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Reyn Davis
May 28, 1979
That could well be the epitaph for the late World Hockey Association, which for seven years was always one step from bankruptcy
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May 28, 1979

A Nowhere Ride

That could well be the epitaph for the late World Hockey Association, which for seven years was always one step from bankruptcy

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Most arenas have a long players' bench for each team, but in Cherry Hill the players' section consisted of three rows of five seats. The teams looked like choirs. There was little room for a coach in Cherry Hill, so one night Winnipeg Coach Nick Mickoski sat in the first row of the stands. But every time he stood up to make a line change or give instructions to a player, the fans would complain so loudly that he would have to shout his orders sitting down.

The ice at Cherry Hill had a definite tilt to it, too, prompting Bobby Hull to say, "It's the only arena I've ever been in where the visiting team had to skate uphill for two periods of every game. There was also a huge dip in the ice." In fact, one night Ted Scharf of the Knights was waiting for a pass when the puck shot straight up and struck him between the eyes.

No arena was more beautiful than the Coliseum, a magnificent structure in the rural township of Richfield, Ohio, outside Cleveland. It was the new home of Nick Mileti's Cleveland Crusaders, who played at the old Cleveland Arena from 1972 until 1974.

"Five million people live within an hour's drive of the Coliseum," Mileti said when his building opened.

He was right, too. All five million lived an hour away—and not very many of them ever drove for an hour to see the Crusaders play. "What a beautiful building it was," says Skip Krake, who played for the Crusaders and now owns and operates a sporting goods store in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan. "But all those empty seats! Why, 3,500 fans looked like 13. It made you want to cry a little."

As it turned out, the Crusaders' best years were their two seasons at the old Arena on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. Grubby and worn, the Arena sat on the edge of a tough neighborhood, across the street from a Catholic church and snug beside a rough bar. Five Crusaders had their cars stolen out of the parking lot at the Arena, Wayne Muloin and Tom Edur both losing new Thunderbirds on the same night. Steve Thomas, the Crusaders' trainer, who often had to work at the Arena late at night, was mugged three times one winter.

"Where's your watch?" one mugger growled at Thomas.

"They got that last week," the trainer said.

If the Arena had one distinguishing feature, it was the chicken wire wrapped above the boards at each end of the rink. Gary Jarrett could play the mesh better than anyone else in the league; he knew exactly where the soft rebounds would spill as pucks caromed off the chicken wire, and always parked himself accordingly near the net.

When the Crusaders left Cleveland for Richfield, they left the mesh behind because the new Coliseum had standard glass barriers. Suddenly, Jarrett couldn't catch up to the rebounds, and his point production plummeted from 79 to 41 to 33—whereupon he retired.

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