Monday, August 18, 2014

Supporting a Great Cause

On Friday August 15, 2014, a huge crowd attended the sold-out 3rd Annual Ludzy's (Steve Ludzik) Celebrity Roast in Niagara Falls, Ontario. In the coals this year was Hockey Hall of Fame member Phil Esposito.





A number of former NHL players were on-hand to help raise funds of The Steve Ludzik Centre for Parkinson's Rehab. As noted in the program, "in 2012 Steve revealed that he had been fighting Parkinson's disease for 12 years."

The guest of honour Phil Esposito

Philadelphia enforcer Dave "The Hammer" Shultz

Mike Wilson (http://www.ultimateleafsfan.com/) with Steve Ludzik's wife MaryAnn
Brit Selby, the last Toronto Maple Leaf to win the Calder (top NHL rookie). Brit won the Award in 1966
Mark Osborne, who played junior hockey in Niagara Falls with Steve, served as one the celebrity table guests. He is pictured above with his sister Lisa

The event was a huge success with $132,537 being added to the cause.








Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Review: The Metro Prystai Story by Frank Block

With the Kings Stanley Cup win fading in the rear-view mirror and training camp still many miles down the road, I needed a hockey fix.

And it arrived courtesy of author Frank Block and his e-book - The Metro Prystai Story. Prystai, who passed away on October 8, 2013, wore an NHL uniform from 1947-48 to 1957-58.

Also, there was a pleasant surprise when I opened up the attachment to his e-mail, but I will get into that later.

Wasting no time, Block addresses the crowning achievement of his subject in the NHL - Detroit's Cup victory in 1952. That was the year the Red Wings cruised through their opponents and won the bare minimum of 8 games. In the playoffs they swept Toronto and Montreal.

When asked to comment on his Cup experience, which included scoring the winning goal in game 4 of the final, Prystai replied, "Oh terrific, you know Sawchuk got 4 shutouts...they never scored a goal on us at home."

Then, comes the story of young Metro Prystai growing-up in Yorktown, Saskatchewan. Interviews with his siblings and friends provides insight into his boyhood on the Canadian prairie. His dad worked for the railroad and like most households in the 1930s, his mother looked after the home.

On the hockey front, Block chronicles Prystai from the time he played in high school to junior in Moose Jaw. "We had a pretty good team there...and they were pretty well all local guys," said Prystai. "We won three championships in a row in Saskatchewan."

A turning point for Prystai came in January 1945, when the Chicago Black Hawks decided to sponsor the junior Moose Jaw Canucks. In 1947-48, Prystai earned a spot on the Black Hawks roster and he took up residence in Chicago.

The chapter detailing his time in Chicago includes some incredible stories about his interaction with Matty Capone, who was Al Capone's brother (yes, the gangster). For example, Matty attempted to recruit Prystai into the family business. When he inquired as to what would be required, Capone replied, "just carry a gun."

Wisely, Prystai decided his true calling was to carry a stick and not a gun.

A trade in July 1950, sent Prystai to the Detroit Red Wings. In addition to helping his club capture two Stanly Cups, Prystai had the respect of his teammates. This becomes abundantly clear in the chapter titled "The Strike." A trade in November 1954,  sent Prystai back to the Windy City, setting off a firestorm in Detroit's dressing room. Led by defenceman Red Kelly, the Wings weren't happy with the transaction and they were ready to take action over managements decision to shed Prystai from their team.

Prystai, made a triumphant return to Detroit in 1955-56. He made an immediate contribution as the Wings advanced to another Cup final by defeating Toronto in the semi-final.

The book touches on numerous aspects beyond Prystai's involvement in hockey. It contains background on his family life, and business ventures after he hung-up his skates. And hockey wasn't the only sport Prystai participated in. During the summer he played ball and in one exhibition contest he shared the field with a true baseball icon.

