Butch Goring: ‘Seed’ of Kings Finds His New Job Suits Him

Times Staff Writer

When Butch Goring played hockey for the Kings, his nickname was Seed. “It was short for seedy,” said Rogie Vachon, the team’s general manager.

“They called me all kinds of names,” said Goring, now the rookie coach of the Boston Bruins, one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League this early season.

Goring, who obviously will never make the cover of Gentleman’s Quarterly, was once called the worst-dressed player in pro hockey by a magazine. Several of his teammates, such as Syl Apps and Sheldon Kannegiesser, were listed on the best-dressed list. Goring said that he preferred to spend his money buying race horses.


He may be gone now, but King insiders still tell stories about Goring, who played for the team from 1969 until 1980.

The most famous tale is spun by broadcaster Bob Miller. According to Miller, Goring spilled spaghetti sauce on a white turtleneck sweater during a trip, and his teammates bet on whether he’d get it cleaned.

When Goring came down to the hotel lobby the next day, he was wearing the same sweater and there was no sign of a stain.

When teammates commended him for his unexpected fastidiousness, Goring removed his jacket and turned around. The stain was still there, but Goring had turned the sweater around and was wearing it with the back to the front.

Goring could have worn something else, if he had taken something else along. That wasn’t his style, though, according to Mike Murphy, who played on the same line as Goring and is now an assistant coach with the Kings.

“Butch used to manage on the bare necessities,” Murphy said. “Goring went on a 10-day road trip and all he had was a small leather suitcase that looked like a backgammon case.”

Goring reportedly showed up at the airport for another trip with a toothbrush and a change of underwear stuffed in his pocket.

Times staffer Dan Hafner wrote 10 years ago that a thief broke into Goring’s hotel room on the road and took all of the clothes belonging to Goring’s roommate, but none of Goring’s.

And, on another trip, Goring reportedly once borrowed an overcoat from former King Coach Bob Berry, who is three inches taller and 30 pounds heaver than Goring, and kept it all season. Goring wore the coat slung over his shoulders, cape-style.

Said Murphy: “He was the kind of guy who would rather go to McDonald’s than have a steak. I don’t think he was any seedier than the rest of us, but he just kind of fit into that category. As his income increased that image changed.”

He may not yet be a model of sartorial elegance, but Goring will probably be wearing a nice suit and tie tonight when he returns to the Forum with his Bruins, who will play the woeful Kings at 7:30. After all, today is Goring’s 36th birthday.

“I saw him with two suits on this trip,” said Tom Johnson, Bruin assistant general manager.

Goring, who helped the New York Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-83, wore a bow tie during his coaching debut in an exhibition game against the Islanders. He said it was a tribute to Islander General Manager Bill Torrey, who always wears bow ties.

“Butch had to borrow the tie from me and I had to tie it for him,” Johnson said.

When Torrey spotted Goring in a hallway outside the locker room after the game, though, he told Goring that he had a box full of bow ties for him.

Goring has been wearing a light blue sport coat behind the bench during regular-season games, but writers who cover the team say that he usually has removed his necktie by the time he meets the press afterward.

At practice Monday morning, Goring wore a pair of blue sweat pants with gold stripes, and a black and gold Bruin jacket. When he peeled off the uniform after practice he was wearing a pair of green pants and a sports shirt. He wore a gift from his wife, a diamond studded horseshoe-shaped ring, on his right hand, and his 1980 Stanley Cup ring on his other hand.

Goring, who once had long blond hair and a scruffy beard, is balding on top now, and is clean shaven.

Although he isn’t as heavily involved in horse racing as he once was, Goring still loves the track. He headed straight for Santa Anita when the Bruins arrived in Los Angeles Sunday morning from Calgary.

“I had the winner with Chris McCarron in the feature, but I haven’t cashed my ticket yet,” Goring said.

“It’s always nice to come back to L.A. I spent 11 years here. The biggest thing I remember is when I scored the winning goal in overtime to beat the Bruins in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup quarterfinal in 1976. But we ended up losing the series in seven games.”

