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A New Kingdom

by Jon Rosen / Los Angeles Kings

Opening the program of the first ever game played at The Forum is like stepping into a time capsule.

Advertisements depict late 1960’s-era branding and marketing. Coca Cola, for the taste you never get tired of. Everyone looks at the man in a Harris & Frank suit. Got fun-fever? Get a ’68 Dodge Charger.

A checkerboard border depicting Kings and Flyers logos occupies the lower four-fifths of the 50 cent program. Above that, in italic script, reads KINGS VS FLYERS IN THE FORUM HOME OF THE LAKERS AND KINGS. On the insider cover, among the “personnel” listed in the team’s staff directory is Chick Hearn, Director of Communication.

Retired Los Angeles Police Department Robbery (Homicide) Detective Lou McClary, who served as the Kings’ security representative from the inaugural season through 2008-09 and was an off-ice official early in his tenure, fondly recalled the season in which Los Angeles joined the National Hockey League.

He recalls attending games at Long Beach Arena - “It was a long way to travel” – and the handful of games played at the L.A. Sports Arena.

“At the time, I thought it was a state of the art building,” he said.

And then the Kings played their first of 24 regular season and playoff games at The Forum on December 30, 1967. The matinee opened with a pre-game ceremony in which Lorne Greene, a star on Bonanza, introduced owner Jack Kent Cooke in front of what was then a season-high crowd of 14,366. The Kings lost to the Flyers in front of a national CBS audience, 2-0.

It wasn’t the only pre-game ceremony recalled by McClary in which Greene played a key role.

“I remember this lovely gal had a heck of a voice,” McClary said of one particular anthem singer. “She walked out on the carpet in high heels, and she started singing the national anthem, and she’s about one-third through, and she fell. Lorne Greene caught her, stood her up, and she finished the song. Never missed a beat.”

“I’ll never forget that as long as I live.”

McClary had first seen “rinky dink” games in Bakersfield and worked as a “minor” official – the official designation before they became known as “off-ice” officials –with the minor-pro Western Hockey League’s Los Angeles Blades. He remembers the plot of land at the modern day intersection of Manchester and Prairie in Inglewood. Before there was The Forum, there were pumpjacks and workers extracting oil from the ground on the same site.

A minor official with the Kings in the inaugural season, he eventually rose to become the club’s security representative by an interesting encounter with general manager Larry Regan, whom he referred to as a “great guy.” Gaining Regan’s trust, McClary helped pull strings to a get a player released from a jail cell at the Torrance Police Department in 1967. After meeting Regan in the foyer of the police station, he instantly recognized a Sergeant acting as the Watch Commander whom he had attended Gardena High Scholl with. It wasn’t long before the player was released and that he realized he had a strong advocate in the club’s general manager. McClary then took a call from the league to land the security position he would hold through 2009, ultimately learning about his hiring from a linesman and eventual Hall of Famer named Neil Armstrong who skated over to the penalty box to inform him prior a game.

Between then and 2009, he was a full time Kings employee; his son, Brian, also an LAPD detective, now has his former job. The two have had a firsthand appreciation of the now-48-year-old organization’s evolution.

Back in the inaugural season, the crowds at the time weren’t particularly educated – or full.

“Hockey was so new to people,” McClary said. “They didn’t know what icing was. They didn’t know what offside was or all the major infractions. Our guy that did all the announcing was a P.R. guy for the Dodgers, John Ramsay. John Ramsay turned right around and he explained every infraction, over the P.A.”

He’d address crowds that weren’t particularly full.

“You’d turn around, and they would announce 11,000 [in attendance]. There couldn’t have been more than 7,000 there. And they did this for years and years and years. Sure, we had 7,000, maybe the next year it’d go to 71 hundred. I mean, it was never that big. It takes a long time for people to realize that you’ve got a hell of a product here,” McClary said. “And it was a great product.”

Similar to modern times, fans of the Original Six teams occupied a large part of the attendance when they would visit the west coast.

“We would probably have more people from those cities rooting for their ex-home teams than we had rooting for the Kings,” McClary recalled. “Absolutely true.”

While Bob Miller, Jim Fox, Nick Nickson and Daryl Evans have rightfully drawn accolades for their vast contributions to the Kings and Southern California sports broadcasting, there was clearly a bond between the club’s fans and Jiggs McDonald, the first radio broadcaster. KNX 1070 carried all 74 games in the inaugural season, with KTLA covering 20 of the 37 away games through a simulcast.

The original 1967-68 Kings media guide described McDonald, a 1990 Foster Hewitt Memorial Award winner who still occasionally provides fill-in duty on NHL broadcasts, thusly:

“Handling the play-by-play for the Kings is 28-year-old Jiggs McDonald, a young man with a tremendous reputation in Ontario hockey circles. Jiggs comes to Los Angeles from Orillia, Ontario, where he has broadcast hockey since he was a teen-ager.”

Veteran Los Angeles sportscaster Ted Sobel of KFWB 980 found an instant connection with McDonald since getting hooked into the sport after being persuaded by a Montreal-born friend while in seventh grade. The first game he attended? Los Angeles’ 9-4 bow-out to Minnesota in Game 7 of the club’s first playoff series. The Kings had blown 2-0 and 3-2 series leads before J.P. Parise and the North Stars erupted for a season-high nine goals in the deciding game.

