LOS ANGELES — Nearly 100 years ago, the first ice hockey game in Los Angeles was played at the Ice Palace in Downtown Los Angeles, featuring the Los Angeles Athletic Club vs. The University Club.
Later, the Los Angeles Monarchs and the Hollywood Wolves played in the old Pacific Coast Hockey League from 1944-50. After the PCHL’s southern division, which included the Monarchs and Wolves, folded in 1950, it took 11 years for minor league hockey to return to Los Angeles in the form of the Los Angeles Blades of the Western Hockey League, who began play in the recently demolished Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena on Oct. 13, 1961.
But the Western Hockey League was not the National Hockey League and the NHL was looking to expand from its Original Six teams. Several parties applied to put an expansion team in Los Angeles, including Blades owner Dan Reeves. But on Feb. 9, 1966, the franchise was awarded to Toronto entrepreneur Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Lakers, and now, the NHL expansion franchise that would become the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings played their first regular season NHL game on Oct. 14, 1967, a 4-2 victory over fellow 1967 expansion team, the Philadelphia Flyers. Fifty years later to the day, the Kings hosted the Flyers with the same final score, but this time, the Flyers won the game. But more significant was that the Kings brought back 13 of the players from the 1967-68 team—the original Kings—to be honored in a spectacular pre-game ceremony.
The highlight of the ceremony came when, with the players from the 1967-68 Kings already having been introduced by the Kings’ first play-by-play announcer, Jiggs McDonald, and lined up on the blue line, the current Kings were introduced and they lined up directly behind the original Kings, honoring their predecessors.
“That was neat,” said McDonald, who was the Kings’ play-by-play announcer on radio and television for five seasons. “I was standing right by Howie Menard, and he was the shortest of any of the Kings from 1967. ‘Mini’ was his nickname. Here’s Howie trying to look the current players in the eye and he turned and looked at me, ‘look at the size of that of that son of a gun! Jeez! And he can skate, too!’”
“The way they did that, with the current team [lining up] behind the original team was well planned,” added McDonald. “Well thought out.”
The original Kings were blown away by the three days of events in which they were honored.
“I didn’t think it would be this great,” said forward Mike Corrigan, who played in two stints with the Kings. “When we came out here, I thought they were just going to introduce us. We’ll have our fun at the hotel and at the bars, talking amongst ourselves about the old times. But the management did one hell of a job. First class. They surprised me and I’ll tell you what. They surprised me to a point where I can see why they’re winning. They do everything first class.”
“As far as the players being together, we never sopped laughing and joking,” added Corrigan, who ranks 28th on the team’s all-time scoring list with 106 goals and 124 assists, good for 230 points in 401 regular season games. “We were like that back then. My son said the best quote was, ‘we know you all played together, but did you not just see each other yesterday? You’re talking like you’ve been together all year.’”
“My greatest story of the whole thing is I said that Jack Kent Cooke brought hockey here, and I talked about it, and it’s no disrespect to anybody who played after, like Wayne Gretzky, or anyone else, but Jack brought the NHL here. He financed his own building [the Forum in Inglewood, California]. As far as I’m concerned, this owner [the Anschutz Entertainment Group] took over big time. You had your other owners like Bruce McNall and Jerry Buss, but [AEG] really took over. Gretzky? He helped. But this guy [Philip Anschutz] took over and took the team to the top.”
Prior to the on-ice ceremony, the original Kings toured the current Kings’ dressing room and equipment room at Staples Center, where they also got a chance to speak with the current players.
“Corrigan had a great, great session with [center and team captain Anze] Kopitar,” McDonald noted. “He [told Kopitar], ‘don’t embarrass me. There’s always a goal or two in number 11, so don’t embarrass me.’”
In case you haven’t guessed, Corrigan wore No. 11 with the Kings, as Kopitar does now.
“My son and I talked to Kopitar and I’ll tell’ya, he’s a great leader,” said Corrigan. “[Kyle] Clifford, [Drew] Doughty—all the players were good.”
“Kopitar expressed his feelings,” added Corrigan. “I went up to him—it was a joke—I asked, ‘what’s your [career high in] goals?’ He said it was 33. I told him, ‘you’d better get 38, because I got 37!’ I also told him that I appreciated him, as a hockey player, and that I thought he was a great hockey player.”
The only regret that the original Kings had regarding the celebration was the fact that only 13 of them, along with McDonald, were able to attend.
“There’s some of the original Kings who aren’t here, and I’m sorry that they’re not,” said defenseman Bob Wall, who served as the Kings’ first captain. “Some aren’t with us anymore, but there’s a couple who are still alive, and I’m sorry that they’re not here. It would be nice to see them again.”
