January 12, 2009

Danny Lawson

Many hockey fans are too young to remember the WHA. Ex-player Pat Hickey had a good comparison between the WHA and the NHL.

"I used to always say the NHL teams had 21 NHL players on their roster and the WHA had anywhere from 12 to 14 NHL quality players on their roster" explained Hickey.

In essence the WHA was seen by many as a glorified minor league. Aside from NHL veterans like Bobby Hull, Gerry Cheevers and Derek Sanderson and many underaged junior stars like Wayne Gretzky many of the WHA's stars were players who couldn't cut it at the NHL level, but blossomed in the WHA. Danny Lawson was one of them.

Danny was a journeyman right winger for 5 NHL seasons before signing with the WHA's Philadelphia (later Vancouver) Blazers. A junior product of the Detroit Red Wings the 5'11" 180lb right winger from Toronto would also play with the Minnesota North Stars and Buffalo Sabres from 1967 to 1972. In that time he was used sparingly at times, scoring 28 goals and 29 assists for 57 points in 219 games.

"Until I got to Buffalo, I really wasn't getting much ice time, Danny said. "At least in Buffalo, I was out there playing. It was as a checker, playing on a line aimed at stopping the other team's big line. For example, I had to play a lot against players like Bobby Hull and Frank Mahovlich."

When he joined the Blazers in 1972 he became an instant WHA hit. Playing along side super-skilled though diminutive Andre Lacroix, another former NHLer who couldn't quite do the same things in NHL as he did in the WHA. Danny became the first WHA player to reach the 50-goal plateau on January 22,1973 in Ottawa and he eventually led the league in goals with 61. He added 45 assists for 106 points. Remember he had only 28 goals and 57 points in over 200 NHL games !

"I always felt I could score goals," Danny explained. "I knew it would be a lot tougher putting the puck in the net in the pros, and for some reason I had my problems scoring when I first got out of junior hockey. Actually, I felt it was a case of the coach and general manager losing their confidence in me as a goal scorer. When people like that lose confidence in you, It's tough to retain confidence in yourself."

"When I first came to Philadelphia with the WHA, I had to weigh a lot of factors. One was that I honestly felt, with the personnel Philly had, It certainly did have a chance to go all the way. That was something I never was lucky enough to be part of since I became a professional," Danny said.

"When I came to Philly, I wasn't strictly relegated to defense. I was out there to score goals, too. So I had to change my entire outlook. I had to get my all-around hockey sense back, not just concentrate on defense."

"Well, once those first few goals started going in, my whole outlook had changed. I was confident again. No longer was I going downhill as a one-way hockey player. What happened to me happens to a lot of hockey players. When I started scoring my confidence had gone sky high."

Danny's production dipped the next season as Lacroix did not accompany Danny and the Blazers to their new home in Vancouver. Danny still managed to score 50 goals without him though.

Danny would play three more years in the WHA, also seeing time with the Calgary Cowboys and the Winnipeg Jets. The glory days were behind him but he was a consistent performer. He never scored less than 30 goals in a single season. in 392 WHA games he scored 218 goals, the 8th highest total in WHA history. He added 204 assists for 422 career points.

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