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Indianapolis Racers

Indianapolis Racers
City Indianapolis, Indiana
League World Hockey Association
Operated 1974–1978
Home arena Market Square Arena
Colors Blue, white and red
Affiliates Greensboro Generals
Division Championships 1975–76 (East)

The Indianapolis Racers was a major league hockey team in the World Hockey Association from 1974 to 1978. They competed in four full seasons before folding 25 games into the 1978–79 season. They played at Market Square Arena. They are often best known for being the first major league team to secure the services of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier.

The Racers were known in the WHA for their sometimes-fanatical fans. The franchise led the WHA in attendance for the 1976-1977 season. The Racers won the 1975-1976 WHA Eastern Division championship and swept the rival Cincinnati Stingers in the 1977 WHA playoffs. Notable players for the Racers included Pat Stapleton, Dave Keon, Michel Dion and Kim Clackson. The Racers' best-known coach Jacques Demers later led the Montreal Canadiens to win the NHL's Stanley Cup.

The NHL had stringent rules regarding the age of players they could sign while the WHA regularly signed underage players. Racers' owner Nelson Skalbania signed 17-year-old future super-star Wayne Gretzky to a personal contract worth between 1.125 and 1.75 million dollars over 4 to 7 years, which was at the time one of the largest contracts offered a hockey player.

Skalbania, a wealthy real estate businessman, regularly "flipped" real estate property and sports franchises for a profit. Many believed that Skalbania mismanaged the promising Indianapolis hockey market. Just eight games into the 1978-1979 season Skalbania liquidated his greatest asset to his old friend and former (and future) business partner, Peter Pocklington, owner of the Edmonton Oilers. Pocklington purchased Gretzky and two other Indianapolis players, goaltender Eddie Mio and forward Peter Driscoll, paying a reported $700,000 for the contracts of the three players, although the announced price was $850,000. The Racers folded 17 games later on December 15, 1978 and major league hockey has not returned.

The other six WHA teams finished the season, and before the Winnipeg Jets won the 1979 Avco World Trophy, the league accepted the terms of a merger with the NHL whereby Edmonton, Winnipeg, Quebec and New England would enter the NHL as "expansion teams" the following season, and the WHA itself would cease operations. Cincinnati and Birmingham, the other surviving WHA teams, were paid to disband.

Mark Messier also began his career with the Racers in the 1978–79 season, playing five games but failing to register a point before finishing his tryout contract. He was picked up later by Cincinnati for the remainder of the season, before being selected by the Oilers in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. Messier retired in 2005 as the last active player to have played in the WHA, and thus the last active player to have played for the Racers.

Season-by-season record

Note: GP = Games played, W = Wins, L = Losses, T = Ties, Pts = Points, GF = Goals for, GA = Goals against, PIM = Penalties in minutes
Season GP W L T Pts GF GA PIM Finish Playoffs
1974–75 78 18 57 3 39 216 338 970 4th, Eastern Did not qualify
1975–76 80 35 39 6 76 245 247 1301 1st, Eastern Lost Quarter-final (Whalers)
1976–77 81 36 37 8 80 276 305 880 3rd, Eastern Won Quarter-final (Stingers)
Lost Semi-final (Nordiques)
1977–78 80 24 51 5 53 267 353 1189 8th, WHA Did not qualify
1978–79 25 5 18 2 12 78 130 557 DNF Folded December 15, 1978
Totals 344 118 202 24 260 1082 1373 4897

See also

External links

  • WHA Racers history page
  • WHA Hall of Fame
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