Along with wonderful tidbits of information and moving moments (my favourite being Metro's return to the Motor City in 2011 with his family to receive a Stanley Cup ring), there are amazing photos taken at various stages of Prystai's life. The passage of time reflected in early black & white pictures, followed by bursts of colour as he got older.

Before reading Frank Block's e-book, I was somewhat aware of Prystai's work in the NHL. Going through my files, I came across this description of a goal he scored against Toronto in game 3 of the 1956 semi-final: "Then Metro Prystai, an industrious workman for the Wings, broke away, thrashed into the Leaf end with his bull-in-a-china-shop skating style, and scored with a 35-foot backhander."

How can one not appreciate a player who's style of play is described in this manner? Thus, it was a delight to expand my knowledge of Prystai beyond a file folder of clippings and notes. His story is new and not a recycled effort of the more known names in the game.

Now, for the pleasant surprise.

As Block writes on his website, included in the attachment is  "a professionally produced two and a half hour audio version where you'll get to hear exclusive interviews with Metro as well as other great hockey legends such as Red Kelly (who wrote the Forward), Emile Francis, Ted Lindsay and more."

This extra feature brings a certain intimacy to the process of getting to know Metro. I suggest first reading the text, then close your eyes and soak in the verbal portion.

So, if you're like me and in need of a hockey fix, I highly recommend securing this e-book/audio presentation. You will not be disappointed. It will satisfy the hunger of fans wanting to devour a new meal of hockey stories and information!

For further details, please visit http://www.metroprystai.com/ or e-mail the author at info@metroprystai.com


"I have really gotten to know Metro in a truly remarkable way," noted Frank Block. "It seems that no matter who I've talked to about Metro, the underlying theme in our conversations is that everyone has nothing but the utmost respect for him."

And who wouldn't want to read and learn more about someone with that reputation?






Friday, July 18, 2014

Guy Trottier: 1941-2014

Like most who strutted their stuff prior to the 1967 expansion, all Guy Trottier wanted was a crack at earning an NHL roster spot.

When expansion did take place, Trottier didn't find himself in the NHL, but he did move up from the International Hockey League to the American Hockey League.

As a member of the IHL Dayton Gems, Trottier dominated the scoring column. His goal production jumped from 46 in 1964-65 to 68 in 1965-66.. A further increase came in Trottier's final year in Ohio, when he led the league in goals with 71.

When the dust settled on expansion, Trottier found a new home in Buffalo with the AHL Bisons. His first season in Western New York was 1967-68.

Under rookie coach Fred Shero, Trottier and fellow winger Larry Mickey, provided Shero with a strong right-side. But in early 1968, injuries put both of them out of commission. Mickey suffered a broken left arm and Trottier went down with a torn cartilage in his left knee. "Losing Trottier is a big blow," said Shero after learning of the diagnosis.

Trottier remained with the Bisons after his rights were traded to the New York Rangers on December 1, 1968. New York was well stocked up front and Trottier only saw action twice with the Blueshirts in 1968-69. However, he continued to flourish with Buffalo. When the season ended, Trottier's 45 goals were tops in the AHL. He didn't let up the following campaign, as his 55 goals in 71 games allowed Trottier to retain his goal scoring crown.

Trottier's scoring prowess didn't go unnoticed by other organizations. At the Intra-League draft held on June 9, 1970, the Toronto Maple Leafs claimed Trottier from the Rangers.

Prior to an exhibition contest against St. Louis in Ottawa, Maple Leafs GM, Jim Gregory, inked Trottier to a one-year deal.

"I must admit that there were many times when I wondered if I'd ever get a good shot at a job in the NHL," said the 29 year-old Trottier in late October.

A third period hit by Pittsburgh's Greg Polis in a tilt on December 8, knocked Trottier out of Toronto's line-up. He suffered a separated right shoulder. To fill his roster spot, Toronto called up Brian Spencer from the Tulsa Oilers.

