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The San Diego Mariners was actually the fourth incarnation of a troubled franchise even before the league ever began play, and the WHA's most travelled club. After three stops in the New York-New Jersey area in the first two seasons, the club was purchased from the league by California businessman Joseph Schwartz in the summer of 1974. Considering the team's horrible attendance records in all 3 previous homes, the '74-'75 season was practically an overnight sensation, averaging 6,800 a game. Ironically, the year's biggest draw was a pre-season exhibition matchup against the NHL's California Golden Seals, which the Mariners won 4-3. The acquisition of Andre Lacroix from the Blazers the year before was now paying off. He'd finish the season with 147 points, tops in the league for the second time and winning the Bill Hunter Trophy for such again along the way. They also beefed up defensive play by acquiring goalie Ernie Wakely from Winnipeg early in the season. They finished the season second in the West and fourth overall with 90 points. Their first round opponents were the Toronto Toros. The Mariners upset them, taking the series in 6. Overwhelmed by the experience they choked like Grandma's Thanksgiving turkey the next round, getting swept by the eventual champion Houston Aeros in 4.
The new season opened with high hopes, starting with a 5-3 exhibition win over the Oakland Golden Seals.. Unfortunately though, their hopes were higher than their abilities. The first half of the season was spotty at best. And with curiosity no longer a factor, the team was suffering at the gate as well. Playing out of San Diego Sports Arena, they had the fortune of calling one of the league's better rinks their home. Still their tickets dropped from 6,800 a game on average to less than 5,000. California in general was losing interest with any game played on ice. The NHL's Seals were just shipped out of Oakland and the LA Kings weren't doing particularly well either. Still the Mariners tried to be an 'alternative' to the norm. But shortly after New Year's Day in '76, Schwartz gave up on the team and it's operations were taken over by the league, which even had the players playing for free for a time. Though Lacroix again led the team in scoring, their total goals scored dropped while cracks in the defense caused the goals against to rise from the previous year. Despite acquiring John French from the Whalers in the off-season, his gritty, 2-way play didn't seem to inspire the team, even though his play closely resembled Gene Peacosh's.Still, they finished third in the division with 78 points. With the folding of both the Saints and Spurs/Civics, the league was forced to re-arrange the final part of the season and the playoffs, which saw the Mariners beat the Roadrunners 3 games to 2. Unfortunately, they were up against the mighty Houston Aeros in the second round and were easy pickings again, going out 4 games to 2.
The team was bought after the playoffs by Ray Kroc, owner of the San Diego Padres and McDonald's mogul. They started the '76-'77 season with trepidation. It was openly known Kroc expected a winner, and was also thinking of applying for a team in the NHL. Neither would happen. Despite individuals like Lacroix, French and Joe Noris, who played for the US earlier that year during the Canada Cup, reaching the 30 goal plateau, there were few other true hi-lites. They finished the season third in the west with 84 points, actually 6 better than the previous year. But again a pretty decent season by WHA standards failed to produce results for San Diego, as they bowed to the Jets in the first round of the playoffs in 7. Though their numbers were 5th best in the league, attendance was down and there were already murmurs of merger. Kroc didn't see it in the near future and was more interested in the ball diamonds, so the club was sold in the offseason to a group in Florida who planned to move the team to Melbourne. But a deal with a suitable stadium couldn't be struck and for a second time the WHA's plans to move into Florida went down the drain. The team folded just prior to training camp, as did the Pheonix Roadrunners and Calgary Cowboys.
It was widely speculated that had Kroc been patient California hockey would've benefited as a whole. If a strong marketing strategy was in place, the Mariners could've afforded the 'missing piece to the puzzle' to become a real contender. Unfortunately while having one of the better logos in the league, the team never even used it on their jerseys. The exclamation mark was added to that sentence in their final season. Although they removed the name 'San Diego' from their home jersey, they simply replaced it with 'Mariners' - instead of their logo. Had they been able to hold out for 2 more years, they would've been a natural fit for the merger, a ready-made playmate for the NHL's woes in California, the LA Kings. Instead the Kings would remain the only pro hockey team in California for nearly 2 decades.
|1974-1975||43||31||4||90||326||268||1058||ROUND #1: beat Toros in 6 games |
ROUND #2: lost to Aeros in 4 straight
|1975-1976||36||38||6||78||303||290||716||ROUND #1: beat Roadrunners in 5 (best of 5)|
ROUND #2: lost to Aeros in 6
|1976-1977||40||37||4||84||284||283||834||ROUND #1: lost to Jets in 7|
NY Golden Blades
|'72-'73||first 24 games,
|final 54 games