The New York Raiders were an ice hockey team and founding member of the World Hockey Association (WHA) based in New York City.
Intended to be the WHA's flagship franchise, its short lifespan was a result of being unable to compete with the National Hockey League (NHL)'s established New York Rangers, and the expansion New York Islanders.
After its inaugural season, the team was known as the New York Golden Blades and eventually relocated to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, becoming the Jersey Knights.
New York Raiders
The New York Raiders participated in the first WHA draft.
The team's coach was Camille Henry and the very first draft pick (second overall) was Al Sims, but he did not play for the Raiders, but he signed with the Boston Bruins instead.
The team was initially slated to play in the brand-new Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, but Nassau County didn't consider the WHA a major league and wanted nothing to do with the Raiders. Nassau County retained William Shea to get an NHL team to play in the new building.
The NHL responded by hastily awarding a franchise to Long Island—the New York Islanders. The Islanders' lease with the Coliseum was structured in such a way to effectively lock out non-NHL teams.
The Raiders were forced to play in Madison Square Garden, where they faced being tenants to their major competitor, the New York Rangers.
The situation rapidly became untenable, with an onerous lease and poor attendance. The three original owners defaulted, and the league ended up taking control of the team midway through the season.
New York Golden Blades/Jersey Knights
Following the season, New York real estate mogul Ralph Brent bought the team and renamed it the New York Golden Blades. While they managed to acquire Andre Lacroix from the Philadelphia Blazers, he was essentially all the franchise had going for it.
The team replaced their original orange and blue uniforms with purple and gold uniforms of a unique design, and to coincide with the new identity, the team started the season wearing white skates with gold-colored blades.
The situation improved very little from the previous season; at times, the Golden Blades played before crowds of only 500 people (in an 18,000-seat arena).
Sinking in debt, Brent surrendered the team to the league in late November, just twenty games into the season, with a 6-12-2 record.
Veteran player Harry Howell (who had been recently picked up by the Golden Blades after being released from the Los Angeles Kings) was elevated to player-coach and ordered the team's white skates painted black.
Soon after, the WHA moved the team to Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia, and renamed it the Jersey Knights.
While WHA trustee Howard Baldwin was quoted at the time by the Associated Press saying that "Hopefully, we will be back in New York next season with a strong owner to compete in that market," the WHA would never return to the Tri-State Area.
The arena in Cherry Hill was available because the previous pro hockey tenant, the Jersey Devils, had folded when the Eastern Hockey League went out of business at the end of the previous season.
In a sense, this returned the WHA to Philadelphia; the Blazers had moved to Vancouver shortly after Lacroix left for the then-Golden Blades.
Having been locked out of Madison Square Garden just prior to their move, the players were unable to take their Blades jerseys with them, so the team reverted to the previous Raiders uniforms, with the original crest replaced with the new Knights logo.
The newly minted Knights soon discovered their new home, Cherry Hill Arena had a slope in the ice surface, which forced visiting teams to skate uphill two out of three periods. (One drawback was that pucks would sometimes shoot upwards unexpectedly; one Knight was knocked cold when a would-be pass jumped up and nailed him between the eyes.)
Years later (2012) in the Winnipeg Free Press, Geoff Kirbyson wrote of the arena, "[The ice] was so high in the middle, the short guys almost couldn’t see the other end of the ice,' said Lanny McDonald."
The arena was also closely cramped with players not having adequate changing & dressing facilities; visiting teams had to dress at their hotel. In addition, there was no plexiglass around the playing surface.
The boards in the area from face-off circle to face-off circle at each end of the ice was bordered with chicken-wire as protection. The rest of the arena had no protection above the boards.
Rod Philips (who did radio games for the Edmonton Oilers for 37 years, ending in 2011), is quoted as saying of the Arena, "The press box in Cherry Hill, N.J. (across the bridge from Philadelphia) was so small that you couldn't stand up. The roof was only four feet high and you were all hunched over. When somebody shut the door, they cut off one whole end of the rink."
Despite the questionable facilities, the Knights played over-.500 hockey and were in playoff contention before losing their last six games to finish 32-42-4, last in the Eastern Division.
Within five weeks of the move, though, reports had already begun to state that the franchise would not stay in Cherry Hill beyond the end of the season, as Cherry Hill Arena was inadequate even for temporary use.
Rumors were already floating around that the franchise could be re-incarnated as an expansion franchise in Cincinnati or Indianapolis, but instead, at the end of the 1974 season, the franchise was purchased from the league by Southern California businessman Joseph Schwartz and moved to San Diego, California and became known as the San Diego Mariners.
|1972–73||Raiders||78||33||43||2||68||303||334||900||6th, Eastern||Did not qualify|
|1973–74||Golden Blades/Knights||78||32||42||4||68||268||313||933||6th, Eastern||Did not qualify|