An instant crowd favourite, Spencer experienced some tragedy early in his Leaf career. On the the evening of December 12, 1970, his father was shot and killed in Prince George, British Columbia. Roy Spencer became enraged when he discovered Brian's game wouldn't be televised on the west coast. He stormed CKPG TV and forced the station to go dark. As he was departing, Spencer was confronted by three RCMP officers and engaged them in a shoot-out. Mr. Spencer expired upon arriving at the hospital.

Along with Jim Gregory, Trottier made the trip west to represent his teammates at the funeral for Roy Spencer.

Trottier got back into action in early January. His numbers before he was sidelined were telling as to his style of play. In 24 contests, he connected for 12 goals. Due to his small stature (5'8"-165), Trottier was tagged with the the nickname "The Mouse". One Toronto newspaper noted in a headline that Trottier was the "Mouse That Scored."

When the regular season ended, Trottier had collected 19 goals and 5 assists in 61 games.

He participated in 5 playoff games, but didn't record a point. Along with several other Leafs, Trottier was fined $200 for leaving the bench when a brawl broke out at New York's Madison Square Garden. A highlight of that free-for-all occurred when Bernie Parent's goalie mask was tossed into the crowd and vanished.


Guy Trottier and his fans: This photo is from the Toronto Daily Star (Dec. 1970). The Leafs opened the Gardens for the general public (mostly kids) to watch the team workout


Year two in Toronto saw a dip in Trottier's offensive production. His goals dropped to 9 and he recorded 3 less points than the previous campaign.

In early March, there was speculation of Trottier being involved in a transaction with the Buffalo Sabres. The deal would have seen him return to his old AHL stomping-grounds in exchange for Danny Lawson. According to newspaper reports, Buffalo backed-out of the trade.

During the off-season, Trottier bolted from the Leafs to sign with Ottawa of the World Hockey Association.

The change of scenery for the 1972-73 season helped Trottier regain his scoring touch. He scored 26-times and added 32 helpers for the Nationals.

A new hockey year in 1973-74 brought Trottier back to Toronto, but it wasn't with the Maple Leafs. Unable to make a go-of-it in the Nation's capital, the Ottawa franchise moved to Toronto and became the Toros.

Playing out of Varsity Arena, Trottier commented on the difference between his new home and Maple Leaf Gardens, "I've seen nights at Maple Leaf Gardens when you could have heard a fly buzz past."

At the start of his second term with the Toros, Trottier was shipped (Nov. 1, 1974) to the Michigan Stags. He ended his year with the IHL Dayton Gems.

In his time with hockey's rebel league, Trottier produced 60 goals,

He returned to Buffalo to close-out his on-ice career in 1975-76. Trottier served as a playing-coach for the Buffalo Norsmen (NAHL). While he had a productive regular season - 58 points (36 goals) in 56 games - the playoffs were another story.

On March 27, 1976, Trottier and the Norsmen were scheduled to play a quarter-final series game against Johnstown. A battle erupted in the warm-up sending Greg Neeld to hospital and another Norsmen player to the medical room for treatment.

This display of violence was enough for Trottier and general manager, Willie Marshall, to forfeit the series. Marshall, a former scoring sensation in the American Hockey League, made harsh comments when he spoke to reporters. "Hockey is secondary in this league," noted Marshall. Then, he came out with this, "I hate to say I'm a member of this league,"

After a one-year absence from hockey, Trottier returned to coach the junior (QMJHL) Hull Olympiques. He replaced former NHL defenceman Marcel Pronovost, who left to work for the Buffalo Sabres. Trottier, who also held the general manager's title, left both positions when he resigned in early 1978.

Trottier remained out of hockey for an extended period of time, before returning for two stints (1994-96 & 2000-04) as an assistant coach with the ECHL Dayton Bombers.

