Los Angeles Capitol of Hockey
When I first moved to the Los Angeles Area, there were no real hockey rinks. Oh, there were Ice Rinks in Culver City and Burbank, both close to downtown, but they were mostly for leisure skating.
In Lake Arrowhead, some 100 miles away, there was a rink and although it basically was for leisure-time skating, many Olympic Skaters trained there. This seemed unusual to me, since I grew up in New England. At home, in the winter, there were not only rinks specifically for practicing Ice Hockey, but also many Lakes and Ponds that froze over in the winter.
Where I come from, everyone owned a pair of Hockey Skates. It was natural even for a no talent like me to lace up a pair and go either to Bullough’s Pond, or Fresh Pond and try to get into a game. Sometimes they would let “old ankle skates”, that was me, fill in when they were short-handed.
I really wasn’t good. So while I skated in the roped off area that was strictly for fun, I marveled at the skill and dexterity of those playing Hockey.
Every high school had a team and in the winter competition was fierce. Plus it didn’t hurt that Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern and Harvard were constantly competing for NCAA championships.
It also helped that we had two professional Hockey teams in town… the Bruins of the NHL and the Boston Olympians of the AHL at that time.
The Bruins prevailed as one of the six original NHL teams… in addition to the Bruins, there are the New York Rangers, the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks, The Montreal Canadians and the Toronto Maple Leafs. In fact, there were truly only a few areas that played Hockey.
At that time, in addition to the New England states, the sport was popular in Michigan, Minnesota, The Dakotas, Colorado and Wisconsin. During season even though there are ample rinks, for the high school teams, or for that matter any club team to get in practice, each team had to take advantage of Ice Time whenever available.
The demand was so great that I spent many 3:00 A.M’s watching my nephews, Mitchell and Gary Marder skate in practice for the allotted hour given to their team.
In 1971, I was working for California Sports and directly for the owner of the Kings, Jack Kent Cooke. Mr. Cooke had purchased the franchise in 1966. It was one of six expansion teams that joined the original six in 1967.
Mr. Cooke, a Canadian by birth who became a U.S. Citizen by act of Congress, in 1969 built a state-of-the-art arena in Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles called the Forum. For 32 years it housed the Kings and the Lakers as well as numerous musical acts, the circus and the Globetrotters. It was often called by others “The House that Jack Built”.
Part of my job was to try and build a fan base. Everything was tried! Twice weekly we did hockey demonstrations at middle schools and high schools with Goalie Rogie Vachon, Defenseman Giles Marrotte, Trainer Pete Demers and announcer Dan Avey.
Each week we gave out 1000’s of tickets at every demonstration. One per student who, in order to use it had to be accompanied by a paying adult.
On our best night, maybe, just maybe 3000 people attended. Since it was a private, not a municipal facility, we could announce any attendance figures we wanted.
How many times did I see Mr. Cooke release to the media, 8203 as attendance. It was part of his belief that success breeds success. Overnight the papers printed the greater figure, but no one was fooled.
This prompted Mr. Cooke to utter an oft-quoted phrase… “There are 800,000 Canadians in Los Angeles, I now know why they left Canada… they hate Hockey”. Not to mention the fact that we were always in last place. The crowds were so sparse that we knew every season seat holder by name. Among them was my friend Neal Carrey. I remember him telling me how he was wined and dined and at game time, he was allowed to sit anywhere he wished. Those days are gone!
Today, the town is hockey crazy, seats are at a premium and extremely costly. It all started when Bruce McNall bought the team from Mr. Cooke and brought in a Pied Piper in the person of “The great One” Wayne Gretzky.
The landscape changed and the Kings suddenly became competitive.
Rogie Vachon, retired Kings goalie still holds the Kings
single season record for shutouts, which he set in the 1976-77 season. I predict that Jonathon Quick, the Kings current goalie from University of Massachusetts, will eclipse that record and many more before the end of his career.
Mr. Cooke, today, you do not have to fake the attendance figures. . The town is crazy about hockey and the Kings are in the Stanley Cup Finals again. Either there are many more Canadians, or Californians just love the game. People are bidding for tickets that are unavailable.
So, sit back … wave your Pitchfork, or pluck your Harp and say: “I knew it all the time”.