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Unlike previous expansion years, the new teams entering the National Hockey League this season do so with a rich seven year history. So although this is Winnipeg's inaugural season in the NHL, it enters the campaign with an already established identity and as the team that was considered to be the most successful on-ice franchise in the World Hockey Association.
As an original franchise member of the WHA, Winnipeg gave itself instant credibility with the signing of many established stars. During its first year of operation, the Jets finished on top of their division and played their way into the Avco Cup finals where they bowed to the New England (now Hartford) Whalers 4 games to 1.
If there is a low point in the team's seven year history, year two would probably be it. The Jets played mediocre hockey throughout the 1973-74 season and finished fourth in their division. In the playoffs they optimistically entered the quarter-finals, but were quickly brushed aside in four straight games.
Heeding the lesson they learned from that season, Jets' management spent the summer months seeking the talent they would need to become a contender. So, the Jets scouting staff went to Europe and the results of their search had a tremendous and lasting impact on the North American hockey world. The Winnipeg bird dogs signed no less than six Scandinavian players. Among them were such greats as Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg and Lars-Erik Sjoberg.
The hockey operation, however, was not the only segment of the club that underwent a major facelift that summer. Off the ice, there was a revamping of the financial structure of the team. In need of funds to operate, shares in the team were sold to the public. It was the first time in history that such an undertaking had been attempted for a professional hockey team. Over $639,000 was raised and the product that was put on the ice in year three, made it quite clear that the "Save The Jets" campaign was well worth the effort.
Although the Jets missed the playoffs, (despite ending the season with more points than the previous year) Winnipeg fans responded to the wide-open, free-wheeling European style of play. Attendance rose dramatically and it was with a great deal of anticipation that Jets fans awaited the next hockey season. When that season arrived, 1975-76, nobody was disappointed. With the addition of two more Swedish players, Winnipeg finished the season tied with one other club for most points in the standings. The Jets streaked through the playoffs (losing only one game) and captured their first WHA championship.
The next season the Jets' explosive offense carried the team through to a seventh game in the WHA finals series, but they could get no further as they lost the deciding game to the Quebec Nordiques.
Determined to avenge that loss, the Jets were indeed flying in the 1977-78 season. They coasted to the regular season title and in only nine games, they clinched their second Avco trophy.
However, even while the team was on its way to that championship, two important events were taking place off the ice. In March, 1978 a group of private businessmen purchased the hockey club and the team's financial viability was no longer a concern. Second, several of the European stars, those who formed the nucleus of the team, announced that at the conclusion of the season they were leaving to take up residency in NHL cities.
The new owners took the news in stride and quietly went about the process of piecing together a new team. By purchasing the contracts of several players from the defunct Houston Aeros, they did just that. The full potential of those players was not evident throughout much of that season. However, the arrival of John Ferguson and Tom McVie brought out the best in the Jets' roster. Though they ended the season in third place in the standings, they swept through their semi-final series in four straight games. A hard-fought final series against Edmonton saw the Jets emerge with a 4-2 edge in games and their second consecutive WHA championship.
In total, Winnipeg won three Avco Cup trophies and appeared in the finals on five different occasions. They missed the playoffs only once in their seven year history. It is with this feeling of accomplishment and pride that the Jets close the book on what was, and prepare their assault on what will be, in this their first year in the National Hockey League.