Stanley Cup FINALS : Notes on a Scorecard
Reflections upon 26 seasons of chronicling the Kings, from also-rans to Stanley Cup finalists, from half-empty houses to nightly sellouts, from Dave Amadio to Alexei Zhitnik:
The NHL had a great gimmick for the 1967-68 season. An expansion team would reach the Stanley Cup finals. Guaranteed. The playoff winner of the West Division, comprising the six expansion teams, would face the winner of the East Division, comprising the six established teams. . . .
The Kings finished second in the West during the regular season, but, as a harbinger of things to come, were eliminated by Minnesota in their first playoff series. . . .
Opening night bore no resemblance to a Hollywood premiere. Only 7,023 showed up at the Long Beach Arena to watch the Kings defeat the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2. This was the big leagues? The Blades of the Western Hockey League used to draw bigger crowds. . . .
“A half million Canadians live here, and now I know why they left Canada,” owner Jack Kent Cooke said. “They hate hockey.” . . .
Those nicknames Cooke insisted that announcer Ken (Jiggs) McDonald use--Bill (Cowboy) Flett, Eddie (the Jet) Joyal, Real (Frenchy) Lemieux, Howie (Minnie) Minard, Bryan (Soupy) Campbell and Brian (Killer) Kilrea--never really caught on. . . .
McDonald’s first color commentator was Ed Fitkin. A young graduate of Arizona State named Al Michaels had been considered for the job, but, instead, Michaels helped to prepare the first media guide and drove Coach Red Kelly to Rotary Club speaking engagements. . . .
Terry Sawchuk, who tended goal for three Stanley Cup champions in Detroit, was the first player taken in the expansion draft. However, little-known Wayne Rutledge outperformed Sawchuk much of the time and got more assignments. Sawchuk was gone after the season. . . .
It wasn’t until Cooke signed Marcel Dionne away from the Detroit Red Wings in 1975 that the Kings landed another famous player. . . .
Dionne broke every King scoring record during his 11 seasons, but never could lead the team to a division title or past the second round of the playoffs. . . .
Some of the problem was that Cooke, against the advice of Coach Bob Pulford, had let the heart and soul of the team, Danny Maloney and Terry Harper, go to the Red Wings as part of the compensation for Dionne. . . .
Maloney was the best fighter ever to wear a King uniform, and Harper was the wisest defenseman. . . .
Pulford-style hockey wasn’t thrilling--tight defense, conservative offense, great goaltending by Rogie Vachon--but it produced 105 points the year before Dionne arrived. That still stands as a club record. . . .
Pulford couldn’t shake the memories of Cooke ignoring his wishes and left for the Chicago Black Hawks in 1977. . . .
The Kings have had 17 coaches and five general managers. They have also had several sets of uniforms. The best looking are the silver-and-black they wear today. The least attractive were the all-gold. But the crown emblem should have been kept. . . .
NHL critics say the quality of play has decreased because of the increase in teams from six to what will be 23 next season. . . .
I find the game much faster than on opening night at Long Beach in 1967. Every defenseman can rush the puck now, and pity the shooter who hasn’t mastered the slap shot. . . .
The talent pool has been increased considerably by the influx of young Europeans, including Alexei Zhitnik, the 21-year-old King defenseman from Ukraine who might be the next Ray Bourque. . . .
Barry Melrose was not the first choice to succeed Tom Webster as coach, but, along with the purchase of the franchise by Bruce McNall and the trade for Wayne Gretzky, his signing ranks among the best things to happen to the Kings. Vachon, the underrated former general manager, had built a solid roster. What the team needed was a motivator, and Melrose was the perfect fit. . . .
Of all the nights of hockey at the Forum before these playoffs, two stood out. . . .
On April 22, 1976, Butch Goring scored his second overtime goal of the series to give the Kings a 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins in the sixth game of the second round. Goring’s teammates did something I had never seen before and haven’t since. They carried him off the ice on their shoulders. . . .
On April 10, 1982, the Kings came back from a 5-0 deficit in the third period to defeat the Edmonton Oilers and Wayne Gretzky, 6-5, in overtime. That was the Miracle on Manchester. Guests at the hotel across the street from the Forum said they thought there was an earthquake. It was only the crowd reacting to Darryl Evans’ winning goal. . . .
If the Kings win the Stanley Cup at home, you can be sure there will be another tremor felt in Inglewood.