As the Kings continue to celebrate our 50th Anniversary, our “50 Kings” series continues at LAKings.com and our guest this week is Original King Ted Irvine.
Irvine played one game with the Boston Bruins in 1963-64 before being sent to the Central Professional Hockey League for four seasons. His big break came with the Kings along with the NHL expansion in 1967.
He recently answered these questions:
LAKINGS.COM: Can you tell me what you remember about that time?
- TED IRVINE: When I started, it was the old six-team NHL and I belonged to the Boston Bruins and I played in their system for four years in Minneapolis and Oklahoma City. The problem at that time was it was very difficult to make it into the National Hockey League. There were only about 120 players that got to play in the National Hockey League at that time but there were all kinds of minor league teams from the Central League to the American League to the Western League to the International League. So for a young person to make it into the NHL it was very difficult. When they announced that the expansion was coming, we really didn’t quite understand what expansion really meant because at that time, there had never been expansion before. All it was was the old six-team league and if you made it, good luck to you and if you didn’t make it, well you just never made it to the NHL. So expansion became very exciting for a lot of us even though we didn’t understand what it really meant. They had a draft at that time and in the old days, the NHL owners were not going to let the new clubs, like the LA Kings, get any good players, so they put players that were not going to make their NHL team on their list so LA could draft. So to be drafted was exciting, but we didn’t know most of the players on the team because we came from all over the place. There wasn’t a farm system at that time. It was exciting at times, it was nerve-wracking at times. We didn’t know what was going on. All I know is I saw it on TV – Ted Irvine, Los Angeles Kings – yay! But what does it mean? Then we found out once we got to training camp, we were actually trying out for a National Hockey League team and we had a chance to make a living playing in the National Hockey League.
LAKINGS.COM: As a Winnipeg native, you get selected by the LA Kings and you make your way to the West Coast. What were your impressions of LA upon your arrival?
TED IRVINE: Very big, lots of traffic. Ironically, when they picked the team, they flew us down as a team to Los Angeles to a hotel to try to look for apartments and to give us cars. But in the meantime we had told our wives you had to jump in the car and drive to LA and we’re staying in this hotel. We just thought, you know, small city – the wives could find us for sure. In mid-air going to training camp, the Los Angeles Kings changed the hotel. We showed up at a hotel, unfortunately we couldn’t get ahold of our wives because they were going to a different hotel altogether. Very big place, we were scared. I mean, we had twenty guys, one guy played in the NHL – Terry Sawchuk the Hall of Fame goaltender – the rest of us were a bunch of kids wandering around. What to do? What to eat? Where to go? The rest of us just followed him around like a puppy dog. It was very exciting but we didn’t realize at that time, again, that we were really in the National Hockey League.
LAKINGS.COM: Your captain at the time was Bob Wall. How did he help you in your transition to Los Angeles?
- TED IRVINE: Well as I said, at that time, we had a veteran bunch of guys because the Springfield Indians of the American Hockey League, Jack Kent Cooke bought their whole team which was about 50 or 60 players, some guys hadn’t played in years. So they had a good group of guys that were part of a team with Brian Kilrea and Dale Rolfe and Whitey (Bill White) and Dave Amadio and some of the other guys. So we had a connection of pretty good guys there but you needed a leader and Bobby Wall – as soon as you said Bobby Wall, funny about any sport – everybody has a nickname. I remember “Hayseed”. I don’t remember why, I just remember his nickname was “Hayseed”. I don’t know why. He was a veteran out of Detroit, stay-at-home defenseman, and he was one of the guys that organized a lot of get-togethers. But being a bunch of young rookies, we all had to hang together and a veteran like Bob Wall helped us out a lot. When we went out on the road, we didn’t know how to dress, we didn’t know where to eat, you know, how to handle ourselves. So a guy like Bob who had been around a little bit, as serious a guy as there was, helped us out a lot as a leader.
LAKINGS.COM: You called Bob Wall “Hayseed” – that was his nickname. The press nicknamed you the “Baby-Faced Assassin” when you were here. How did that come about and what did you think of it?
