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Berry the architect behind the "Triple Crown Line"

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
The Triple Crown Line, by its architect’s admission, was basically a fortuitous accident.

Enough years have passed that Bob Berry could argue, with a straight face, that he knew exactly what he was doing on Jan. 13, 1979, when, as coach of the Kings, he put Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor on a line for a game against Detroit.

"I take a lot of credit for that," Berry said with laugh during a recent interview.

Over the next three years, that trio turned out to be the most famous line in Kings history and one of the most memorable in NHL history, and in that game against the Red Wings, Berry -- a first-year coach, just a few months removed from the end of his playing career -- called out the names of Dionne, Simmer and Taylor for the first time.

Simmer was the final piece of the puzzle, put in place almost halfway through the 1978-79 season after he was cut in training camp. And who cut him? Well, Berry.

"People always ask, 'What was the greatest coaching move you ever made?' And I say it was putting Charlie Simmer on that line," Berry said. "They say, 'What was the worst move you ever made?' I say, 'Sending him down to the minors in training camp.'"

The genesis of the line might not be poetic, but the results certainly were, and the Triple Crown Line became a big part of Berry’s legend with the Kings. Before Thursday’s game against Minnesota at STAPLES Center, the Kings will honor Berry, who played parts of seven seasons with the Kings in the 1970s, then had a three-year run as coach.

Los Angeles holds plenty of good memories for Berry. It’s where he got his first real chance as an NHL winger, after being traded from Montreal in 1970, and it’s where he started his coaching career, which continued through the late 1990s. The kid from the suburbs of Montreal notes the irony of making his hockey name by moving to L.A.

"It was a culture shock," Berry said. "Apart from the hockey itself, it was so different. At the beginning, I was single, and I remember that somebody invited me over on Christmas Day, for dinner. I still remember people out there on Manchester (Boulevard) out there playing golf, because it was 75 degrees on Christmas Day. I couldn't believe it. So it was a culture change, but it was a nice culture change. Better to go that way than to start shoveling your driveway to go to practice every morning."

Perhaps if things went the right way, Berry could have played for the Dodgers or Lakers.

As a Quebec kid, Berry naturally grew up playing hockey, but he also had a hand for football and baseball. Berry played semi-pro football in his early 20s, at the same time he played junior and college hockey, and Berry said he also spent time at a baseball tryout camp in Cocoa Beach, Fla., but ultimately stayed with hockey.

"The seasons seemed to be more lined up," Berry said. "There was baseball in the summer, and then it overlapped with football, and then it went right into hockey season. So you sort of had time, as a kid, to do things."

Berry’s path to the NHL was bumpy. He was a product of the Montreal Canadiens organization, but at a time -- in the mid-to-late-60s -- when the Canadiens were annually playing for the Stanley Cup and didn’t have many roster openings, to be certain.

Berry appeared in two games with the Canadiens during the 1968-69 season, but spent the entire next season with the Montreal Voyageurs of the American Hockey League.

"When there were six teams, i don't think you ever thought that you would be good enough," Berry said. "And there were a lot of good players who could have played."

Berry’s chance came when he got the opportunity to attend the Kings’
training camp in Victoria, B.C., in the fall of 1970. Berry impressed enough that the Kings acquired him from the Canadiens, for cash, one day before the start of the 1970-71 season.

In his first game with the Kings, Berry scored two goals in a 3-1 win over Vancouver.

"Larry Regan was the coach and general manager, and he went around shaking hands with everybody because we won the game 3-1," Berry said. "He got to me and he said, 'You don't think you're going to do that every night, do you?'"

Naturally, Berry could not maintain that pace, but in seven seasons with the Kings, he was a five-time 20-goal scorer, with a career high of 36 goals scored in 1972-73.

Berry was part of the Kings’ 1974-75 team, which totaled a franchise-record 105 points, and also has fond memories of the 1976 playoffs, when the Kings took the Boston Bruins to seven games in the second round but lost.

