WHA Hall of Fame

Raiders' Future Came Early

By Bill Verigan
New York News

The future of the Raiders arrived even before Year One began in the World Hockey Association. It arrived by cars and buses with an eager smile at an ice rink in Brick Town, N.J.

The future includes a law student, an insurance trainee, a disillusioned hockey player from the Eastern League and more. Dressed in longjohns and skivvies, they bent to touch their toes to trainer Fraser Gleeson's chanted cadence a month before the season began.

To them, it was somewhere over the rainbow - a chance to play in the World Hockey Association. Only five or six could make the Raiders for the start of the first season; the rest would be somewhere besides Madison Square Garden, perhaps in the Eastern League.

None of them came to the camp with the idea of being cut, yet somewhere along the way a few dropped out and a few others knew their time hadn't come by looking at the competition.

When Camille Henry spoke of them, however, he looked as proud as a fresh father.

Ian Wilkie was one who drove into camp. He was 23, a goalie who attracted attention in the juniors, a law student, and he had the kind of face that attracts a fan club filled with the fairer sex. “He's beautiful,” is the way one potential member described him before seeing him play. “It's too bad he's married. It's too bad he has to wear a mask.”

He came to camp saying “I'm through with travelling in a bus. I decided that in the juniors.” He had given up the idea of making the NHL because he hated buses, and he knew how many times he would have to ride in them to minor league games before finally getting to the top.

“I went to the Canadiens' camp twice,” he said, “and there were 13 goalies. The first year, I was the leading goalie in camp, but I could tell I wasn't going to make the team because they had made up their minds to send us down before we ever came to camp.

“Instead, I went to law school at British Columbia and played hockey there.”

When the Raiders drafted him, he was only mildly surprised. He had expected to be drafted by some WHA team on the basis of his junior hockey reputation with the Edmonton Oil Kings, but he didn't realize his reputation reached as far as New York.

“I decided this was what I wanted,” he said. “Ken Dryden was doing the same thing, keeping up with his reading at law school while playing with Montreal. I enrolled at Rutgers, and looked around for a place to live. I didn't come with the idea of riding buses again.”

There were others, too, among that group of eager players. Wally Olds, one of the new American breed of hockey player who graduated from Minnesota and played defense on the silver medal Olympic team, was one. So was Brian Morenz, who played for Bobby Orr's old junior team, the Oshawa Generals, and got tired of explaining in training camp that his distant cousin, Howie Morenz, played in the NHL and died before he was born.

These were players who were drafted, known quantities before they came to camp, but there were some like Frank Grace who had to make a telephone call to the Raiders' office in order to get their tryouts.

At Cornell, the handsome redhead was a star good enough to attract attention from Detroit, but instead of going there he became an executive trainee for the Prudential Insurance Company when he graduated last year.

In the early days of Raider camp, he worked at night after practice and even pitched insurance policies to the other players. But one day, his picture turned up in a newspaper with a caption telling how he was trying to make the Raiders.

“I've got to go to the office tomorrow and tell them I'm here,” he said. “I thought I could do both jobs, and I hope they'll understand. But even if they tell me to choose one of the other, I'll be back in camp tomorrow. This is something I have to do now; insurance will always be there later.”

He left camp to go to the office, and Henry didn't know if he'd ever come back. But when he returned the next day, Henry said, “He's got what it takes-inside.”

Of all the players in camp, perhaps Jamie Kennedy was filled with the most doubts about making the team. He was 26, older than most, and his brother, Forbes, had been an NHL firebrand who was busted for bouncing around officials.

Although Jamie would never say it, others suspect his brother's reputation might have hurt his chances of making the NHL. His nose had been shoved slightly to one side during his seasons in the Eastern League, and his confidence had been shoved slightly to one side, too, the result of three fruitless trips to NHL camps.

Of all the players in the camp, however, perhaps Jamie wanted a job with the Raiders the most. He called being drafted his “second chance at life.”

Every time the Raider scouts went to watch the Jersey Devils last season, Kennedy knew they were there, and in a game against Syracuse he got two shorthanded goals and an invitation to camp. It meant he might not have to do construction work again in the summer, and maybe he could spend more time at the race tracks.

“But I've been through all this before,” he said. “They still consider me an amateur although a guy can make better than $250 a week in the EHL, and if his team makes the playoffs he can really do well. What I've always wanted is to play in places like Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden, though.

“I look around and know I might not be there at the start of the season, but wait, I'll be there before the season's over.”