Trottier wearing a Bombers cap



In Toronto to attend a Maple Leaf game at the Air Canada Centre, Trottier signed autographs at the alumni booth located at Gate 1 of the ACC


Looking back on Trottier's career, a quote from his second year with the Leafs best sums-up his approach to the game. "I just don't have the build to go around challenging people," began Trottier. "I wouldn't last long in this league if I took runs at the tough guys. I have to save my energy and stamina for the serious pursuits such as scoring goals."

Guy Albert "The Mouse" Trottier was born on April 1, 1941. He passed away on June 19, 2014 in Dayton, Ohio.



Monday, July 14, 2014

Larry Zeidel: Sticking it to the Opposition

Three moments from Larry Zeidel's hockey career surfaced when I read about his recent passing.

As a rookie defenceman with the Detroit Red Wings in 1951-52, Zeidel skated in 19 regular season contests and 5 playoff matches. Detroit swept Montreal in the Stanley Cup final with game four being played on April 15, 1952. There can be no greater moment, for a freshman or veteran, than winning Lord Stanley's mug.


  Zeidel paid his dues before landing a spot on the Wings roster and getting his named engraved on the Cup.

Following his final year in junior with the Barrie Flyers, Zeidel's career took him to the Quebec Senior Hockey League. In 1947-48 he joined the Quebec Aces. He stayed with the Aces for three campaigns and the time spent in his native Province helped define him as a player. As Zeidel once stated, "there were a lot of rugged guys in the league at that time, too, so maybe it was partly a matter of survival."

In his final year with Quebec, Zeidel led the league in penalty-minutes. He spent a total of 176-minutes in the sin-bin.

After winning the Cup in the Motor City, Zeidel spent most of the following year with the Edmonton Flyers in the WHL.

Zeidel rode hockey's version of a roller coaster, when his rights were traded by the high-flying Red Wings to  the bottom-dwelling Chicago Black Hawks.

Subsequent to his one term (1953-54) in the Windy City, Zeidel wouldn' return to the National Hockey League until expansion took place in 1967.

When he departed from the big-show, Zeidel bounced between the American Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.

This brings us to Zeidel's second moment of notoriety.

It happened on October 2, 1958, when Zeidel was a member of the Hershey Bears. In an exhibition match-up between the New York Rangers and the Bears held at The Stamford Arena in Niagara Falls, an  incident occurred which made the news the following day.

Under a sprawling headline - "3 Hockey Players Jailed As Riot Breaks Out In Arena" - the hockey world was made aware of an event which started one of the most ugly and malicious feuds the game has ever witnessed.

In the story, Hershey GM, Baz Bastein, is quoted on how the trouble started. "It started from a stick-swinging duel between Shack (of the NYRs) and Zeidel. They were thrown out of the game and after they got dressed they met and went at it again near the players' bench."

When the police intervened to break-up the ruckus, Zeidel lost his cool.

"Someone pulled me off Zeidel and he got up and punched me in the mouth," said police officer William Gillies when he testified later in court.

Zeidel was charged with assaulting  a police officer and causing a disturbance. His teammate, Obie O'Brien, also got involved in the altercation. He was accused of shoving Gillies and another officer away from Zeidel. He was charged with obstructing a police officer in the execution of his duties.

O'Brien and Zeidel appeared before Magistrate Johnstone Roberts to plead their cases. Zeidel took a tactical approach to his defense. He entered a not guilty plea to the assault charge and guilty to the lesser offense of creating a disturbance.

The Magistrate didn't but into Zeidel's reasoning or explanation for his actions. Zeidel's attorney told the court his client was concussed and thus didn't act appropriately. The Hershey rearguard suffered two cuts on his head which required 10 stitches. Turning a blind-eye to Zeidel's account of how things went down, the Magistrate found him guilty of assault and gave him a suspended sentence on the disturbance charge. As result, he was fined $200.

Obie O'Brien won his case and was absolved of any wrong-doing.

Eddie Shack, out on bail (set at $100), had a later court date on the charge of disturbance by fighting. His case was dismissed.

Throughout hockey, Zeidel was gaining a reputation for letting his stick do his talking.

