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Whalers founder recounts memories of WHA, NHL on podcast

'Slim and None' re-released in partnership with League; new episodes in production

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Much of the credit, Howard Baldwin says, goes to his late mother, Rose, who loved his stories so much that she insisted he put them in print.

There's no doubt that she would be a keen listener to the podcast that her son has produced, those stories and many more now shared on the internet. 

The NHL and KEMB on Thursday announced a distribution partnership for a re-release of the podcast "Slim and None," a spinoff of a 2014 book by Baldwin that was co-authored by Canadian sports journalist Steve Milton.

The 13-episode series, which premiered in March, will be available Thursday on, Apple, Spotify, Amazon and wherever you get your podcasts.

New England Whalers president Howard Baldwin celebrates the team's 1972-73 WHA Avco Cup championship with Champagne-doused team chairman and majority owner Bob Schmertz. At right, Baldwin with his wife, Karen, arrive at the 2005 Academy Awards in Hollywood. Howard Baldwin collection; Frank Micelotta, Getty Images

The book, "Slim and None: My Wild Ride from the WHA to the NHL and All the Way to Hollywood," chronicles Baldwin's jump from the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom he worked as a 28-year-old ticket manager; his role in helping to create the World Hockey Association; his founding of the New England Whalers (later the NHL's Hartford Whalers, of which he owned a share until 1988); and his award-winning work in film production.

Baldwin rode a roller coaster from the Flyers ticket office to the executive suites of the WHA to the NHL with the folding of the rival league, and beyond. 

"In doing the book, becoming more aware of what we did and how we did it, I realized that it's a pretty amazing story -- the whole idea of another hockey league," Baldwin said. "We wanted to do the book for our own satisfaction.

"We didn't dig too deeply. But when [this year's] 50th anniversary of the WHA came along, we decided to really roll up our sleeves and develop it further. That's what we're doing now."

With a second season now in production, Season One follows Baldwin's adventures as the maverick owner of the Whalers, who won the Avco Cup championship in the WHA's inaugural season in 1972-73, taking on the powerful Boston Bruins, who were one season removed from winning the Stanley Cup, in a fiercely competitive sports market.

Gordie Howe with the WHA's New England Whalers in the late 1970s; rookie Wayne Gretzky with the 1978-79 Indianapolis Racers. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame

Listeners are introduced to a cast that includes the founders of the rebel league, other new owners, Baldwin's front office organization, and NHL personalities and players -- both new and established -- including Chicago Black Hawks legend Bobby Hull, who famously jumped to the WHA's Winnipeg Jets.

Baldwin, with his wife and business partner, Karen (an uncredited co-author), and fellow executive co-producer Steve Maggi, expanded the book into a podcast. The series will spread its wings further in Season Two, more players and others to converse for almost to converse for almost "hot stove" chats that were hugely popular during the days of "Hockey Night in Canada" radio broadcasts, before NHL games were televised.

"I had no podcasting experience whatsoever," Baldwin said. "But it wasn't hard when you're talking about something you love. My recall from 50 years ago, and from before that with the Flyers, is pretty darned good. I remember so much of it so clearly. And I happen to have all the WHA records because I was the only person there from Day One until we did the merger with the NHL (in 1979)."

Baldwin's most impressive hockey reference appears on the Stanley Cup, his name engraved on the sterling trophy as a co-owner of the 1991-92 champion Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Dave Keon (left) with the WHA's New England Whalers in the late 1970s, and Norm Ullman with the 1975-76 WHA Edmonton Oilers. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame

But his name, and that of Karen, have also scrolled on the production credits of a handful of hockey movies over the past quarter century, including "Sudden Death," "Mystery, Alaska," "Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story," and "Odd Man Rush," which was released on demand in the early months of the pandemic in 2020.

Now Baldwin has dipped his toe into podcasting with "Slim and None," and he's fully enjoying the experience.

"What's been nice for me to hear, particularly from our (Whalers) team, is how much that year meant to the guys," he said. "We had an extraordinary year (in 1972-73). We went into the belly of the beast -- the Boston Bruins of Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr. 

"Time has made me appreciate the impact the WHA had on sports and on hockey. When I started with the Flyers, their first year (in 1967-68), the NHL had doubled to 12 teams from the six that had been playing since 1942, four of them in the U.S. 

Frank Mahovlich with the WHA's Toronto Toros in the mid-1970s, and Gordie Howe flanked by his sons Marty (left) and Mark with the Houston Aeros of the same era. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame; O-Pee-Chee/Hockey Hall of Fame

"The player pool doubled in size, player opportunity doubled in size. From 1966, when we had six teams, to 1974-75, when there were 32, counting the WHA … that's not an evolution, it's a revolution."

Baldwin quite accurately credits the rebel WHA with changing hockey forever.

"American and European players had an opportunity to flourish," he said. "And players from East Bloc countries had a chance to come over here to play. it opened up new markets, and we had some new rules that were fun."

Baldwin is happily telling those stories in "Slim and None," eager to share even more with listeners in a second season, and perhaps beyond.

Top photo: Bobby Hull in a portrait with the mid-1970s WHA Winnipeg Jets. Graphic Artists/Hockey Hall of Fame

Listen: Slim and None podcast

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