The Kings drafted Robert Thomas Goring from the Canadian prairie province of Manitoba in the fourth round in 1969. Overlooked because of his size--he was only 5 feet 9 inches and 170 pounds--Goring was the 51st player selected in the draft.

He stuck, though, and so did the two helmets he brought with him. He wore them throughout his career. Those old helmets became his trademarks.

Goring bought them when he was 12 years old and playing junior hockey in Canada. He repainted them when he changed teams. They looked like something worn by football players in the 1920s. Trainers tried to get him to switch to a safer, more modern helmet, but Goring stuck with them.

The Hockey Hall of Fame has reportedly asked Goring for a helmet, now that he has retired.

Goring finished his NHL career with 375 goals and 888 points in 1,107 games.

A shifty little center with good lateral movement, Goring quickly became one of the Kings’ most popular players along with goalie Vachon and center Marcel Dionne. Fans liked Goring’s style. He wasn’t big, he just played big.

“Butch was kind of an underdog,” Murphy said. “He was like a blue-collar worker and Marcel was a white-collar kind of guy. Butch’s lateral movement was comparable to (Wayne) Gretzky’s. He beat people with his lateral movement.”

Bob Pulford, former King coach who is now the coach-general manager of the Chicago Black Hawks, took Goring under his wing. Goring even lived with Pulford’s family.

“I spent two weeks with Pulford when I was 22 or 23,” Goring said. “My wife had gone home and Pully told me that if I was late to practice for even one day I’d had to move in with him.

“As it turned out I got stuck in traffic when I took my wife to the airport and I was late the very first day, so I had to move in with him and his wife. It was great, but I think he got mad at me because my dog chewed up their plants.”

In 1978, Goring became the first NHL player to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, and the Lady Byng Award in the same season, one in which he scored a career-high 37 goals.

The Masterton Trophy is presented by the Professional Hockey Writers Assn. to the player who best displays the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The Lady Byng Award is given to the player who exhibits the best sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.

Never a fighter, Goring finished his playing career with a total of 102 penalty minutes. He never had more than 16 penalty minutes in a single season.

Goring played in 736 games in Los Angeles and ranks second on the Kings’ goal scoring list with 275, behind only Dionne. He is also third on the Kings’ points and assists lists, behind Dionne and Dave Taylor.

“I think he was one of the best I’ve ever seen in terms of his hockey knowledge,” Murphy said. “He’s got his Ph. D. in hockey.”

The Kings traded Goring to the Islanders in March of 1980 for defenseman David Lewis and left wing Billy Harris. The trade was probably one of the best things ever to happen to Goring, since he went from a losing team to the team that became the first hockey dynasty of the 1980s.

Goring won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the playoffs in 1980-81.

The Islanders put Goring on waivers last season because he didn’t fit into their youth movement, and the Bruins picked him up for just $100.

“It was a real blessing in disguise,” Goring said. “I wasn’t playing a lot for the Islanders when they put me on waivers.”

Goring had been an assistant coach with the Islanders and he kept the same designation with the Bruins.

“I think Pulford and Al Arbour (Islanders’ coach) were both a big influence on me,” Goring said. “Pulford was a defensive-oriented coach and I guess I learned a lot about that aspect from him. I watched how Arbour handled people and his approach to the game.”

Goring was named coach of the Bruins on May 6. “It was totally unexpected,” he said. “I was surprised to be on waivers and I was surprised to be named the coach.”

Goring’s assistant is Mike Milbury, a former Boston defenseman. Both Goring and Milbury played for the Bruins last season.

“I guess the biggest change is that Mike and I do very little socializing with the players now that we’re coaching,” Goring said. “We used to go out with the guys all the time, but you have to put some distance between them now. Mike and I see a lot of each other now.”

The Bruins finished fourth in the Adams Division last season after having won the division title for two straight seasons. They have been eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs for the last two seasons.

Coach Gerry Cheevers was fired last February and General Manager Harry Sinden finished the season behind the bench. Goring’s job is to turn the Bruins into winners again.

So far, so good. The Bruins are off to a 4-1-1 start under Goring. The only team the Bruins have lost to this season is the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Edmonton Oilers.