The California Golden Seals: a Tale of White Skates and Red Ink, and One of the NHL’s Most Outlandish Teams covers the franchise’s entire history, from its championship years in the Western Hockey League, to its relocation to Oakland, to its excruciatingly slow death in Cleveland. Several people associated with the Seals, including Lyle Carter, Ted Hampson, Joey Johnston, Marshall Johnston, Wayne King, Larry Lund, Dennis Maruk, Howie Menard, Morris Mott, Larry Patey, Tim Ryan, Gary Simmons, Joe Starkey, Tom Thurlby, and the late Frank Selke Jr. shared their stories and impressions on the Seals. Other NHL players of the era, notably Bryan Campbell, Ron Lalonde, and Jack Lynch also provided great quotes, and several members of the Seals Booster Club shared their insight from a fan’s point of view.
With the help of hundreds of newspaper articles from the era, the book highlights fantastic long-forgotten stories and quotes, and sheds light on several Seals tales that have been skewed over the years, including the identity of the famous 1974 streaker, the role original general manager Rudy Pilous played in the franchise's early days, and the person responsible for trading away the draft pick that would have brought Guy Lafleur to Oakland.
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Excerpt from The California Golden Seals: a Tale of White Skates and Red Ink, and One of the NHL’s Most Outlandish Teams:
The Seals were still holding onto third place in the West, but their position was tenuous due to a disastrous 1-7-6 record between February 2 and March 3. Hoping to rouse the Seals out of their slump, Young pulled off his biggest blockbuster deal. In late February [general manager Garry] Young traded Carol Vadnais and Don O’Donoghue to Boston for Reggie Leach, Rick Smith, and Bob Stewart. Having worked in the Bruins organization for years, Young knew exactly what he was getting in exchange for Vadnais. Leach was a natural goal scorer blessed with incredible speed. Seals Booster Club member Sandi Pantages believes that some of the young prospects in the organization “with better coaching . . . might have been more promising, and I think Reggie Leach might have been in that category. I think he had promise to be a very good player.” Her husband Dick chimed in that Leach “turned out to be a very good player later, after he was gone. He was very young when he was with us.” Smith had decent offensive skills, but he was brought in for his defensive attributes. “Rick Smith was a hard-nosed defenseman and was a pretty rough-and-tumble defense guy,” remembers Dick Pantages. Bobby Stewart would eventually become the Seals’ captain and all-time leader in games played (414) and penalty minutes (691). “Bobby was a good defenseman, tough, he didn’t put up with nothing,” said future teammate Wayne King. “He was a good checker and . . . a good leader too.” Joe Starkey believes that while he was broadcasting Seals games, Stewart was the toughest player on the team: “Good solid guy, good person,” he says, “but on the ice, don’t mess with him, He was a tough player, played it straight up. Didn’t look for fights but could definitely handle himself.” Young felt very proud of his newest acquisitions. “This trade will put us in the playoffs,” he happily exclaimed after the deal was made. “Reggie and these players are the future of this club.”
Even though Vadnais had become a bona fide NHL star in Oakland, he welcomed the chance to play elsewhere. In his final game with the Seals, a 4–4 tie against St. Louis, Vadnais scored his first career hat trick, but he did not even come out to salute the fans after being named the game’s first star. Did he believe the fans had taken his talents for granted? Once in Boston, the disgruntled ex-Seal was quoted as saying: “I didn’t mind Oakland, although . . . I was tired of losing. I was tired of being blamed for losing. I was sick and tired of being chewed up by everybody. Maybe they expected too much from me. I don’t know what they expected. But management was giving me more aggravation than I cared for.”
Seals Booster Club member Larry Schmidt remembers the tremendous pressure Vadnais was under in Oakland. “He was one of the first guys, when they didn’t have enough scoring,” he said, “they pulled him up to wing, and he scored a lot of goals, because he was such a great skater, but he just got tired of playing here because he had to do everything. He was unhappy.” After Vadnais’s departure, Bert Marshall, one of the few veteran players left on the roster, was named the new team captain.
The night of the trade Leach, Stewart, and Smith were in the lineup to face their old Boston teammates before 10,492 California fans. In the opening minutes of the contest it seemed as though everyone would walk out of the building smiling. The Seals scored early and often, humiliating the Bruins at every turn. The Seals looked like they were finally going to teach the Bruins a real lesson after having endured so many previous beatings.
