While in San Francisco on a business trip recently, I fretted over how/where I might find a pub broadcasting the NHL playoffs. I needn’t have worried so much as it turned out. In fact, I didn’t expect to be schooled in California’s NHL history, but to my surprise both unfolded with ease.
Who could blame San Franciscoites (San Franeons? San Franciscans?) for not being as obsessed as we Canadians with the Stanley Cup contest? After all, this city doesn’t now nor has it ever had its own team. The closest NHL team (geographically) to San Francisco would be the San Jose Sharks and that’s still a helluva drive when you factor in traffic.
It was in a nondescript cocktail bar called The Parlour, a couple of blocks from the hotel where I stayed, that I found a venue with a subscription to the Versus TV network (the only national broadcaster of NHL games stateside).
While quaffing a pint of Guinness and loudly cheering during game one of the Sharks-Los Angeles Kings series (safe to say I stood out next to the bar’s other patrons), Roy, a quiet 68-year-old sitting a few stools away from yours truly, wove his way into a conversation with me about the game.
Our discussion started innocently enough. Roy would remark on something I would blurt out as the Sharks and Kings went end-to-end. Before long, we weren’t watching the game so much as discussing the LA Kings and that team’s history.
Roy is a retired architect and a longtime hockey fan. He said he was once a season’s ticket holder for the Kings’ inaugural season in 1967. So when I asked him why Rogie Vachon, the greatest Kings goalie in history, still hasn’t been named to the Hockey Hall of Fame, his eyes met mine in a serious stare. “Now I know I’m talking to a Canadian!” he said.
We discussed the history of the California Golden Seals (Roy insisted he was one of the few fans of the team), how that franchise came to be and its subsequent decline. It was local businessman Barry Van Gerbig that took what was the San Francisco Seals from the Western Hockey League and moved the team to Oakland. According to Roy, “Van Gerbig told the media there’s thousands of Canadians living in northern California that’ll fill my building.” Van Gerbig was dead wrong. The Seals lasted all of two seasons before relocating to Cleveland due to weak fan support.
Returning to the subject of the LA Kings, Roy mentioned in the early 1970s he had attended a party where former Kings back-up goalie Gary “suitcase” Edwards happened to be. “Back in those days, NHLers weren’t getting paid like athletes in other pro leagues or anywhere near what they earn now,” he recalled.
At this party, a lineup formed before Edwards but not one of autograph seekers. People would dangle a $10 bill before the NHL goalie. They’d release the bill and it was Edwards’ if he caught it with one hand. “He made a fair bit of money that night from what I recall; didn’t miss a single one,” Roy added.
True or not, an amusing tale told by a charming man living in San Francisco who loves hockey. I hope to catch another playoff game with Roy in late May when I return to that lovely city on a subsequent business trip.