The early 1970s saw several 7-Eleven Slurpee cups quench a thirst in certain segments of the U.S. sports collecting world. The key year in many hobbyists’ eyes revolved around 1972 as the convenience store chain rolled out sets of pro baseball, football and basketball cups. The next season enthusiasts had their pick of even more MLB and NFL Slurpee cups, while the hoop players did not return into this plastic arena.
But what about hockey? Where were the modestly tapered six-inch cups that carried about 14 to 16 ounces of the flavored beverage of choice in a nearly frozen format featuring the very athletes that played on ice, sometimes some of it slightly shaved?
The answer contains a portion of its roots around the middle of the 1972 NFL season, since in October of that year the World Hockey Association debuted. In the league’s inaugural game, the Alberta Oilers knocked off the host Ottawa Nationals, and the adventure of the first league to face off against the NHL in the modern era to have much success had taken its first shot on goal.
The WHA struggled for much of its existence, finally folding in June of 1979. Yet, with four of its teams (Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec City and Winnipeg) merging with the NHL starting with the 1979-80 schedule, some could say that even with their challenges the WHA was a relative success.
Using the same basic detailed color illustration portrait design as the “Big Three” team sports Slurpee cups in 1972-73, 7-Eleven perhaps did a head fake of sorts for what appears to be the 1973-74 hockey season, as the store trotted out WHA cups—but more on that in a moment. Maybe 7-Eleven wanted to go rogue and bypass NHL cups and see what happened with the upstart league, or maybe the convenience store chain and the NHL could not come to terms.
Whatever the reason, the WHA entered the Slurpee mix and it gained some street cred with the cups, at least in collector’s eyes. That said, the light plastic containers do not provide a thimble’s worth of hockey highlights on the back, the opposite of the era’s other 7-Eleven sports cups.
At first glance, for some anyway, it seems a little up in the air as to when these cups actually came out.
Twelve WHA teams get representation in the 20-cup set. The only season that includes all of these franchises is the 1973-74 season. By the time that ‘73-74 schedule rolled around, the Ottawa franchise from the previous year had become the Toronto Toros. Wayne Carleton, one of two Toronto players in the 7-Eleven issue, gets extra attention for his “all-in” ‘70s hairstyle, long sideburns and bushy ‘stache.
Toronto represents one of the five Canadian-based teams in the league that year, the others: Alberta, Quebec, Vancouver and Winnipeg. All of the franchises out of Canada see at least two players per team in the issue; Alberta, Vancouver and Winnipeg show up three times apiece. That might have been mostly a marketing choice 7-Eleven made since, as one online post from years ago about the set read: “I believe the hockey cups were only sold at 7-Eleven stores in Canadian cities that had WHA teams playing in them.”
Meantime, each of the U.S.-based teams in the set—Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New England and New York—all deliver one representative.
Like Trying to Catch a Scorching Puck with Tweezers
And when it comes to the 7-Eleven cups of the time, regardless of the sport, the hockey examples show up about as often in hobby circles as the average WHA team stayed based in one city and/or turned a profit. “I put them at the top of the list of any of the Slurpee cups when it comes to rarity,” Mike Mosier said of the 1973-74 WHA cups.
Mosier, of Indiana’s Columbia City Collectibles, said he never had more than a few hockey cups at one time, maybe about a dozen of them over 15 years. “I just never found any of those (to speak of).” That says a great deal since Mosier has handled oddball items for decades.
Some recent checking of eBay showed five 1973-74 WHA cup listings, with only a couple of sales in the past month. Common cups in excellent shape have been selling for $25-$33 (including shipping). Bobby Hull, the set’s main star, can bring about double that price.
Fellow NHL Hall of Famer Gerry Cheevers also appears in the issue. Andre LaCroix, the WHA’s all-time leader in games played, assists and points, and fourth in goals scored, has his place in plastic perpetuity, as well.
To put the availability of the WHA cups in more context, in order of usual rarity, eBay listings for the basketball cups stood at 19 at this writing. Other listings: 1973 football (96), 1972 football (74, which is lower than expected), 1973 baseball (101), and 1972 baseball (120). As Mosier stated, “The baseball cups (from either year) are still the most popular (overall), even though they are the most common.”
Taking Home the Cup
As all of these 7-Eleven cups ease toward the 50-year-old mark, Mosier sees them continuing to be the era’s only ones in demand. Specifically about the WHA issue, the veteran hobby dealer says the relatively little known offering will hold its ground. “They are still some of the cups that would sell right away.”
Doug Koztoski is a frequent SCD contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.