- TED IRVINE: I had no idea until the hockey card came out and everybody started laughing, saying, “you’re no baby-faced assassin”. I guess at that time, fighting, I guess I had gotten into a couple of fights before I went to New York – I was more of a fighter in New York than I was in LA – and I guess I won some fights and so the Fan Club picked up “baby-faced assassin”. “Cool Hand Luke” was another one. Whoever came up with these things, who created them, I don’t know. But I have great laughs at it right now, especially my family, they look at me and say, “baby-faced assassin”. Oh yeah, you’re really scary you are…
LAKINGS.COM: What are your memories of playing in the Forum?
- TED IRVINE: When we got to LA at that time, the Forum hadn’t been finished, so all we saw was this big concrete building and Mr. Cooke used to take us through the building with our hard hats on and try to get us to visualize what was really coming. It was exciting, but the size of it and everything else was something we couldn’t comprehend because it wasn’t completely finished. We played a couple games down in Long Beach right at the start of the year and then we finally worked our way into the LA Forum. But the LA Forum was like being in the Greek times with all the pillars and everything else, so when you went in there you knew you were in a special place. Our owner at that time, Mr. Cooke, had a tremendous vision for hockey in LA, and thankfully for him he was there for the LA people. That franchise, being a Canadian game and being down there in LA it might not have survived but he had a vision it was going to be great and he built a building that people wanted to go to. It was fancy. The movie stars were there. They had all the top boxing matches there. It was very classy people walking into that building. So the LA Forum, even the offices, you were taken aback as a young guy saying, “Wow, what are we playing in here?” It was special to go out there in LA and then when you went around to the other teams around the league you realized the LA Forum was really a special building and well-designed.
LAKINGS.COM: You played three seasons with the Kings and recently attended a Kings game. Talk about the fan support back when you played and the fan support you experienced when you were at STAPLES Center.
- TED IRVINE: I was very proud of both situations. When I first started in ’67, the people didn’t know what they were getting into. The franchise didn’t know what they were getting into. The National Hockey League didn’t know what they were getting into. And so some nights the game could be seven or eight thousand and then the Canadian teams came in like Montreal and Toronto and, my God, it could be like twelve or thirteen-thousand people. So we appreciated all of the people that showed up, but even more so when the Canadian teams showed up because we as kids idolized all those guys on Montreal in LA. So we were skating around the ice with our eyes wide open as Jean Beliveau and the Bobby Hulls and Davey Keons – we were looking at these guys – we were fans too. But we realized those LA fans stuck with us, because it was painful. They didn’t give LA a chance to have much of a club because they wouldn’t let us have any draft choices at first. So we went out there and we worked hard. But we didn’t have the total depth talent that the NHL Original Six teams had so the fans were very fair to us. The fan clubs were very fair to us. Mr. Cooke made sure that we were treated like NHL players. The other thing about that – the Lakers were there at that time – so we had the Jerry Wests and Gail Goodrich and Wilt Chamberlain walking around setting an example, “Hey, this is another pro sport but it’s still a pro sport” and here’s what it could be like. Here’s what your fans are like. So we were lucky from a point of view of being surrounded by one visionary like Mr. Cooke who said, “we’re going to be okay”. When we got into LA it was exciting, but we were still kids and fans. Nowadays, so sophisticated fans, the shows, the visuals, and the commitment to training and the training rinks…I sat with some people coaching the LA Kings Junior B team and we never had that at that time. I was very proud to be the first bunch of people in there. We hung in there. And when I look at the franchise now I say, “Wow, what a vision, what a dream.” It took fans and good management to make that an outstanding franchise. When I walked around the building the other day with all the bars and hotels and fans with their sweaters I said, “My goodness, this all came back from ’67? It was just an idea?” So good on the franchise, good on the fans, good on the owners and the management because it’s pretty classy up there right now.
LAKINGS.COM: You went on to play for the New York Rangers for many years after your time with the Kings. You then played for the St. Louis Blues before retiring from the game in 1978. What have you been doing since?
- TED IRVINE: When I quit the game I got into life insurance and then I started my own company a number of years ago with another hockey player. So we’re in the financial world. We both kid each other – we never played on the power play so we’re still working – but we were lucky from the point of view that I have 13 years of pro. To play that long is unusual. I learned a lot about people, about people skills, about listening, about being humble, so I thank the National Hockey League for giving me some other characteristics that I can use in the business world about treating people good and not getting too caught up in who you think you are. So we’re in that financial world and still working at it.