Dick Redmond opened the scoring just 2:51 into the game and added a second just over ten minutes later. Boston’s Fred Stanfield cut the lead to 1 with a goal at 17:37, but Gary Croteau restored the Seals’ 2-goal lead at 19:52. Carleton, Croteau, and Patrick added goals before the game was half over, putting the Seals up 6–1. The Bruins were reeling and looked nothing like the team that had outscored the Seals 33–8 in six games the year before. Nothing went right for Boston until Mike Walton stole the puck from three Seals who were fiddling with the disk in front of goalie Gilles Meloche, and the Bruin got a good shot away, but the rookie goalie made a great save with his left pad. Walton then grabbed the puck again, this time dishing it off to Orr, but he too was stopped by Meloche. Wayne Cashman then skated into the Seals crease and batted the rebound over Meloche’s shoulder at 14:36 to make it 6–2, California.
Just over two minutes later, Bert Marshall tripped up Stanfield, and the Bruins were awarded a penalty shot. Stanfield skated in on Meloche and directed a high, hard wrist shot to the top left corner of the net, but the Seals’ young netminder stood tall like he had all season, making a brilliant glove save to preserve the 4-goal lead. The enthusiastic Oakland crowd roared its approval as the Seals’ bench flooded the ice to congratulate their unquestioned MVP.
When play resumed, Bobby Orr feathered a beautiful pass to Stanfield at the Seals’ blue line, and it was off to the races. Rick Smith tried in vain to stop Stanfield with a series of hooks, but the Bruin still managed to put the puck past a surprised Meloche, who weakly kicked out his left leg while still standing on his right. It didn’t really matter much since the Seals still led 6–3 going into the final period. There was no way the Bruins were going to score three more times in the third. Besides, the Seals had already beaten the Bruins twice that season. There was no reason to believe they couldn’t go for the trifecta.
Less than three minutes into the final frame, Orr blasted a shot from inside the blue line that beat a screened Meloche, making the score 6–4, but surely the Seals were good enough this season to hang on to a 2-goal lead for another seventeen minutes.
At the 5:59 mark, the seemingly possessed Fred Stanfield completed his hat trick after receiving yet another tape-to-tape, blue line–to–blue line pass courtesy of Orr. Stanfield took the puck into Seals territory all alone and deked out a helpless Meloche to his left, making the score 6–5, California. Now the score mattered.
The Seals hung on as best they could for almost nine more minutes when disaster struck in the name of Phil Esposito. Ed Westfall skated in along the boards to Meloche’s left, and directed a perfect flip pass to Esposito, who was coming in on Meloche’s right. Before the puck even settled onto the ice, Esposito picked it out of the air and sent it past the helpless goaltender to even the score at 6–6.
Less than three minutes later Esposito tipped in a weak shot from Wayne Cashman, who was standing on the lip of the face-off circle near the boards to the right of Meloche. Incredibly it was now 7–6, Bruins.
In the dying seconds of the game Vic Stasiuk pulled Meloche in favor of a sixth skater. Boston’s Derek Sanderson broke in on the Seals’ vacant net despite Reggie Leach’s persistent hooking and took a clear shot at the cage. Redmond valiantly stood in the way of the shot, making perhaps the best save of the night, but Sanderson picked up the rebound and scored. Redmond viciously swung out his right arm and slashed his stick against the post, angry that the Seals had blown what should have been an insurmountable 5-goal lead to the eventual Stanley Cup Champs. Final score: Boston 8, Seals 6.
When it came time for Stasiuk to face the media, the Seals’ bench boss said all the right things and calmly explained what he thought were the reasons for his young team’s collapse. “You really can’t blame our defense though,” he said. “They played their guts out. Our forwards just quit checking them in their zone, and Boston just came charging back. Nobody wanted to make the sacrifice of checking for us and they kept coming back like a tidal wave.”
Redmond was far less diplomatic in his choice of words. His disgust was evident on the ice, and after the game he was still seething. In a profanity-laced tirade, cleaned up for the newspapers, Redmond stated rather matter-of-factly that “Boston is good. . . . But to blow a five-goal lead?”
It was a critical loss and undoubtedly a traumatic experience for the young Seals. The club had been slumping badly the entire month of February, and Stasiuk knew very well that the way his players reacted to the disappointment would determine their fate. “It’s all up to the players,” he explained. “They either come back or they keep right on skidding, right out of the playoffs.”
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