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Blasts from the Past

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By Reyn Davis
Free Press Staff Writer

Depending on who you believe, the Jets were (a) tighter than the third button on Benny Hatskin's suit; (b) second best; or (c) fooling the folks in New York and Minnesota.

People who saw, or heard, the first two games would believe (a) because the Jets who played Sunday bore no resemblance to the Jets of last Thursday and Friday.

But no matter how you cut it, there were more than 8,000 tremendously fair spectators who seemed to share the Jets' burden of despair for being so pathetically nervous on such a magnificent night.

That Alberta Oilers won 5-2 was only part of the pity. There will be other losses at home over this 78-game haul. But, like the fans in Minnesota and New York moaned, there is only one home opener of a new league ... and this one, like theirs, ended a mite tragically.

Sad - isn't it - that the Jets didn't barf before the game, cage themselves up until everyone could whistle This Land, then let Bobby Hull and Nick Mickoski swing the doors open, and chase them on the ice to do a job that would make devout believers of every one of the 8,000 souls just begging to go nuts.

Maybe next Friday - when, insiders say, Hull could be turned loose by Judge J. Higginbotham - and, hopefully, every game until the end of the season. There will be other nights ... nights to unwind.

Yet to Alberta go the spoils. The Oilers were slick on opening night. A careful, conservative club, the Edmontonians were content to check the Jets closely, frustrate their ganging attacks and mire their defence from where the wheels are put in motion.

Tuesday night is Alberta's home opening and the visitors, according to the schedule, are the Jets. The Oilers live dangerously.

The beginning of the end Sunday came about 11:57 of the third period when Billy Hicke dived for a loose puck and one-handed it behind a sprawling Ernie Wakely, who left a crack of the net open.

The goal shoved Alberta ahead 4-2, and snuffed out what appeared to be a growing confidence among the Jets.

Minor penalties to Jean-Guy Gratton, Joe Zanussi and a Winnipeg bench minor during the 12th minute of the third period lessened chances of a comeback even more.

Ed Joyal capitalized for Alberta at 16:01, and it was obvious opening night was also the Jets' first defeat of the World Hockey Association campaign.

Joyal converted his own rebound after tipping Al Hamilton's sliding shot from the point. Wakely made a fine save but Joyal never made any mistakes with a second chance.

Alberta built a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Roger Cote and Val Fonteyne. Cote tapped the puck out of Wakely's glove as he juggled a hot drive, and Fonteyne capped a rebound off Joyal's sliding backhand from a sharp angle.

Winnipeg halved the lead to 2-1 at 7:11 of the second period on a goal by Danny Johnson, but before the session ended Ron Walters had restored the two-goal margin, 3-1.

Chris (Pepe) Bordeleau gave the Jets new hope in the first minute of the third period when he drilled a 20-foot screen shot behind Kenny Brown. Norm Beaudin's digging behind the Alberta net set up the goal, which was Bordeleau's sixth in three games.

To be honest, a solid Alberta defence played havoc with the smaller Jets, who must rely on a finely-tuned passing game to navigate around the size they lack.

The corps of Alberta blueliners - Al Hamilton, Bob Falkenberg, Bob Wall, Ken Baird and Steve Carlyle - is the best the Jets have encountered so far. They may not be as big as Los Angeles Sharks' defensive alignment, but the Oilers have the mobility savvy and cohesion their contemporaries are missing.

Still, the Jets could not pin all their troubles on Alberta's fine defensive work. Sizeable amounts of time ticked away as they tried to put two, three and four passes together ... the combinations they need to move this club.

But the passing was bad, not a bit like the checkerboard exchanges in Minnesota and New York. Hardly a Jet was not guilty of failing to deliver or grab a pass he could normally execute in his sleep.

Of all the Jets, only Steve Cuddie, a defenceman, appeared to have his game unaffected by the drama, and tension of opening night. He moved the puck as smartly as he has in any other game in this still-young season.

The Jets' frustrations reached a peak in the first period when Jim Harrison and Falkenberg drew overlapping penalties. Then Hamilton and Wall were also waved off with Sudsy Sutherland of the Jets.

But, despite the two-man advantage and delayed manpower disadvantage for Alberta, the Jets' strict control of the play produced precious few openings to shoot.

The one, single most glaring failure to seize a break occurred late in the first period when Garth Rizzuto set up Milt Black. But Black fired wide of the empty net.

BENCH BITS: Pre-game ceremonies were impressive ... Players were introduced under spot-light, each preceded by a good introduction by Don Wittman ... Doug Crossley sang the anthem nicely and the organist was sounding better than ever before ... Dignitaries included Lieutentant-Governor Jack McKeag, Attorney-General Al Mackling, Mayor Stephen Juba and Enterprises chairman Sam Fabro ... WHA president Gary Davidson was there, despite the passing of his father Friday night in Iowa ... Don Regan, WHA general counsel, also made it ... So did Harvey Wineberg ... Bobby Hull won a minute-long standing ovation, then introduced Ben Hatskin ... "Meet one man who wouldn't stop," said Hull. "I owe him a deep debt of gratitude" ... Hatskin, too, had a standing ovation ... Line of the night: "The National Hockey League turned deaf ears on us for years: I hope they go into receivership" - Mayor Juba ... After the game, Hull said the Jets were "trying to do each other's job, and I think it was due to the tightness of the team trying to look so well at home" ... "There's as much togetherness here as I have seen on any team," said Hull ... Who's Kenny Brown? ... He was the No. 1 goaltender in the Central League last season for the league champion Dallas Black Hawks ... He's only 23 ... The Molson three stars picked by Eddie (Spider) Mazur were 1: Brown, 2: Larry Hornung, 3: Val Fonteyne.


Winnipeg 2, Alberta 5

First Period - 1. Alberta, Cote (Carlyle) 4:36; 2. Alberta Fonteyne (Walter, Joyal) 11:34.

Penalties - Falkenberg A 12:49, Harrison A 14:03, Hamilton A Sutherland W, 14:54.

Second Period - 3. Winnipeg, Johnson (Asmundson, Hornung) 7:11; 4. Alberta, Walters (Joyal) 11:59.

Penalties - Walters A 12:05.

Third Period - 5. Winnipeg, Bordeleau (Beaudin) 0:51; 6. Alberta, Hicke 11:57; 7. Alberta, Joyal (Hamilton) 16:01.

Penalties - Zanussi W 4:18, Gratton W 12:32, Zanussi W, Cote A, Winnipeg bench served by Swenson 12:56.

Shots on goal by:
Attendance - 8,123.