West Coast Bias: Telling the story of the Golden Seals

Patrik Laine put the puck into his own net to help the Edmonton Oilers edge the Winnipeg Jets 3-2.

Mark Greczmiel was born in Vancouver, but found himself as a nine-year-old, hockey-starved Canadian when his parents moved to Alameda, California, a suburb of Oakland.

It was 1967. His father had a job as a flour miller, while the son had his own half-baked idea.

“I became a Seals fan,” said Greczmiel, whose feature-length documentary, The California Golden Seals Story should be available on iTunes in January. “We were about a 10-minute drive to the Oakland Coliseum, and it was the Seals — very few games were sold out. You could always get cheap, walk-up tickets.”

And so was born a love affair with the Oakland Seals, later known as the California Golden Seals — that poor cousin of the Los Angeles Kings, which became the least successful and shortest-lived franchise among the National Hockey League’s original six-team expansion back in 1967.

Greczmiel, whose credits include Lindsay Lohan: Road to Jail, is hoping to have the documentary available for purchase by Jan. 7, when the San Jose Sharks will celebrate the Bay Area’s original NHL club with a Seals throwback night.

“This was a labour of love. Something I’ve done in between the paying gigs,” he said. “I traveled across Canada and the U.S., tracking down 30 former players, fans, management types and journalists.”

He spoke with ex-Seals like Charlie Simmer, Vic Stasiuk, Gilles Meloche, Dennis Maruk…

“Guys I grew up watching. Now they’re in their 60s and 70s and they all have great stories,” he said.

“The Seals were a unique franchise. They were the franchise that pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong.”

Greczmiel discovered that the great Bing Crosby was once a Seals investor along the way. But of course, there were as many as 50 investors in a team that hemorrhaged money. As such, the team would do anything to attract attention to its product – including hiring girls to skate naked across the ice.

“Back in the ‘70s, when streaking was really popular, the Seals were so desperate for publicity that they hired the girlfriend of the stick boy,” Greczmiel said. “She climbed under the stands, came out of the players’ bench and skated right across the ice in skates — completely naked.

“We interviewed their marketing guy. He said they got more publicity for that stunt than they did for most of their games that year.”

There is still some fundraising required to pay the rights fee to the NHL for using old Seals footage. (Here’s the page — you can buy some awesome Seals memorabilia there as well.)

“We found a lot of really incredible footage,” Greczmiel said. “Once word got out that I was making this film, people started sending me their old Instamatic photos from games. A photographer who worked for a local newspaper handed over thousands of pictures. We found some game footage that was in the closet of one of the announcers. I’ve got old home movies from team picnics…”

Wayne Gretzky’s first ever in-person NHL game was a Seals visit to the old Maple Leaf Gardens, Greczmiel learned, along with this nugget:

“The Hell’s Angels’ main California headquarters were in Oakland. They would come on their motorcycles,” he said. “Reggie Leach told me they would hang out with them sometimes and they would tell the Seals players, ‘If anyone gives you problems let us know. We’ll take care of it.’”

If you can believe it, a Seals fan club still exists, and meets every second month.

Maybe they can hook up with the Baltimore Stallions fan club and throw a bash.

* * *

Bob’s your (Latvian) uncle

So former Colorado, Atlanta and Calgary head coach Bob Hartley is ready to sign on the dotted line to become the head coach of the Latvian Hockey Federation.

It’s the same gig Ted Nolan had a few years back, and includes the senior and junior teams. Word is Patrick Roy and Ron Rolston also talked to the Latvians about the job.

Certainly no coincidence, the Latvian juniors will play an exhibition in Hartley’s hometown of Hawkesbury, Ont. on Dec. 23 as a tune-up for the World Juniors.

Officials are mum on both sides of the Atlantic, and calls to Hartley have not been returned, but plenty of sources have said the signing will be announced shortly. The story was broken by Latvian journalist Aivis Kalnins.

* * *

Quick to complain

The Los Angeles Kings are hanging in there without injured goalie Jonathan Quick, trying not to become the Montreal Canadiens of 2015-16, who lost Carey Price and imploded. Quick is said to perhaps be ready for a February return from that groin injury — always a difficult problem for netminders.

There have been some frustrating moments for the recent champions, however, as we saw this past Tuesday after a 6-3 loss at Buffalo to open a stretch of nine consecutive road games. (That’s right: a seven-game trip pre-Christmas, followed by two right after).

“It was just terrible hockey,” said Jeff Carter, who scored to give the Kings a 2-0 lead at 7:34 of the second period before the Sabres scored four quick ones. “We come on a seven-game road trip, 1-0 after the first, 2-0 (mid-second). We get a bad bounce and then we just … shut down. It’s been going on for a while. Our second periods have not been good and they’ve been killing us. It’s everybody. It’s top to bottom. It’s unacceptable.

“You don’t make playoffs winning at home and then going on the road and … the bed. We’re fragile. We’re a fragile team.”

Los Angeles is dredging the bottom with a team save percentage of .897. Compare to that to .915 last season, or Quick’s lifetime mark of .916, and you can see why head coach Darryl Sutter might be getting impatient with Peter Budaj (.907) and Jeff Zatkoff (.890).

“First off, you’ve got to get some saves,” Sutter said after that Buffalo game. “We’ve got a lot of goals scored on us lately with very few shots against.”

* * *

Rulebook 101

A couple of potential rules issues that arose in Edmonton last week:

First, the play where a Zack Kassian breakaway goal against the Jets was called back because his trailing skate was over the blue line, but in fact not in physical contact with the line. Upon review, the correct call was made — and we’ve seen this call across the league since replay was expanded to include offsides — but I question whether that’s a goal that should be called back at all.

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The spirit of an offside call is that a player is closer to the goal than allowed when accepting the pass, and so gains an advantage. When his skate is above the blue line but a half-inch in the air, was there any advantage gained?

Add to that the number of potential goals that are erased when a linesman incorrectly blows a play dead when replays show a player was not, in fact, offside, and we see a whole lot of offence getting eliminated at the blue line in a league that should be working on adding goals — not deleting them.

The other play was when Milan Lucic’s stick cut Connor McDavid, and the referee gave Blue Jackets defenceman Jack Johnson a double-minor for high-sticking.

There are a few things that differentiate this call from a common hook or hold where players and referees might disagree:

1. There is no wiggle room here. It was the wrong call, proven definitively by TV replay before the puck was dropped to begin play again. No one – not a ref, not an Oiler — would contend that the call was deserved.

2. The referees and league are left to administer what clearly was a mistake, and although Edmonton did not score, a four-minute power play can have a mighty big impact on a game.

I wonder why the league would not want to get this call right? Or, what are the unintended consequences of including the “mistaken high-stick” play under the umbrella of review?

Columbus coach John Tortorella was apoplectic after seeing the replay. But of course, when the game was over and his team had won 3-1, his charitable side took over.

“To be a ref in this league, with people crawling up your [expletive] all the time when you’re [making a call],” he said. “You see a guy get hit in the face and they make the call and you know what happens? You end up killing it off and it really wasn’t a penalty so you end up killing it off. I think the hockey gods ended up helping [us] there a little bit.

“And then it gave us some juice as we continued to play.”

(Photo courtesy of Brad Kurtzberg)

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