Game 7: NorCal vs. SoCal … 1969

After tonight’s Game 7 at Staples Center we will know which team from California will represent the state in the Western Conference Finals against an Original Six team (Chicago or Detroit).

And while the Kings-Sharks matchup is the first Game 7 between the franchises (who also met in the first round of the 2011 playoffs), it’s not the first Game 7 between the Kings and a Northern California NHL team.

That happened in April of 1969, when the Kings rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to defeat the California/Oakland Seals, 5-3 in Oakland in Game 7.

The Kings won that series despite being cumulatively outscored, 25-23. The key to LA’s clinching victory probably was its ability to kill penalties, including a two-man advantage during the first period.

“Our inability to score on those first period power plays, especially the one where we had a two-man advantage hurt badly,” Seals coach Fred Glover told the Los Angeles Times.

Lowell McDonald stole the puck from Norm Ferguson to score what proved to be the winning goal at 7:37 of the third period. McDonald earlier had set up two first-period goals by Ted Irvine (father of professional wrestler Chris Jericho).

The victory sent the Kings into a series against the St. Louis Blues, who interestingly enough are the team the current Kings defeated in the first round this season in six games. Last season’s Cup winner knocked out the Blues in five games in the second round.

Note: The historical research is part of my upcoming book on the history of hockey in California, Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds.

California’s first trip to Nationals

The nearly two dozen teams from California playing in the USA Hockey Nationals this week have arrived at their various sites and no doubt are resting up for Wednesday’s opening games.

But did you know California first sent a youth hockey team to Nationals (then the Amateur Hockey Association of the United States or AHAUS) in 1962? A Bantam team playing out of Van Nuys Iceland represented the state.

What’s notable was that the team included the late Ken Vogel, who would go on to play for Jack Riley (coach of the 1960 Squaw Valley gold-medal winners) at West Point;¬†Brian Bird, who would go on to captain Yale; and Cary Adams, who founded the PCHA, the circuit for college club teams in the Western United States.

The team was an all-star team of Southern California Junior Ice Hockey League players from the San Fernando Valley (north of downtown Los Angeles). Participants came from rinks in Van Nuys, North Hollywood and Tarzana. The SCJIHL disbanded shortly thereafter with GLAMHA (Greater Los Angeles Minor Hockey Association) absorbing the clubs.

The team was coached by the late Ronnie Van Gompel.

It also surprises many to discover that by the late 60s the state was sending players to some of the top college hockey programs in the country, a topic I am tackling in depth in the hockey book.
So while we celebrate all the hard work of the boys and girls who are at Nationals this year, take a minute to consider this is the 50th anniversary of California participating in the event.

Thanks to Cary for this rare photo.

California's first youth hockey team to reach Nationals went much earlier than most might think -- 1962. The squad was coached by the late Ronnie Van Gompel (kneeling in front row).

Remember the LA Monarchs

The book research and writing continues, and I recently spoke with a Los Angeles Monarchs player, Kenny Watson.

A bit of history about the Monarchs, which have had several incarnations over the years. These Monarchs were a pro team in Los Angeles from 1948-50 in the Pacific Coast Hockey League, which later became the Western Hockey League.

Watson, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, played in Los Angeles in the ’49-50 season. His stories about the game and the fans are remarkable. One nugget: the Monarchs routinely filled the Old Pan Pacific Auditorium, especially for rivalry games against other California teams.

Plenty on deck

I have been immersed in writing the book and traveling for some other work this summer, so the updates have been far more infrequent.

What I can tell you is the book is starting to take shape. After months of writing bits and pieces of various chapters, I believe the project is becoming more cohesive. As I type, I’m taking a break from writing about some of California’s Olympic hockey players. There have been four of them so far – any guesses who they are? (Hint – two men, two women and three of them all played the same position)

On the local hockey front, there are going be at least a dozen Californians in NHL rookie and main camps in early September. I will detail them in my next post. All three California teams will have prospects from the state in their rookie camps – Tyler Maxwell and Brandon Kozun with the Kings, CJ Stretch with the Sharks and Matthew Konan with the Ducks. A common thread? All four played in the WHL this past season.

