Despite an abrupt ending to its first season and the emergence of complicated legal and financial issues, the World Hockey Association (WHA) is planning to be back for a second season in 2007-08, with the addition of a new league in the east and several new teams in the U.S.
In between press releases regarding their ongoing legal battles, the WHA has claimed that the league will surge from six teams last year to 16 teams this year with the addition of franchises from Alberta, B.C., and the Pacific Northwest.
In May, the WHA announced the Fort Vancouver Pioneers of Washington, just days after they confirmed that the league would operate as a Junior A Association.
The same week the WHA confirmed that they have approved two franchises in Quebec, the HNM Junior A Canadians and Nordiques in Montreal and the Quebec Gladiators in Quebec City — both existing franchises that play a level below the Quebec Major Junior Hockey Association.
In June the WHA confirmed a fourth team in the new WHA Junior A Eastern Division, the New York Black Knights — a team representing The Hockey Farm hockey academy.
By the time the season gets underway in September, the WHA expect to have seven to nine teams in the east and possibly eight teams in the west. Recruitment camps are taking place in Colorado, New York, and Texas, as well as Ontario, B.C., Quebec and Manitoba.
In the first year the team rosters included players that missed Junior A recruitment, or were looking for a stepping stone from the rep team level. None of the players are paid to play, but do receive equipment and billeting and their travel costs are covered.
Most important for the players, the WHA provided another opportunity to impress scouts, upgrade their skills, and transition into the Junior A or Varsity hockey programs.
The Squamish Cougars will be back. Last season they were within one point of second place when the season was cut short and the best-of-three final took place between the second place New Westminster Whalers and first place Lumby Saints.
All six original WHA Junior West teams are expected to return this year, although there are still issues with the Osoyoos Spurs. Last year the Town of Osoyoos ended its contract with the WHA, citing unpaid bills of $11,000 for the arena.
According to Osoyoos’s chief administrator Helen Koning, that money has been paid but the Spurs will only be able to return under two conditions. The first is that they run two ads in the local paper to ensure that any organizations in Osoyoos that may be owed money by the WHA is paid in full, and secondly, once the town is satisfied that the league has no outstanding debts in town, that they pay for their ice time in advance for 2007-08.
The WHA’s ongoing legal battle and war of words with Vancouver-based Global Developments Inc. could also create issues for the fledgling league. Global Developments is suing the WHA for mismanagement and illegal financial activities, also alleging that the WHA has not paid its bus charter company, billeting fees for players, traveling expenses for road trips and salaries for coaches.
For its part the WHA has denied those allegations and is counter-suing Global Developments and others for breaches of securities laws, fraud, conspiracy, and other infractions. Among other things, they accuse Global Developments of manipulating their stock price.
In a recent interview, WHA CEO Ricky Smith suggested that the countersuit could result in damages around $100 million.