While playing for Edmonton in the WHL, Zeidel and Jack Evans teed-off on each other. "Evans and Zeidel stood off about four feet and started swinging at each other," Lorne Davis (Edmonton Flyers '54-'55) told the Hockey News in 1958. "Finally they broke the sticks over one another's head. Then they started to spear each other with the jagged ends. Both caught about 19 stitches. The ice was covered in blood. It was terrible."

The Zeidel-Shack saw-off in 1958 was the ugly portion of their feud. The malicious part would come 10-years later in a moment near the end of Zeidel's time on the ice. And the nastiness emerged on two fronts.

On the night of March 7, 1968, Philadelphia and Boston tangled in a regular season tilt at Maple Leaf Gardens. The location of the game was moved to Toronto when the Philadelphia Spectrum closed due to roof damage.

At the mid-point of period one, Zeidel and Shack renewed their hostilities. Their weapons of choice, like in '58, were their sticks. Photographs in newspapers the next day revealed how vicious the stick-battle got. They showed blood trickling down from the head of both combatants. The lumber they gripped fully extended and within range of their unprotected areas. Their gloves remained on, a clear indication that punches wouldn't be thrown.





Afterwards, one question was being asked - why? Why did this happen, again?

There appears to be two theories concerning the cause. The first, being a cross-check Zeidel applied to Shack as he attempted to enter Philadelphia's zone. Normally, this would be a common play which occurs on a regular basis. Certainly, it wouldn't cause either Shack or Zeidel to turn their sticks into tomahawks.

The second notion carries a lot more weight in establishing grounds for a cause and why one of them reacted in the extreme.

Alleged comments made by the Boston Bruins were identified by Zeidel as the reason he blew a gasket. "Nearly the whole Boston team tried to intimidate me about being the only Jewish player in the league," Zeidel told reporter Ed Conrad. "They said they wouldn't be satisfied until they put me in a gas chamber."

An investigation by NHL president Clarence Campbell revealed, "it was not denied that Zeidel had been called 'Jew' or 'Jewish', combined with a variety of abusive terms." However, Campbell stated there was no evidence to support Zeidel's claim of references to Nazi actions in World War Two.

Although Zeidel made some early comments, a code of silence was quickly adapted. The National Hockey League would do the talking and have the final word on this matter.

When Campbell handed down his verdict, Zeidel was suspended for four games and Shack had to sit out three. Also, both were fined $300 for their misdeeds.

Zeidel would put in one more season with the Flyers before hanging-up his skates. In 158 NHL games he scored 3 goals and 16 assists. In 12 playoff dates, he recorded a lone assist.

Larry "The Rock" Zeidel was born on June 1, 1928, in Montreal Quebec. He passed away on June 17, 2014. at Pennsylvania Hospital



Friday, July 4, 2014

Fresh Hope

For those of you keeping track and perhaps, cheering on the Toronto Maple Leafs, the odds of a Stanley Cup parade in the near future are declining rapidly. Not to mention, the last festivities of this kind were held way back in 1967.

To determine the reason why there have been no celebrations on Bay Street is an impossible task. Fingers can be pointed at every level within the organization. Even the on-ice officials are included in the blame-game. Remember the non-call in game 6 of the Campbell Conference final - the contest where Kerry Fraser and crew missed the carving applied to Doug Gilmour?

Wayne Gretsky's overtime goal in game 6, sent the series back to Maple Leaf Gardens for a seventh and deciding game. The winner would receive an all paid expense trip to the Stanley Cup final and a date with the Montreal Canadiens.

Unfortunately for Toronto, Gretzky put on a show at 60 Carlton. He had all the weapons and sunk the Leafs ship.

Many Toronto faithful are of the opinion that if the Leafs had gotten by Los Angeles, a Cup victory over Montreal awaited them.

The '92-'93 Habs didn't hold a candle to the red-hot Canadien clubs of yesteryear. In particular, when compared to the powerhouse squads coached by Scotty Bowman in the 1970s.

