is possible) of the NHL hierarchy. In many ways this would change the style of game well into the 1980s and beyond. The story of how Derek Sanderson's folly almost did the exact opposite!

Other tales include,

  • How the Howes' killed the NHL's monopoly on controlling the fate of 18 year old hockey players
  • The cultural significance of hockey in Quebec with the founding of the Nordiques
  • How a scrawny kid from Brantford was given just enough of a chance, to change the game of hockey forever
  • The most fascinating chapter deals with the Minnesota Fighting Saints and how they were truly the basis for the movie Slapshot.

    The Rebel League is an excellent anecdotal account of the history of the WHA. When looking back on the past it is sometimes hard not to do so without 'rose coloured' glasses. The book lacks a comprehensive statistical account of the WHA. However, that can be easily found online at the great WHAhockey.com. The book does indulge in a bit of nostalgia, nevertheless it does provide an insight into what was truly a rebel league.

    Rating: 4 pucks / 5