Bruce Norris' proposed European League in affiliation with NHL (circa 1972)
I won't post the entire article, but here's a little snippet from the October 6th, 1972 issue of The Hockey News:
Norris Sets Up European League As Future Rival For NHL Written by Jack Berry of THN
For a league that was so heavily criticized less than 10 years ago because of its insularity, the NHL has become the most open of all professional sports leagues. First it was expansion, from 6 teams to 12, then 14, now 16, soon 18 and the end isn't in sight. Then a team of NHL stars break tradition and play the national teams of Russia and Sweden and now Detroit Red Wing club owner Bruce Norris has come up with a five-team, possibly six, European professional league which eventually will play the NHL champion for the Stanley Cup. Norris said the European league, which will begin play in October 1973, with a 60 game schedule, has "an agreement in principle" with the NHL to contend for the Stanley Cup.
Three Finnish clubs involved and we were in some sort of semiprofessional stage at the time so I donīt see much hope for this. Even without the iron curtain this would have been almost impossible. We have even today lots of failures in creating even some sort of european league.
When the Jets and Nordiques left I predicted the NHL would go Europe before NHL hockey would return to those cities. Even though I'm wrong, I say the NHL expands to Europe within the next 10 years...providing this labour issue is resolved and there are minimal interruptions.
I dont think NHL will expand to europe. There isnt enough intrest here to support a full NHL schedule economically. It will be a finacial disaster with the european teams lingering at the bottom of the standing for several years and then are forced to fold.
Bern is leading europe in average attendance with 16.000 and then we have I belive Minsk and Berlin on 14.000. The rest of europe is 10.000 or less.
Interesting story that, the London Lions; Bruce Norris's European Adventure. Initially the idea was to create an NHL Division but in reality it was a rearguard action against the WHA, going pro-active to insure they'd never achieve their stated goal of truly being a "World" Hockey Association. The concept was half baked to begin with, and you had an internecine war going on between then IIHF President Bunny Ahearne & most notably the Swedish Hockey Federation (amongst others). Norris was taken seriously it seems, referred to as a "Buffoon" by various European leagues personnel, no real understanding, time or patience to be addressing any of their concerns.
He co-opted the old Wembley Lions name, the arena out of which the newly named London Lions' were to play, and for one season, played over 70 Exhibition Matches against top European clubs, winning over 50 of them, the Lions stocked primarily with top level European players & North American Minor Pro's, the vast majority of their games on the road, a sort of travelling Circus, players wives, kids, girlfriends etc all in tow. Bizarre & colourful stories abound, like the time they were refused entry into the Czech Republic for a game in Prague, and after sitting in a bus for about 14hrs managed to scrape together enough money to bribe the Border Guards & gain entry arriving minutes before the puck was set to drop.
Originally the Leafs & Habs had agreed to partially stock (along with Detroit of course) a couple of teams in Sweden & Finland, a sort of Farm Club if you will, supplanted by top native born players. In total, say 5-7 teams, from London to Tampere etc, they'd play amongst themselves over a full season, have playoffs, and then I believe the 2 finalists somehow being inserted into the NHL's semi's here in North America. Not sure exactly, but thats what I recall of it, however as stated up-front & early, the whole thing was little more than a charade, Norris & the NHL making waves in Europe, sticking a toe in the water, all as show to let the WHA know that if they wanted Europe, just like Long Island or elsewhere, we'll be there first so just dont bother....
Oh, and the London Lions? Some interesting players on that team.
Get a chance, you should look them up. Fun read. Googles your friend.