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The World Hockey Association ceased to operate on June 22, 1979, but you wouldn't know it by the volume of work and enthusiasm that comes out of Timothy Gassen, the league's ultimate fan in many ways.
Gassen grew up Indianapolis in the 1970s, and the WHA's Indianapolis Racers were the first major league hockey team that he followed. “It was a magical time for hockey, and the colourful world of the WHA entranced me then. And it still does today,” said Gassen, who later lived in Columbus, Ohio, and attended Ohio State University. Gassen now calls Tuscon, Arizona, home, and is still into hockey there, as the media director for the NCAA's Arizona Wildcats (where he also went to school), and doing colour commentary on PAC-12 hockey games, as well as radio games for the AHL Tucson Roadrunners.
His latest contributions to the history of the WHA are the 800-page 1972-1979 WHA Media Guides, which reproduces all of the media guides from the league's history ($29.95) and WHA Gameday ($19.95), which collects game program stories from the archives of the WHA Hall of Fame, offering up 300 pages of tales about the league, teams, and players.
Those two new ones are added to his WHA-heavy bookshelf, with The World Hockey Association Hall of Fame: A Photographic History of the Rebel League 1972-1979 (St. Johann Press), Positive Waves: A History of Indianapolis Racers hockey 1974-1979, and Winnipeg Jets: The WHA Years Day By Day (by Curtis Walker). And, Gassen has done WHA documentaries, and runs the WHA Hall of Fame website to boot -- http://www.whahof.com
As you can see, keeping the WHA alive is a passion for Gassen. He shared how he started down the road.
“I became a journalist, and then a filmmaker—and as an adult I realized that even by the 2000s the hard work of archiving and documenting the WHA had not been done,” he said. “So I combined all of my media background, business experience, and hockey connections to see if I could gather people together to save the history of the WHA. After ten years of work we've accomplished many of our goals.”
The growth of the World Wide Web and social media has helped Gassen find others who not only loved the WHA too, but also played in it.
“The internet has made possible the success of the WHA Hall of Fame. Because of our main website (WHAHof.com) and Facebook pages, and e-mail and social media we have been able to connect with former WHA players, coaches, owners, and fans around the globe,” he said. “It has led us to important discoveries of archive materials, business alliances to help us continue, and made it possible to set up our reunions and events throughout the U.S. and Canada.”
A sore point is definitely the lack of respect for the quality of hockey in the WHA. A few years back, the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto allowed Gassen to screen one of his documentaries and hosted a number of ex-WHA players.
“We all walked through the museum, and noticed that Gordie Howe and Bobby Hull's WHA stats were missing from their displays. Then Wayne Gretzky's WHA year was omitted from his induction plaque,” he recalled. “Then we saw that the WHA was in a display titled 'Defunct Minor Leagues.' That last item was the topper—you should've seen the look of dismay on the former WHA players' faces.
“In many ways that experience galvanized the WHA Hall of Fame to diligently share, promote, and save the history of the major league WHA. We have even pitched some potential projects to partner with the Toronto HOF, but so far they have declined. They do much good work, so perhaps in the future we can work together.”
Armed with either of Gassen's recent releases, a fan will learn to appreciate the WHA.
Instead of hunting down individual media guides or game programs, he has collected them, scanned them, and in some cases, cleaned them up for better reproduction. Given that Gassen runs a communications company, producing a variety of other media, self-publishing the WHA books has been right up his alley.
“Media guides are such an expressive snapshot for any hockey league, and especially the WHA as it burst onto the scene, expanded, contracted and eventually merged with its competitor,” Gassen said.
Like media guides, game programs rarely exist any longer at games.
“I simply love full-sized paper hockey game programs, and I lament their extinction,” said Gassen. “I do hockey team media work, too, so I know how much work the WHA team and league media people did to create stories promoting and explaining the league. I wanted a forum to showcase hundreds of the most interesting WHA program stories, even if we don't know who wrote most of them. They are almost all about the people who made the WHA, and that is fascinating.”
Gassen doesn't want to do it all himself, though, and detailed upcoming projects:
“I'd love to find more authors who would like to write books on individual WHA teams for us. Contact me!” he said. “We will also launch soon a streaming online video service for all of the media in our WHA HOF archives. We still have a five-hour Blu-ray video available (and DVDs), and that content will be available for download, plus new video productions we haven't released yet. Hopefully we'll have that up and running by the October 2018 hockey season. And soon we'll turn to adding to our official display at the US Hockey Hall of Fame Museum in Minnesota.”
- Ken Dryden won an AGM Media Award from the Ontario Brain Injury Association, based in large part on his important book from the fall of 2017, Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey. In a tweet, he was praised “for outstanding presentation of info relevant to the effects of#BrainInjury. On TV and radio, he continues to advocate & bring awareness about the increasing number of hockey concussions.”
- David Dupuis is working on a 20th anniversary edition of his book, SAWCHUK: The Troubles & Triumphs of the World's Greatest Goalie, to coincide with the movie about the legendary Terry Sawchuk, Goalie, produced by Blue Ice Pictures, which is apparently in the editing stage. He is also working on a five-novel series.
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