“It’s too bad that guys like Eddie Joyal, Bill White or Dale Rolfe—some of the seven or eight guys who couldn’t be here for one reason or another—it would’ve been nice to have more than the 13 players there on the ice, but such is life,” said McDonald, who was the 1990 recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award, which recognizes members of the radio and television industry who made outstanding contributions to their profession and the game during their career in hockey broadcasting, as selected by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association, earning him media honoree status in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“There were health issues, that kind of thing,” added McDonald. “[Head coach] Red Kelly desperately wanted to be here. We were together three weeks ago at a book signing. He was really sad that he wasn’t going to be able to come, but the doctors told him that it was too far to fly. He’s 89 now. Mentally, he’s as sound and as solid—he has a great memory of the time and what went on, but it was too far for him to travel. So that’s why I’m going to behave myself and be ready for the 60th anniversary.”
The weekend brought back a flood of memories for the original Kings, most notably, from their earliest days with their new team.
“[I remember] coming out here to L.A. to play hockey and being the youngest player on the team,” said Corrigan. “Then it was playing on the road for such a long time that year. We never played at home. We were in Long Beach and we opened the Forum on New Year’s Day. That was like playing a road game.”
Corrigan also remembered that they had to sell NHL hockey to the Greater Los Angeles area.
“[We had to do that], big time,” he said. “But it’s your job. Red would stress that it was all new. We were new to the league and new to L.A. We just had to go out and play. Once you become a pro, you’ve got to play.”
Wall remembered how disorganized and unprepared the Kings were in their earliest days.
“When were first arrived here, it was an, ‘OK, now what’ type of thing,” he recalled. “Our team was utter chaos after we left training camp. It wasn’t a great experience here. When we first landed at the airport, we went to the Holiday Inn near the airport, but there was no one there to greet us or tell us what was on the agenda. It was, ‘where do we go from here?’”
“We practiced at Long Beach when we first started,” he added. “Red Kelly asked if we had pucks—we had no pucks on the ice. We didn’t have any pucks. I think it was Larry Regan, our general manager—he mentioned to Jiggs McDonald to get some pucks. Jiggs talked to somebody who had one or two pucks in the glove compartment of his car. That’s what we started with.”
“There were a couple of times, right off the get-go, the puck went over the glass and we had to scramble up into the seating area to get it back on the ice. That was our welcome to California, I guess.”
Not having pucks at practice was the least of their concerns.
“It was hard just to get 6,000 people into the Forum [which seated 16,005 for hockey],” said Wall. “The odd time we played against one of the Original Six teams, we’d get 7,000, or maybe a little over 7,000, and we thought, ‘oh my gosh, what’s happening here?’”
Despite the rocky start, the players played a major role in bringing NHL hockey to Los Angeles—they are pioneers.
“We had something to prove here, being the first NHL team in the Los Angeles area,” Wall emphasized. “I was pretty happy to be a part of it. If you look back at it now compared to what’s happening today, there’s a total evolution of hockey here in California.”
“There’s a great pride in the guys recognizing what has come to fruition over the 50 years,” said McDonald. “There’s a feeling that the Stanley Cup should’ve been here before it finally did arrive. The work that went into it, trying to grow the game. I think of the famous Jack Kent Cooke line: ‘there’s half a million Canadians living in Southern California, but then you recognize why they moved here because they hated hockey.’ We just couldn’t make it go.”
Fifty years ago, McDonald wore several different hats besides play-by-play announcer. In fact, he also sold season tickets.
“One vivid memory I have was getting a guy on the phone,” McDonald reminisced. “He asked, ‘who did you say this was?’ I said, ‘Jiggs McDonald.’ He said, ‘say something else. Jeez, it is you. I’ve had Lakers season tickets since the team came here and [Hall of Fame broadcaster] Chick Hearn has never called me.’”
“I thought, ‘here’s my chance to get out of doing this,’” McDonald added. “So I went to Mr. Cooke and told him what the gentleman said. Mr. Cooke replied, ‘did he now?’ The following Monday, Chick was in the office making calls, trying to sell Lakers season tickets and he cursed me like you wouldn’t believe. ‘Why the hell would you tell the old man that?’”
Over those three days in Los Angeles, the members of the 1967-68 Kings had a very full itinerary, including visits to Manhattan Beach, where most of the Kings players and coaches live. They also visited the Kings practice facility, the Forum, and they attended a formal fundraising event at L.A. Live supporting Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
Throughout the three days, the original Kings realized more and more that they truly are pioneers for NHL hockey in the Los Angeles area.
“It’s mind-boggling and spine-tingling,” Wall beamed. “That’s the best way to describe it. I’m so proud to have worn the Los Angeles Kings sweater and being part of the start-up of a franchise that has become as strong as it is.”
“It’s very gratifying. I’m very proud to say that I was one of the original Kings.”