In 1978, Toronto and Montreal collided in the conference final. It was the last time they met so deep in the post-season. Toronto joined Montreal in the next round thanks to Lanny McDonald's overtime goal in game 7 against the New York Islanders.

And it didn't get any easier facing Montreal in the conference final. During the regular season, Montreal strung together an impressive 59-10-11 record and scored a league-high 359 goals.

As expected, the Canadiens continued their march to the Cup final by stampeding over the Leafs and sweeping them in four-straight contests.Montreal reached the top of the mountain when they defeated Don Cherry's Bruins and were crowned champions.

In 1993, a possible match-up between the two Canadian teams seemed more even. Montreal closed out the year with 102 points, while Toronto registered 99 points. If Toronto had advanced, there was a good chance, unlike in 1978, that the final wouldn't be a blow-out for either team.

But it never happened. The stars weren't aligned for the long-time rivals to once again battle one another for all the marbles.

Several decent playoff runs followed for the Maple Leafs. Still, most agree Toronto's best opportunity to shake there post-expansion blues was in 1993.

If the Greater Toronto Area is to host another Cup parade, they may have to look outside-the-box.

The Maple Leafs inability to add proven top-end talent results in them spinning their wheels and negating any meaningful progress.

A second National Hockey League franchise (located in Toronto or a nearby suburb) could be the answer for Cup starved Toronto residents. Sure, there are no guarantees a second team in the GTA would hoist Lord Stanley's gift to hockey, but there would be fresh hope. And that is a major component to being a fan.

Comments made on social media this week suggest that hope is evaporating. "Same team going to be iced again this year, maybe worse actually," declared one posting. Another asked, "...how much longer are they going to rebuild? They have 3 playoff wins in 12 years it's getting ridiculous."

On June 25, Tim Leiweke, who holds the top job at MLSE, spoke at a Board of Trade gathering. Many share a belief the Maple Leafs wouldn't allow or welcome neighbours to their gated community. But as Leiweke pointed out, "we just have one vote," in reference to a league-wide referendum which would be required for expansion or relocating another team to Toronto.

Any worries Leaf ownership have about losing their standing in the Toronto market are unfounded. Almost 100-years of passion and unwavering support doesn't suddenly expire. Like any relationship there are good and bad times. A rocky patch doesn't always result in divorce.

The Maple Leafs will, forever, be Toronto's team. But with this comes a public trust to meet a high standard both on and off the ice.

In fact, due to the nature of their business, Bell and Rogers could benefit from the competition. The immediate rivalry between the Leafs and the new boys in town wouldn't hurt the TV ratings. To help sweeten the pot, the newcomers most likely would sign either a short-term or long-term lease to play out of the Air Canada Centre.

Then, there are the hockey fans in Toronto who just want to relive or experience for the first-time a Stanley Cup victory on their home turf.

In his book - "1967 - The Last Good Year" -  Pierre Berton wrote: "In 1967 we looked forward with anticipation. In 1997 we look backward with regret to the 'good old days' when nobody talked about deficit or 'downsizing'."

And for Toronto Maple Leaf fans, they look back to 1967 when there was hope for many more Stanley Cups.

Monday, June 23, 2014

In The Good Old Summertime

When the Los Angeles Kings were crowned Stanley Cup champions on June 13th, it brought another year of hockey to an end.

It was time for summer and hockey's off-season.

For the NHL Oldtimers, the summer was kicked-off with their annual barbeque. The event took place on the very first day of summer and was hosted by Al and Lorraine Shaw.

 
 
Above: Wally Stanowski and Jerry Junkin are deep in conversation as they sit in the shade on the deck. Wally is still wearing his New York Rangers cap in support of his former team. He was traded to the Rangers following his 1948 Stanley Cup win with the Maple Leafs. In exchange for Wally and Elwyn Morris, Toronto obtained Cal Gardner, Rene Trudell and the rights to Frank Mathers.
 