"The year that we took Boston to seven games was really something," Berry said. "I still have the article at home somewhere, where the writer at Boston said something like, 'This is a game nobody thought would ever be played,' like there was no way that we would extend those guys to seven games, with Esposito and all that stuff."

Shortly thereafter, Berry’s future trended more toward coaching. He was assigned to the AHL at the start of the 1977-78 season, not knowing, at that point, that his NHL career was done at age 34, at least as a player.

"In my last year with the Kings, there was a change in management and I ended up in Springfield," Berry said. "Around Christmas, (management) asked me if I would like to coach. I said, 'No, I want to play.' And he said, 'You can do both,' so after Christmas, I was player-coach. That was worth five years anywhere else, because you did everything. You chartered the buses, you arranged practices, you did everything, plus learning the hockey side with those guys. It was a wonderful experience."

Berry finished out the 1978 season with Springfield then was hired by the Kings to replace one-year head coach Ron Stewart.

Berry, not yet even 35, was running an NHL team, coaching many players who, less than two years earlier, had been his teammates, most notably top players such as Dionne, Mike Murphy and Butch Goring.

When Berry was learning his new craft in the AHL, in 1977-78, a 21-year-old rookie named Dave Taylor joined the Kings and scored 22 goals in 64 games.

With Berry in charge, he quickly paired Dionne and Taylor but couldn’t find the correct fit on the other wing. Simmer, age 24, had played three games with the Kings in 1977-78 but spent the rest of the season with Berry in Springfield.

That wasn’t enough for Simmer to catch a break in training camp in 1978, though, as he was assigned to Springfield again. Then, on that fateful night against Detroit, Berry put Dionne, Simmer and Taylor together and, after three straight losses, the Kings won 7-3.

The line, later to be dubbed the "Triple Crown Line," was off and running. Dionne provided the top-level skill and playmaking. Taylor and Simmer were fearless around the net and, after joining the unit, Simmer finished the season with 21 goals in 38 games.

"They really were special," Berry said. "Dave Taylor was as great a competitor, in any sport, as I've ever seen. Marcel was kind of low-key, but he was a great competitor, and Charlie just fit right in there with those guys.

"With us, Marcel and Davey were always OK, but that third piece was always missing on that side. Then Charlie stepped into it and just owned it."

Even by the high-scoring standards of the late-1970s NHL, the line was magic. In 1979-80, the trio combined for a staggering 146 goals. That season, Dionne led the NHL with 137 points and Simmer tied for the league lead with 56 goals.

Then, the line got even better. In 1980-81, they combined for 161 goals, and each player had at least 105 points (Dionne totaled 135). It is believed to be the first regularly-constructed line in NHL history in which each player totaled at least 100 points.

The line’s Hollywood moment came in 1981, when the Forum hosted the All-Star game and Dionne, Simmer and Taylor were introduced together, to a huge ovation. All the while, their coach looked on with admiration.

"This was long before video was really in use, so if you were a team from the East, you really didn't see our team play," Berry said.

"It's like, 'What do they do on the power play?' Not even that. It was, 'Who is on their power play?' But we would get a power play, and the guys on the bench would say, 'Goal. Goal coming.' It was just a simple little play. Everybody stayed in the box, and those guys made monkeys out of them. Guys on the bench would say, 'Goal coming up,' and I'd say, 'Shut up.' Sure enough, it would end up in the net. Those guys were a spectacular group together."

Berry left the Kings to coach his hometown Canadiens in 1981. After three seasons in Montreal, he coached Pittsburgh for three seasons and, after four seasons as an assistant coach -- and a brief move to the front office -- Berry coached the St. Louis Blues for two seasons.

Berry finished his coaching career with four seasons as an assistant coach, most recently in 1999-2000 with San Jose, then started as a career as a scout, including stints with the Kings, Blues and Ottawa Senators.
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