The World Hockey Association Hall of Fame is an independent volunteer organization of hockey historians, journalists and former WHA coaches, players and management who are dedicated to honoring the 1972-1979 major league.
WHA HOF President Timothy Gassen sat down with filmmaker Mike Rom in 2010 to talk about the purpose, goals and challenges for the WHA Hall of Fame: ____________________________________________________________________
Q: The WHA hasn't existed since 1979. Why create a Hall of Fame for it now, after all this time?
A: I wanted to make sure the 1970s generation of WHA players, coaches and management were honored for their contribution to the game of major league hockey, while many of them were still alive. Many hockey fans like myself have waited patiently for other institutions to honor these men, but that just plain has not happened. So we are working to help.
Q: You've attracted some impressive hockey people to help with the WHA Hall of Fame. Is that important for the WHA HOF's success?
A: I am humbled by the those who have stepped forward to help make this all possible. Legendary players like Pat Stapleton, for instance, are more inspirational as people than I ever could have imagined. But I honestly was not surprised that hockey notables came forward when they heard about our efforts. I long believed that many were waiting for a forum for them to step up publicly and say, "Yes, the WHA was important, and I'll add my voice to help people remember that." So it's important to understand this HOF is not about me or my efforts, it's about the players, coaches and management of the 1972-1979 WHA.
Q: You followed the WHA in person, back in the day?
A: As a very young teenager I spent my high school years living and dying with the WHA Indianapolis Racers, and the WHA as a whole. I am delighted that many other WHA hockey fans like me are now coming forward to add their passion to the WHA HOF. And young fans who never saw the WHA should know about it if they hope to understand where the game is today.
Q: Some fans might mistakenly see the WHA Hall of Fame as a criticism of other museums or other hockey leagues.
A: I do understand that, and one of my jobs it to disperse that misconception. Our only goal is to honor the talented men of the World Hockey Association -- not to criticize or detract from the accomplishments of other hockey institutions or leagues.
Q: But it seems that you want to "set the record straight" about the WHA and how it has been characterized in some ways by others.
A: Well, it is hurtful to the history of the game to see a museum exhibit that mistakenly calls the WHA a "Defunct Minor League," for instance. I actually saw that in Toronto this recently, and I'll never forget the painful look on the fomer WHA players who saw that with me. We certainly do wish to create a forum for accurate and respectful historical information, and we take this responsibility very seriously.
Q: So even though the leagues were bitter competitors in the 1970s, are you are a fan of the NHL?
A: Absolutely, even in the 1970s I followed both the WHA and the NHL. This past year I even donated a screening of my WHA documentaries as a fundrasier for the NHL Phoenix Coyotes boosters, when many other hockey people abandoned that club and its fans. The Coyotes in turn helped me and allowed us to shoot interviews at the arena for our WHA documentaries. I am delighted they have turned it around there, and I see the Coyotes as often as possible. I also follow my original hometown Columbus BlueJackets, with great pride. The NHL today displays a marvelous game -- and I'd like fans to understand that the WHA helped to create the great major league game we all enjoy today.
Q: When media today talk about he WHA, they seem to only mention the big player salaries, or the goons in 1970s hockey, or other sensational things. What would you like the conversation to be about?
A: Our goal is to talk about the actual brand of quality hockey that was played in the WHA. The actual hockey has not been given enough attention, and we hope to change that. Independent hockey people who followed or have studied both leagues in the late 1970s understand that the WHA had some of the greatest major league players and teams of the era.
Q: One last question: who is your favorite WHA-era player?
A: Oh boy, I've gotten so excited about so many of them all over again while creating my new video documentaries, so it's difficult to pick just one. But I remain in awe of Bobby Hull, Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson of the Winnipeg Jets. That is the best hockey line I will ever see, and for that I'll always be grateful to the WHA.