 
 
 Above: Sue Foster, author (with Carl Brewer) of the wonderful book - "The Power of Two" - Carl Brewer's Battle with Hockey's Power Brokers - is pictured here with Janet Anderson. The following passage comes from the Acknowledgments in her book:
 
 
There are literally hundreds of wonderful people within the hockey community who have constantly rallied around me with their love, encouragement and interest: I cherish your presence in my life. Special mention to Al Shaw, Jim Anderson and their wives (Lorraine & Janet) for all their love and the contribution you make to the NHL Oldtimers.



 Above: Blaine Smith enjoys a beverage under the tent. His Dad, Sid Smith, still holds an NHL record. On April 10, 1949, he scored 3 power play goals in a Stanley Cup final game against the Detroit Red Wings - 65 years later, the record still stands.
 
 
 
 
Above: Former Boston Bruin, Bob Becket (R), shares a laugh with Blaine Smith. On November 2, 1961, Bob scored his first National Hockey League goal. It was scored against Montreal goalie Jacques Plante.
 
 
 
Above: To celebrate the arrival of summer, the DCAT Chorus filled the air with delightful tunes. Details on the chorus can be found at their website DCAT Chorus. For further information, please contact Rhonda Marks-Would at dcatchorus@hotmail.ca
 
 
 
 
 
 
 Above: The crowd looks on as the DCAT Chorus belts out another song.
 
 
 
 
 
 Above: George Storey signs an autograph for another guest. His Brother, Red Storey, was not only an NHL referee of note, but a star running back for the Toronto Argos from 1936 to 1941.
 
 
 
 
 Ivan Irwin embraces the lovely Jennifer Anderson. After joining the Rangers from Montreal, Ivan's new coach, Frank Boucher, said this about his new defenceman, "He's all I thought he was - and more."
 
* Note: Edited at 11:00 am, June 23, 2014
 
 



Friday, June 13, 2014

King of Kings

As the Stanley Cup final shifts to Los Angeles for game five, here is a look back to the Kings when they first became part of the National Hockey League.

The city of Los Angeles gained an NHL franchise on February 9, 1966.

At a meeting held in New York, word came down that Jack Kent Cooke (California Sports Inc.) had emerged victorious in his pursuit of a big league team for LA. The Canadian businessman prevailed over several groups, including one fronted by Clarence D. Martin. He represented Dan Reeves (Los Angeles Rams) and Bob Reynolds ( Los Angeles Angels). Martin previously worked in Washington as an under-secretary of commerce. Also, he was close to the powerful Kennedy family. Another person hoping to get his foot-in-the-door was Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson.

Reeves, already had a connection with the game, as he and Jim Piggotf, who hailed from Saskatoon, were co-owners of the Western Hockey League Los Angeles Blades.
Jack Kent Cooke

"I feel like I'm now one echelon above the president of the United States," Cooke told UPI upon hearing the news of his successful bid.

After gaining entry into the exclusive NHL playground, Cooke was asked how he would sell hockey's top league in California. "I'm going to build on Canadians to spark the draw," Cooke advised a newspaper reporter. "You know how many Canadians or Americans of Canadian extraction there are in the metro area? Seven hundred thousand, that's how many. They'll form a nucleus of the proper breed."

To help him enlighten Californians of the NHL brand, Cooke hired Ed Fitkin as his director of public relations. Fitkin had a long history in the game, first working as a sports writer in Toronto, then in publicity at Maple Leaf Gardens. After his stint of employment with Conn Smythe, Fitkin joined the CBC.

In addition to his public relations duties, Fitkin served as general manager of the LA Wolves, a team owned by Cooke that played in the United Soccer Association. Also, he sat beside play-by-play man Jiggs McDonald doing colour on radio (KNX) and TV (KTLA).

