George McGuire got in touch with the L.A. Kings to make sure they knew when the funeral arrangements would be.
They already did, and the team already had sent flowers. But just in case, McGuire contacted them from his home in Ottawa, thinking perhaps that the news of Brian Smith’s death wasn’t as incredible a story in Los Angeles as it was there in Canada.
Thursday night, McGuire went to the wake.
“I had been to that funeral parlor, Hulse-Playfair, many times in my life,” said McGuire, who was general manager of the Kings in 1977-84, on the phone Friday morning. “But I had never seen anything there like this.
“The wake was held in the front of the parlor, but the people were lined up out the door and down the block, six abreast. There must have been 2,000 or 3,000 people there.
“It was a wild scene. The air-conditioning was off, so it was sweltering with all these people in there. And the service was supposed to be from 7 to 9 o’clock last night, but I didn’t get out of there until at least 9:30 myself, and plenty of people were still waiting.”
Why? Because those people liked Brian Smith, admired and adored him.
“The funeral is Saturday over here at St. Patrick’s Basilica,” McGuire said. “And it’s on television.”
Brian Smith, 54, an original Los Angeles King from the charter season of 1967-68, died Wednesday from a gunshot to the head outside the Ottawa television station where he worked.
Police charged Jeffrey Arenburg, 38, with murdering the popular Ottawa sportscaster by shooting a .22-caliber rifle at Smith when he emerged from the CJOH-TV studio after Tuesday night’s broadcast. Arenburg allegedly was randomly targeting anyone from the media as he lay in ambush. At his first court appearance Thursday, Arenburg made an obscene gesture at journalists attending his arraignment.
George McGuire watches and reads the Ottawa news with a sick feeling in his gut. He coached Brian Smith in junior hockey. He thought the world of Brian.
“Disgraceful, just disgraceful,” McGuire said. “This kind of use of firearms is for the birds, sickening.
“They say he was just shooting for someone from the press, anybody. He had no gripes with that kid [Smith]. Someone could have come out of that studio first . . . the newsroom director, a young girl, anybody. It sends chills up your spine.”
Smith was no hockey superstar, but as a sportscaster he was a star of the game.
He appeared in 58 games that first season with the Kings, scoring 10 goals. Smith came to the team with Brian Kilrea, Bill White and others directly from a championship club in the American Assn. because, as McGuire recollects it, owner Jack Kent Cooke considered it a good idea to keep those young champions together as a unit.
“Cookie thought he would buy a respectable team right from the first day,” McGuire said. “He figured if they could do it in Springfield [Mass.], they could do it in Los Angeles, I guess.”
As a teen-ager, Smith played in the juniors for McGuire, who remembered him as “a little on the shy side.”
After that, the junior Montreal Canadiens wanted to promote Smith, but that was such a steep climb that McGuire made them talk to Brian’s father for permission first.
They weren’t together after that. By the time McGuire served as general manager of the Kings, from 1977 until he was replaced on Jan. 30, 1984, by Rogie Vachon, the hockey career of Smith had given way to his new career as an Ottawa broadcasting personality. When Ottawa got an NHL franchise, the Senators, Smith’s popularity increased even more.
But for some reason, a man with a rifle wished to cause harm to a media personality, Police Supt. Garry Rae said after the shooting, “and Mr. Smith was the first personality that he saw.”
Brian Smith was to be buried Saturday near his Ottawa home.
“I don’t understand this,” George McGuire said, “and I never, never will.”