The short and hectic story of New York City’s third pro hockey team

Robb Kottmyer | VectorPortal

Robb Kottmyer | VectorPortal

Joseph Bello

When one thinks of New York hockey, only two teams come to mind: the New York Rangers and the New York Islanders. But could a third professional hockey club thrive or even break even with those two in the area? In short, it cannot.

The World Hockey Association was a professional hockey league that ran from 1972 to 1979. It was created to target smaller hockey markets.

The NHL wasn’t the 32-team hockey league that exists today. In 1972, the NHL only had 16 teams and one city featuring two teams. This city was of course New York.

The 1972 NHL season was the first year the New York Islanders would play. They were set to call the newly built Nassau Coliseum on Long Island their home.

The WHA knew they needed a team in the tri-state area to truly succeed and compete with the NHL. Originally, their plan was to place a team at Nassau Coliseum to draw in the hockey fans on Long Island. But with the Islanders playing at the new barn, there needed to be a different plan for the WHA and its New York team.

Next up on the list was Madison Square Garden, right in the middle of New York City. Surely success would come with placing a brand new, exciting hockey team there.

With that the New York Raiders were born, one of the 12 teams to play in the WHA’s inaugural season.

The Raiders roster was made up of mostly junior hockey players, as were most WHA teams, except the 67 NHL players who decided to make the jump from the NHL to the WHA. Some of the big names in this group were eventual Hall-of-Famers Gerry Cheevers, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe and Bernie Parent.

In year one, the Raiders didn’t have much going for them. With only 33 wins and 68 points, they finished last in the East and second worst in the league.

There were many problems for the Raiders during their first season. A major one was the attendance numbers, which was an understandable yet unfortunate issue for them. Mostly every hockey fan in New York City was a Rangers fan, and on Long Island people chose the newly founded Islanders.

During the 1972 season, the Rangers averaged 17,494 fans at the Garden, while the Raiders averaged a mere 5,868 fans.

That offseason, the Raiders were sold to Ralf Brent, a New York based real estate developer. Brent decided to switch things up and renamed the team into the New York Golden Blades.

The Golden Blades had an exciting addition to their roster that summer, as they acquired Andre Lacroix, the leading scorer in the WHA the previous season. Lacroix had a whopping 124 points with 50 goals during the 1972 season, a move that surely would spark some change in the team’s play.

Sadly, the Golden Blades poor play didn’t improve much. The club would only last 24 games into the 1973 season before the league officials were forced to take back control of it. The attendance numbers were at their worst, some games only bringing in 500 fans.

This would be the end of the short-lived New York Golden Blades and their tenure in New York City. The team hopped across the Hudson River and was renamed once again, now called the New Jersey Knights.

By the time the playoffs started, the Knights were once again on the outside looking in. They finished last in the East with a nearly identical season as their first, with 32 wins and 68 points.

The WHA needed to get the franchise out of the tri-state area, as their plan to compete with the Rangers and Islanders ultimately failed. That offseason the league found their out when California real estate developer Joseph Schwartz bought the club.

Schwartz moved the franchise across the United States to San Diego and, for the third time in two seasons, the club was renamed once again. The San Diego Mariners lasted for three more seasons until the franchise was put to rest once and for all.

They didn’t have much success, but the hectic and short-lived tenure of the third New York professional hockey club was a sure one to remember.