Former NHL player, Larry Regan, was hired by Cooke to beat-the-bushes for talent in advance the expansion draft. He became the Kings first general manager. "I probably have 600 players in my book," Regan stated in an interview. "Of that number, 120 are in the NHL now - most of them unavailable. I pay a lot of attention to the top six on each American Hockey League club and the bottom six on each NHL team. The difference in those two grades is maybe 10 per cent.

All of Regan's scouting missions paid-off when the National Hockey League expansion draft took place in Montreal on June 5, 1967. Holding the first overall selection, the Kings chose veteran goalie Terry Sawchuk from the Toronto Maple Leafs. During the 1966-67 campaign, Sawchuk recorded his 100th shutout and backstopped the Maple Leafs to a Stanley Cup victory over Montreal. In a later round, Regan and his staff selected another goalie, Wayne Rutledge.
Larry Regan

Also at the draft, Cooke signed his first coach. Once again, an ex-Maple Leaf was front and centre. Like Sawchuk, Red Kelly was a member of Toronto's '67 Cup team.

It was Kelly's intention to retire after winning the Cup and become a coach. Apparently, Kelly negotiated his release the previous summer in exchange for playing the 1966-67 season in Toronto. However, the Leafs weren't going along with the plan. As the draft progressed they put Kelly back on their list, thus retaining his rights. This move prevented the Kings from getting Kelly as their first bench boss.

Before leaving Montreal, the Kings and Maple Leafs resolved their differences. "Punch and I have reached an agreement whereby Ken Block goes to Toronto in exchange for Red Kelly, who becomes the official coach of the Kings," announced Cooke in a statement to the press.

Another important move made by the organization was purchasing the American Hockey League team in Springfield. The Kings gave the job of grooming their young talent to Johnny Wilson, who had played for several NHL teams in his career. The acquisition also helped to stock the parent club with warm bodies. In particular, with Dale Rolfe and Bill White securing jobs on the Los Angeles defence.

Recognizing the need for the community to form a bond with their new team, even before they hit the ice, Cooke held a team-naming contest. When the totals were tallied, 7,634 people thought "Kings"
would be a suitable name. A fan base was formed when members who belonged to the Los Angeles Blades fan club, switched their allegiance to the Kings.

The Los Angeles Kings roster in their first year of operation ('67-'68) was typical of an expansion club trying to find its way. Frank Orr, a highly respected hockey writer the Toronto Daily Star, provided the following breakdown of the Kings line-up:

Kings' top forward line to date has been Brian Kilrea between Ted Irvine and Lowell MacDonald. Ed Joyal pivots Real Lemieaux and Bill Flett, while Gord Labossiere centres Terry Gray and Brian Smith. Three refugees from the Springfield Indians - Dave Amadio, Bill White and Dale Rolfe - plus Bob Wall and Jacques Lemieux form the defence corps.


To start the year, Los Angeles held their home games at the Long Beach Arena and the LA Sports Arena. Red Kelly's troops began the season with home wins against Philadelphia and Minnesota. This was followed by draws in Oakland and St. Louis and a win over the Hawks at Chicago Stadium..

On December 30, 1967, the Kings were finally able to play in their new home, The Forum. Jack Kent Cooke had nothing but praise for his new building. "The Forum is easily the most beautiful of its kind anywhere, including the new Madison Square Garden in New York," said the proud owner. "This place is so beautiful it is breathtaking."

Unfortunately for Cooke and company, the Philadelphia Flyers won the first regular season contest at The Forum. They downed the Kings 2-0 with Ed Hoekstra scoring the first goal in Forum history.

Shortly after being awarded the right to operate an NHL club, Cooke was asked to comment on expectations when it came to winning a Stanley Cup. "I don't expect to win in 1967 or 1968. Let's talk about 1969, when we've had two full years of play," responded Cooke to the inquiry.

While Cooke may not have had a part in organizing a Stanley Cup parade, he did lay the foundation for a very successful franchise, as the current team hopes to earn the Kings second championship.