Over the entire seven year history of the WHA, the Bill Hunter Trophy was given out each year to the player in the rebel league that finished the regular season with the most points. To put it another way, it was the World Hockey Association’s equivalent to the NHL’s Art Ross Trophy.
Just four players won the award over the seven years, three winning on two occasions. Looking back, one would think that hockey greats Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe would be among this select group. However, that is not the case.
Playing for the Philadelphia Blazers in the WHA’s inaugural season, Andre Lacroix was the first ever recipient of the Bill Hunter Trophy. Lacroix scored 50 goals and assisted on 74 others in 1972-73 for a total of 124 points. He was also the Bill Hunter Trophy winner two years later in 1974-75 as a member of the San Diego Mariners. That season, he scored just 41 but assisted on 106 for 147 points. He is one of just four major league hockey players to surpass 100 assists in a season. The other three are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr.
Andre was no stranger to being at the top of a scoring race. He won the Eddie Powers Trophy in 1965-66 as the OHA’s top point-getter while playing major junior for the Peterborough Petes. Lacroix played in every WHA season from 1972-73 to 1978-79. He also appeared in 325 NHL games with the Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Black Hawks and Hartford Whalers.
In between Lacroix’s two Bill Hunter Trophy wins was Mike Walton, WHA scoring champion in 1973-74. Walton scored 57 goals and assisted on 60 for 117 points with the Minnesota Fighting Saints. It was the first of three years Walton would play in the WHA, all with Minnesota. He had a respectable NHL career, playing in 588 regular season games between 1965-66 and 1978-79 with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Not a Calder Trophy winner in the National Hockey League, Walton made some hockey trivia, winning the CHL rookie of the year in 1964-65 and the AHL rookie of the year in 1965-66.
The Quebec Nordiques dominated the Bill Hunter Trophy for the final four years of the WHA with Marc Tardif and Real Cloutier alternating victories. Tardif won in 1975-76 with 71 goals and 77 assists for 148 points. His 154 points on 65 goals and 89 assists in 1977-78 will forever be a WHA record for most points in a single season. At the time, it was a major league record, two points better than Phil Esposito’s total with the Boston Bruins in 1970-71.
Tardif was the second overall pick at the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft by the Montreal Canadiens. He played parts of four seasons with the Habs before jumping to the Los Angeles Sharks of the WHA for the 1973-74 season. He moved to the Nordiques midway through the 1974-75 season and remained with the club throughout their WHA days and four years into their existence in the NHL.
Real Cloutier is the only one of the four players to begin his career in the WHA. He was a ninth overall draft pick of the Nordiques at the 1974 WHA Amateur Draft. He played with Quebec from 1974-75 until the demise of the WHA after the 1978-79 season. He carried on with the NHL Nordiques for four more years and ended his NHL career with two partial seasons with the Buffalo Sabres.
Cloutier was the Bill Hunter Trophy winner in 1976-77 and 1978-79. In his first win, he scored 66 and assisted on 75 for 141 points. He reached 75 goals in 1978-79, adding 54 assists for 129 points. In 1973-74, as a junior with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, Cloutier honed his scoring touch with 93 goals and 123 assists for 216 points in just 69 games. However, Real was a full 35 points behind league leader Pierre Larouche of the Sorel Eperviers who led the league with 251 points.