Friday, June 1, 2012

Los Angeles Kings: Retro 1967-68

As the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs progress, hockey fans become more familiar with and enchanted by the Los Angeles Kings.

But how many can recall the Los Angeles expansion team from 1967-68?

In the grand Tinsle Town tradition of studios like MGM and Warner Brothers, let's dim the lights and roll the film - in our case the videotape.

The curtain slowly rises, revealing the opening credits. It is showtime, the feature attraction is about to get underway - "Los Angele Kings: Retro 1967-68".

 I took a couple of hours to screen a Kings encounter against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The venue - Maple Leaf Gardens. The date - Saturday March 2, 1968.

The broadcast commensed with the drop-of-the-puck to begin period two.

To start the middle frame, LA coach Red Kelly, a former Leaf, sent out a forward line with Howie Menard, Terry Gray and Doug Robinson. On defence, Howie Hughes and Bill White patrol the blue line.

Starting in goal for Los Angeles, Wayne Rutledge. Spectators and those viewing on Hockey Night in Canada were hoping to see Terry Sawchuk between the pipes for LA. The previous spring, Sawchuk backstopped Toronto to a Stanley Cup championship. Both Rutledge (New York) and Sawchuk (Toronto) were claimed in the June expansion draft.

During the '67-'68 campaign, Rutledge took over the role as the Kings number one goalie. He got the nod in 45 matches (20-18-4 2.87 average), while Sawchuk performed in 28 (11-4-6 3.07 average).

Red Kelly couldn't turnover his lines quick enough to satisfy my anticipation. When Bill Hewitt called out a name, a memory or recollection relating to the player would fill my head. Seeing Bill White in LA colours reminded me that he did play for the Kings. Most of memories concerning the big rearguard are of his time with the Chicago Blackhawks.  The time between shifts lasted forever. None of those 45-second or one-minute mad dashes for those in the post-expansion era.

Next over the boards for LA were Eddie Joyal and his linemates, Bill Flett and Real Lemieux on the wings. Dave Amadio and captain Bob Wall took their position in front of Rutledge.

This line was replaced by the threesome of Gord Labossiere at centre, flanked by Ted Irvine at left wing and Lowell MacDonald at right wing.

Rounding out the Kings defence were Jim Murray and Dale Rolfe.

After a scoreless opening twenty-minutes, Toronto produced two tallies in period two. Hitting the twine behind Rutledge were Wayne Carleton and Ron Ellis.

Los Angeles experienced difficulty getting the puck deep. Their forwards were being stood-up at Toronto's blue line, unable to create clear lanes to the Leaf net.

At 18:16, Mike Pelyk went off for cross-checking. And it didn't take long for LA's power play to connect. Their mission accomplished in a mere four-seconds.

On the draw, Joyal faced-off against Dave Keon. The puck went to left winger Lemieux, who backhanded it to Wall at the left point. Spotting Joyal in the slot, Wall delivered puck-to-tape, and Joyal's shot went past Johnny Bower via the five-hole.

Early in the third, LA completed their comeback. At 6:20, Lowell MacDonald knotted the score at two goals apiece. Ted Irvine, positioned behind the net to Bower's right, quickly shifted a loose puck from his forehand to backhand. Waiting for his pass in front, MacDonald made no mistake depositing the disc behind Bower.

Momentum quickly shifted back to Toronto. Ron Ellis netted his second marker at 6:55 to restore the Leafs advantage. They increased the lead when Brian Conacher and Marcel Pronovost lit up the goal light. With a three goal cushion, Punch Imlach and his crew skated to a 5 to 2 victory.

Eddie Joyal proved to be LA's best forward. He got his team back in the contest by cutting Toronto's margin in-half. At seasons end, he topped the Kings point list with 57 in 74 matches.

Dale Rolfe exhibited some spark on defence. He didn't hesitate to lug the puck up ice, attempting to manufacture scoring chances. Foster Hewitt selected Rolfe as the third star.

This game turned out to Frank Mahovlich's last in a Leaf uniform. A week later, he returned to Maple Leaf Gardens as a Detroit Red Wing.

Was that really "Cowboy" Bill Flett sans the facial hair?

Colour commentator Brian McFarlane made note of Canadian actor Larry Mann being in the crowd. A huge Leaf fan, Mann switched his allegiance to Los Angeles when they entered the league. Based in southern California, Mann appeared in a number of television shows, including Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes and Dragnet.

To welcome Mann back to his home town, Punch Imlach's wife, Dodo, baked him a cake and hauled it down to the Gardens.

Final statistics for 1967-68 show the Los Angeles Kings amassed 72 points in 74 games (31-33-10), good for second place in the Western Division.

Their opponent in quarter-final play were the Minnesota North Stars. The series went to a seventh and deciding game, with the visiting North Stars advancing.  They outscored LA 9 to 4.

Despite their opening round loss, the Kings entered the record book after game two on April 6, 1968. Los Angeles became the first team in NHL history to record victories in their first two playoff games. They defeated Minnesota 2 to 1 and 2 to 0.

In 2012, the Kings organization hopes to top this by being crowned Stanley Cup champs.

A true Hollywood ending.





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