“I remember that there being a different kind of buzz in the building that I was used to,” Sobel recalled of the April 18, 1968 crowd.

“They were into it. There were hardcore fans going crazy. I remember that, and it was different from other games, because I was a Dodgers fans growing up, and I went to a lot of games. There were tons of passionate Dodger fans when I was a kid…but to me, it was something different about the hockey crowd. They were into it, no question, and they were passionate. I’m telling you, when Sawchuk started giving up whatever it was in the second period – I think five goals – they were booing the [heck] out of him.”

“It wasn’t like, ‘Well, whatever happens, happens. It’s hockey, and we’re new and nobody cares.’ I mean, they were pissed. It was pretty loud, the booing. That was mostly in the second period. The third period, there was a chorus of boos, but it was a done deal. They were getting killed.”

The levels of security weren’t quite up to standards adopted in the coming years. Sobel and his Montrealer friend – who received tickets from the Kings’ stick boy at the time – were waved down to the Kings’ bench, where they remained long past their comfort level.

“The sticks were right up against the railing where you walked down the few steps to go to the Kings bench, and…we’re standing next to the sticks on the Kings bench…and the [stick boy] says, ‘Look, just hang out next to me over at the sticks, everything’s good. You guys can hang with me for a little while.’ And I’m thinking he’s out of his mind, but whatever. Here come the players onto the ice, and they’re skating around, and I’m standing on the Kings’ bench next to the sticks, and I’m thinking ‘I’ve got to get out of here. I don’t belong here.’ And remember, this is my first game, so I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on. Then some of the players are sitting down, and the goalie skates over to the side to get a drink, and we catch eyeballs, and he looks at me and says something like, ‘What are you doing over here?’ and I said, ‘I’m just hanging out with the stick boy,’ that kind of thing.”

Few others had as up close or personal of a meeting with Terry Sawchuk, a future Hall of Famer, in their first NHL game as Sobel.

For McClary, so many of his recollections of the players and staff members of the time were positive.

Mike Corrigan, who debuted with the club that year and remained in Los Angeles through the 1975-76 season, “was just a great guy.”

Goaltender Wayne Rutledge, also referenced as “a great guy,” became acquainted with a fan affiliated with several Round Table Pizza establishments in the Los Angeles area. “He said to Rutledge, ‘Hey, you want to make some money?’ So [Rutledge] owned four of ‘em.”

As there is today, there was also an early and strong relationship with esteemed members of the entertainment industry. Larry D. Mann, who fought in World War II, has credits in Hogan’s Heroes, Gunsmoke, and Hill Street Blues, and provided the voice for Yukon Cornelius in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, coached McClary’s son, Brian, in minor hockey and was a familiar face at early Kings games.

Rhonda Fleming, whose star occupies a spot on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, attended the first game at The Forum, as did Let’s Make a Deal host Monty Hall. Jerry and Patti Lewis and Jack and Felicia Lemmon were among the other boldfaced names listed as being in attendance in the program commemorating the first game at the Kings’ home from 1967-99. In the article, The Forum was referenced in the same article as “this Romanish little house that Jack built.”

There are names that surfaced in 1967-68 that remain dear to Kings fans. Longtime public address announcer David Courtney, who tragically passed away in 2012, worked for the Kings as a public relations assistant (link) as a teenager, but was known prior to that as one of the kids who would help around the rink with odd tasks.

“He would just love to hang around, and I remember he gave me a pen for Christmas. Me, and a bunch of the other off-ice officials,” McClary said.

There was also the connection with the players that McClary, who offered the dressing room his “spiel” – as he referenced it – prior to each season. He would offer the team the firm advice, “I’m the guy you call” to sort out the immediate aftermath of any security or law enforcement issues. And there were several.

“Once they knew who I was, they could also talk to me while I’m in the [penalty] box. It was kind of neat,” McClary said.

His advice for players who would skate over to him during the game to complain about a parking ticket? “Pay the ticket,” McClary said.

The conduct of the players differed greatly from the more modern years of the NHL.

McClary recalled one player who developed a thirst during a game that ordinary water couldn’t quench.

“He skated by one time,” McClary said. “He said, ‘Lou, is there any coke in there?’ He knew I had a coke. He says, ‘Well, OK, I’ll be right in. So he [takes] a penalty, he gets in there and he has his coke, and I always remember that. But that’s just the way these guys were.”

Eventually glass was installed in front of the penalty box, and McClary avoided several up close-and-personal incidents, such as the time a player flew over the boards and landed on top of him, opening up a gash.

“Lou, you’re in the. . .game now,” the player said.

Over 40 years later, McClary was honored on the ice prior to a Kings-Coyotes game. Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, Luc Robitaille and Wayne Gretzky saluted him during the ceremony commemorating his years of work with the franchise.

But he still holds clear memories of that first year, and when a collection of players from Matane, Quebec, and Vermillion, Alberta, and New Glasgow, Nova Scotia congregated in Southern California to build what has developed into an organization that seeks to maintain its zenith with two Stanley Cups in three seasons.

“It was new to them,” McClary recalled about the first generation Kings. “They all wanted to talk about, ‘Look at it here! It’s December and January, I’m wearing shorts down here!’ They just couldn’t believe it. It was new to them, too. It was a hell of a novelty.”

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