An “Original King” our 50 KINGS series continues on LAKings.com and features Howie Menard.
Having played close to 100 games with the team its first two seasons of existence, Menard was a center who bounced around from pro team to pro team at a variety of levels. He also saw some NHL time with the Red Wings, Blackhawks and Oakland Seals, and with the Kings he played in 18 playoff games and had 10 points and 36 penalty minutes during the postseason.
As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary, we recently caught up with with Menard:
LAKINGS.COM: What comes to mind prior to NHL Expansion in 1967?
HOWIE MENARD: Well, probably the Springfield Indians I guess. In the minors. A lot of it all started down in Springfield prior to expansion.
When you heard the NHL was expanding, what did you think about the opportunity?HOWIE MENARD:
Yes, it was great because the year prior to expansion, I don’t know if you knew this, but we had gone on strike. We were the only professional team in any sport to go on strike and that was Eddie Shore. And that was the year before expansion so the timing was great. It was dynamite.
You were acquired by the Kings as part of the expansion draft, right?MENARD:
No, they had taken over the Springfield Indians. And Jack -- Mr. Cooke -- Jack Kent Cooke bought the Springfield Indians and, of course, most of the guys on that team played in LA. Like Bill White, a great hockey player he turned out to be. The guys were stuck in Springfield with Eddie Shore. There was Bill White, Dale Rolfe, myself, Big Dave Amadio… there was about six or seven of us who were stuck in Springfield who went to LA the following season during expansion.
Obviously, you’re Canadian. You’re from Ontario. What were you thinking about hockey in Los Angeles in 1967?MENARD:
Well, I thought it’d be great beating the weather in Springfield. The weather in Springfield was as bad as it is up here where I’m from. I thought it’d be great, personally. I remember talking to a lot of the other teams later on or sometimes on the ice. ‘How the heck do you guys play your hockey around here in this heat?’ I said, ‘It’s very easy, boys. After I leave practice or a game, I go home and sit beside a pool and have some beer.’
You played parts of two seasons with the big club – the inaugural season and the second season. Obviously, the team made the playoffs both years. How do you remember it?MENARD:
The first year of expansion, we had a heck of a hockey club. Both years, actually. We had some good hockey players in 1967 like Terry Sawchuk in the nets. We had Wayne Rutledge in the nets too. We had Lowell MacDonald, we had Bill White, we had one of the best defensemen in the whole league. Teddy Irvine. Plus guys like Brent Hughes, Eddie Joyal, Bobby Wall, Real Lemieux… we had a heck of a hockey club. I think we tied with, or were close at least, with Philly for first place the first year.
You had the captain there, Bob Wall, and your head coach, Red Kelly. Any recollections of those two gentlemen?MENARD:
Oh yeah. Bob and I played Junior-A hockey together up here in Ontario before we turned professional. We were on the same Hamilton Red Wing hockey club who won the Memorial Cup in ‘61-‘62. Bobby was on that club. I was captain of that team but I’ve known Bobby Wall since 1961. And I knew Red a bit and I knew Sawchuk. Originally I came from the Detroit farm club, their farm system and I knew Sawchuk from there. Dale Rolfe, of course is a good friend. He’s from my hometown. And Bill White and I played Junior-A hockey together in Toronto. So, we all played together somewhere or other along the line so we were all familiar with most of the guys.
When the ‘67-‘68 season started, did you start that year in Springfield?MENARD:
I started that year in Springfield, yes, and then I got called up after Christmas or something. I was having a good year in the American Hockey League at the time and I got called up. And probably, my best game with LA, we played the New York Rangers – my first game with the Rangers – I don’t know if you know this but we beat the Rangers 5-2 and I got two goals and one assist.
Do you have any of the artifacts or no?MENARD:
Oh yeah, I got the puck. I still have the puck. It’s mounted and I think my buddy Dale Rolfe picked the puck up for me. Dale and I were very close friends and played together, like I said, in Springfield. He’s from my hometown of Timmins, Ontario. But that was quite a game. Eddie Giacomin was in the nets. It wasn’t my first NHL game. My first NHL game was with Detroit Red Wings in ‘64. I belonged to the Red Wings for five years prior to all this.
That’s right, you played three games with the Wings in ‘63-‘64.MENARD:
Yeah, I played different places. All of those teams, like in the early years were, all farm clubs of Detroit Red Wings at the time, most of them. That’s why there was so many different places. You moved around to different farm teams. I turned pro with the Pittsburgh Hornets in the American League, which was Detroit Red Wings’ No. 1 farm team. In those days, the Original Six all owned teams in the American Hockey League and the Western Hockey League that were Minor-Professional. So, I was in Pittsburgh and then I went to Memphis, which was another Detroit farm team. And Cincinnati, which was a Detroit farm team. We started the season off in Indianapolis, the arena blew up. We had to move to Cincy. It was something else really.
Speaking of areans, the Kings played initially in the Long Beach Arena, the LA Sports Arena and then, of course, Mr. Cooke opened the Fabulous Forum. Did you play in the Sports Arena at all?MENARD:
No as they had completed the Forum by then.
And what were your initial thoughts of a brand new building such as that?MENARD:
Oh, that place was like a palace. I mean, it was something else. He put that sucker up in amount six months or something, didn’t he? I think his original plan was to play where the Clippers would later play. The LA Arena or whatever it is called.
Yeah, the Los Angeles Sports Arena.MENARD:
Yeah, I think that was the plan. But I don’t know, he couldn’t come to any agreement with them so he said, ‘I’ll build my own arena.’
And then lastly… obviously it’s been a number of years, but how do you feel looking back of how the team was supported by the fans. This is our 50th Anniversary.MENARD:
You got about half a million Canadians living in the area anyway. That was Mr. Cooke’s plan anyway. He said, ‘There’s half a million Canadians living in that area somewhere so he was hoping to get a few of them out into the hockey games.’ It was great. I had a great time in LA. I really enjoyed it. We had a good team. The weather was great. We just had a lot of fun. Like I said, we had a pretty good hockey club. I really enjoyed it.
What have you been doing since your hockey career ended?MENARD:
No, I ended up working for a distillery up here - Corby Distilleries. A lot of guys ended up with beer companies like Moulson or Labatt’s. Guys were good at that. You were left on your own. So, I worked for a distillery for 20-some years. That’s what I did.
I’m in the Toronto area. I’m just east of Toronto. I got the heck out of Timmins, where I was born, a long time ago. I got out of there when I was 15 years old to play hockey. That’s the way it was then. You left to go play hockey, Junior-A hockey in those days. If they thought you were any good, they’d take you right out and get your settled down in Southern Ontario is what they used to do.
Special Thanks to Michael Ruiz and Martin Ibarra