The old WHL

A man with a deep background in hockey in Southern California told me recently that very few people remember the old Western Hockey League or the Los Angeles Blades, but it was very, very good hockey.

After spending a good amount of time researching that topic for the book, including reading an excellent book by Jon Stott called “Ice Warriors”, I am convinced he’s right on.

Think about it, when the old WHL was a thriving minor-league on the West Coast there were only six NHL teams. There were a lot more than 120 elite hockey players at the time, and many of them, especially the Western Canadians, played in the WHL.

It has been fascinating to learn about the Los Angeles Blades, San Francisco Seals and San Diego Gulls.

The Blades, for example, started Willie O’Ree’s 13-year career in the WHL. He played more games for California WHL teams than anyone. … The Seals won back-to-back hockey championships, the second over the Blades in 1964! Can you imagine the Sharks and Kings or Sharks and Ducks playing for the Stanley Cup Finals. … And the Gulls not only outdrew the NBA’s San Diego Rockets by nearly 3,000 fans per game, but they actually outdrew the San Diego Padres (on average per game) during one season. Such was the love affair the Gulls and their hockey fans had in the 60s and 70s.

The history of the sport here never ceases to amaze me!

How old is hockey in California?

As I research the history of the game of hockey in California for my upcoming book, I have discovered that ice rinks existed in Los Angeles as far back as 1917. I now can document it. Whether or not those were used for ice hockey is another matter.

However, I did find some record of hockey being played in the Los Angeles area during the early 1920s. So it’s not a stretch to say the game is at least 85 years old in California.

I also have uncovered concrete evidence of organized youth hockey beginning around 1960, meaning we are approaching nearly 50 years of youth hockey in the state. This predates several sources I’ve spoken to for the book.

I keep plugging away, one shift at a time.

Book update

One of the reasons blog postings have been more scarce of late is I’ve had a bit more time to spend writing the book, and so I have.

Researching and writing the historical portion is far from an exact science because there really is no definitive authority the history of California hockey. I’m pulling information from books, records and dozens of interviews with players and coaches who have been involved in the game out here for the past 40-plus years.

Incidentally, one could make a case that this is the 50th year of youth hockey in California. GLAMHA (the old Greater Los Angeles Minor Hockey Association) was formed in 1959 from what I can tell.

Until next time,


Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds update

A nice sidebar from my ongoing book research for Palm Trees and Frozen Ponds:

I had the privilege the other day of speaking with Hall of Famer Bill Torrey about his team with the Oakland Seals (68-70). Among the topics we covered, the expansion era Seals and Kings, the first all-California playoff series and working for Charles O. Finley.

After just a few moments it became clear to me that Mr. Torrey is one of the all-time great hockey minds. His recall and analysis of players and teams from four decades ago is sharper than some things I hear and read about current players and teams.

The interview was one of many highlights of the research and writing process.

1960 Olympic hockey … in California

This isn’t breaking news, but 20 years before the ‘Miracle on Ice’, the United States won a gold medal in in 1960 at Squaw Valley, which essentially was a resort when it was awarded the Games in 1955.

In continuing my research on the history of the game in the state, I happened across this clip from those Games. Enjoy!

Think of Big Bear or Mammouth – not Los Angeles – playing host to the Olympic Games, and you get an idea of what the Squaw Valley Games were like.

The hockey arena (Blyth Arena) had to be built for the games (it was closed in 1983 after its roof caved in because of heavy snowfall), and its south end was open to provide a view of the mountains.

Just another tidbit of our state’s rich hockey history.

Another notable first about those Games – it was the first time there was an Olympic Village.

California alumni updates and catching up with John Blue

What ever happened to … goaltender John Blue?

The former U.S. Olympic and Boston Bruins netminder now pastors a church in Irvine, and he took some time out to talk with me recently for both the book and Excerpts of the interview include how a California guy landed at the University of Minnesota, how he made the Olympic team and which NHL stars of the 90s were the toughest opponents.

This week’s alumni report salutes the numerous players from California who are participating in their pro and junior leagues’ all-star games. The list includes Tim Kraus and Matt Ford in the ECHL, Kyle Bigos in the BCHL, Max Nicastro, Jake Newton and Brandon Richardson in the USHL, and a dozen players who participated in the NAHL’s Top Prospects Tournament.