Jets' Green Light Turns Red
An unpleasant New Year's Day for the Jets in 1979
During their time in the WHA, the Jets played many games against touring national teams from around the world.
The best teams of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Sweden and Finland faced off against the Jets, producing some of the most memorable games in team history. Without a doubt, one of the Jets' finest moments came on the night of January 5, 1978 when the Jets handed the top Soviet team a 5-3 defeat at the Winnipeg Arena.
However, the most controversial of those international games came almost one year later when the Jets battled a touring Czechoslovakian team to a 3-3 tie at the Arena.
The Jets had lost their two most beloved stars, Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg, over the summer after winning their second AVCO Cup in three years. Bobby Hull, the iconic face of the franchise, walked out on the team after four games.
In their place, the new ownership bought the remnants of their former rivals, the Houston Aeros. The mix was not an instant success. The Aero-Jets were struggling to keep their heads above water in a highly competitive league that had recently shrunk to six teams.
A small New Year's Day crowd of 6,243 was on hand to see the Jets take to the ice against a Czech “B” team that was on the fourth game of its tour of WHA cities. That Czech team had been beaten handily in each of their three previous games.
The Jets weren't at their best, but they scored early and took a 3-1 lead into the third period. It looked as though the game was well in hand.
The Czechs cut the Jets' lead in half, but the Jets still held onto their lead as the game entered its final minute. Finally, the crowd began counting down the final seconds. The Czechs scored, but the green light had already come on indicating the end of the period.
The game was over.
Or was it?
The Jets were celebrating their apparent victory, but the Czechs protested to Czechoslovakian referee Vladimir Subrt. After a lengthy argument, Subrt, working his first game as a referee, allowed the goal to stand.
The Jets and their fans were furious.
WHA linesmen Ron Fournier and Joey Dame explained to Subrt that the green light came on automatically when time expired. The goal was scored after the game was over. But Subrt would not be swayed. The game would continue.
The two teams played through a scoreless overtime and the game ended with the score tied at three.
After the game, the Jets' rage continued. Barry Long told the Winnipeg Free Press, “He (Subrt) didn't even understand that the red light just wouldn't go on if the game was over.”
Newly-appointed General Manager John Ferguson also told the Free Press, “He (Subrt) was just not competent enough for a professional hockey game.”
What made the final result even more infuriating was the fact that the game counted in the WHA standings. The Jets lost a valuable point and remained in fifth place, one point behind the Edmonton Oilers.
However, a couple of days later, Ferguson would review the game films and did admit that Subrt's decision was indeed correct.
In the end, the lost point didn't affect the Jets after all.
After a coaching change, they came together as a unit and finished in third place, one point ahead of the Whalers. They swept the Nordiques in the first round, then dispatched the Oilers in six games to capture their third AVCO Cup.
And they would never see Vladimir Subrt again.
All's well that ends well.