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Former Jets Owner, Michael Gobuty, Inducted Into Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame

WINNIPEG, MB. – Michael Gobuty, Winnipeg born, and now a resident of Rancho Mirage CA, was inducted into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame last week. The induction took place during the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame 2017 Induction Dinner, at CanadInns Polo Park.

Gobuty’s induction into the Manitoba Hall of Fame Builder’s category was part of the annual dinner event that recognizes the players, individuals and teams that have been instrumental in advancing the sport of hockey across Manitoba for their accomplishments on and off the ice.

For Gobuty, who has also previously been inducted into the WHA’s Hall of Fame, this induction comes at a time when Winnipeg once again has professional hockey. But that wasn’t always the case.

In 1978 Gobuty, a second generation garment manufacturer, joined a group of business owners and helped save the WHA’s Jets from extinction by purchasing the then-troubled franchise. Gobuty led the group as the team’s President and Governor, orchestrating many defining moments in Winnipeg Jets history.

Most notable was the famous backgammon game in which the Jets General Manager Rudy Pilous advised Gobuty to not take young superstar Wayne Gretzky from his friend and Indianapolis Racers owner Nelson Skalbania.

“My most memorable moment with Michael, out of scores of them, was when Michael and I flew in his plane from Indianapolis to Winnipeg to meet Rudy Pilous at the Winnipeg airport as Michael had the first option to buy Wayne Gretzky from me,” said Nelson Skalbania who was the owner of the Indianapolis Racers at the time. “As Pilous was the General Manager, Michael did not want to step on Rudy’s toes. Pilous said, what, pay that much frigging money per year for an 18-year-old kid when I never made that much in total for my whole career. No, you are crazy?”

Gobuty’s lifelong friend and current New York Rangers President Glen Sather summed it up best when it came to Gretzky when he heard about the pending induction into the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame. “Congratulations Michael, we met so many years ago I’ll always thank you for losing the backgammon game to Skalbania. Congratulations. It’s a well-deserved honor.”

Sather is referring to the famous backgammon game that Skalbania and Gobuty had aboard Gobuty’s plane on the return flight from Indianapolis.

The story which has been interpreted many times, has Skalbania offering his good friend Wayne Gretzky for a significantly reduced price. If Gobuty won, he would receive the personal services contract for Gretzky from Skalbania, On the other hand, if Skalbania won, he would have no guilt in selling the Great One to Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington for a much higher amount. As it turns out, according to Skalbania’s daughter and one of Michael Gobuty’s sons, indeed Skalbania won the game which is why Glen Sather has a lot to be thankful for.

In the fall of 1978, it was apparent that Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg were leaving Winnipeg for New York so Gobuty had to come up with a competitive team that the Winnipeg fans had grown to expect over the years.

In came Terry Ruskowski, as Winnipeg fans know so well as Rosco. Ruskowski recalls Gobuty flying to Houston and negotiating the purchase of players from the Houston Aeros’ owner Kenneth Schnitzer, and welcoming the players at his home in Winnipeg.

“Michael has been a friend from day one, and we knew when we met Adrienne, and the kids, that we found a home in Winnipeg, congratulations Michael,” said the former Jet’s standout.

Ruskowski’s leadership on the ice was recognized with his tenure first as captain of the Aeros, then with the Blackhawks, Kings, and Penguins. He is the only player in major professional hockey history to captain four teams.

But Gobuty’s biggest, and possibly most least known role, was his part in helping to orchestrate the 1979 NHL-WHA merger. Gobuty played a key part in the effort to bring peace to the hockey world, and was a leader in the negotiations to move the Jets and the best of the WHA surviving teams into the NHL. He was able to accomplish this through his relationships with NHL hardliners and anti-WHA owners Harold Ballard of Toronto and Bill Wirtz from Chicago.

“As the President of the WHA, I can confirm that without Michael Gobuty’s tireless work the merger with the NHL, would not have happened,” said former NHL owner and Board of Governors member Howard Baldwin. At the time of the merger Baldwin was the owner of the New England Whalers. “Michael’s business sense and diplomacy helped bring peace to the warring factions, but more importantly, he made sure that professional hockey remained in Winnipeg when it could have been gone.”

–MyT0ba News

Photo supplied

Kevin Klein is President and CEO of MyToba News. The former publisher and CEO of the Winnipeg Sun, Kevin has spent several years in Canadian media working in newspapers, radio and television. A proud and passionate citizen of Winnipeg and Manitoba, Kevin is excited to bring you news, pictures and information on the many wonderful charity groups in our province. If you have an event you want us to know about, email Kevin at kevin@mytoba.ca and follow him on Twitter @kevinkleinwpg.
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