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Memories from the Fabulous Forum

Daryl Evans, Ray Ferraro, Bernie Nicholls and Russ Courtnall recall their fond memories of playing in Inglewood

by Mike Commito @mikecommito / LAKings.com

It has been more than 20 years since the LA Kings played their last regular season game at the Great Western Forum... and it wasn't a particularly memorable game.

The Kings lost 3-2 to the Blues, and with the club failing to qualify for the postseason that year, it was a rather anticlimactic way to bookend more than three decades in the fabulous Forum.

Moreover, with the Kings playing exhibition games there that fall to open the 1999-00 campaign before moving into STAPLES Center, you could be forgiven for not remembering that game. 

For many Kings players, the Forum was where they got their first taste of NHL action, but for many more it was the place where hockey and Hollywood collided. Regardless of the era in which they played, the Forum was an incredibly special place.

As the site of the fabled Miracle on Manchester and where Wayne Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's all-time goal-scoring record, it saw its share of historic moments. But what has stuck with the players after all these years, however, isn't those incredible feats, it's how they felt when they skated in that building. 

Video: 50 Greatest Moments - Gretzky Scores 802

The first concrete for the Forum was poured in October 1966 and after a $16-million construction process, the Kings played their first game there on December 30, 1967.

Designed by architect Charles Luckman, who was the brainchild behind LAX and Madison Square Garden, the Forum was truly a unique structure. Inspired by the Roman Forum, Luckman's creation was a perfect circle that featured enormous white columns, which supported a concrete suspension ring that allowed the building to have an wide open interior space free of internal columnar supports.

An unprecedented design feature at the time, it gave Forum patrons unmatched views of the action with no seat more than 170 feet from the ice. When it was completed, local sportswriter Jim Murray wrote it was "a magnificent structure that looks for all the world like a monster white concrete crown set down in the verdant hills of Prairie Avenue."

It was the perfect place for the Kings to play. 

The uniqueness of the building certainly captured the imagination of the players. Daryl Evans, who scored the overtime winner in the Miracle on Manchester, felt it had a real presence.

"It wasn't just your normal bit of construction. It had a unique design to it and it stood out. I always admired that every time that I drove up to it. That view never got old," he recently reflected.

"Without the cars there, when you used to go early before a game, you really got a chance to see the building and appreciate the work that was done to put it together," Evans added. 

Video: 50 Greatest Moments - Miracle on Manchester

Once inside the building, the layout of the Forum continued to set it apart from all the other arenas in the league. While the chandeliers and vibrant-colored carpets, certainly made it a cut above the rest, some of the other features also made it stand out. The positioning of the benches in relation to the stands was one.

One of Ray Ferraro's favorite stories from the Forum was when he was a visiting player with the Hartford Whalers.

"We got out to the bench for the start of the game and Ulf Samuelsson all of a sudden had to go to the bathroom. So he skated off the ice and he was gone for however long it took to go to the bathroom and do his thing. He came back and crawled under the stands and popped up under the stands right on the bench and we were like 'where'd he come from'?" he chuckled. 

Bernie Nicholls remembers one incident when the Maple Leafs came to town and head coach John Brophy, who had thick white hair, cut his head on the stairs near the visiting bench.

"Poor [Brophy] hit his head and split it wide open. You know those old guys, they're not leaving. His hair's white but there's blood all over it and his suit. You'd think it was the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and he's not leaving, but it was just a regular season game," Nicholls recalled. 

Beyond the benches, the Forum was simply a great place to watch a hockey game. Given the exceptional vantage points, there was not a bad seat in the building.

"Everybody was right on top of the team and we had great interactions with the fans because they were so close to us, unlike some of the arenas today," Evans remembered. 

Of course, since it was LA, some of those fans happened to be celebrities. For a lot of the Kings players, who came from small towns in Canada or the northern United States, it was an incredible feeling.

"Growing up in Canada, playing hockey, you think of Maple Leaf Gardens and all that, but they never had that there. Now we're in Hollywood. It's unbelievable," explained Nicholls, who grew up in Haliburton, Ontario. 

Russ Courtnall recalls that the star-studded atmosphere made it an exciting place to play.

"For anybody who played in LA, it was kind of cool because when you're skating around in warm up you'd notice different celebrities because they always sat in the lower area," Courtnall reminisced.

"Playing at the Forum was neat for a lot of kids from small towns who came into LA to see the world-famous people that came to watch the games. That made it special. The characters were there to watch us play," he continued.

During his two seasons in LA, Courtnall remembers being injured one time and getting the chance to hang out with comedian Jim Carrey at a game. 

Nicholls, who started his NHL career with the Kings in 1981-82, witnessed the celebrity following grow when Gretzky arrived in Tinseltown in 1988. Although he recalls seeing regulars such as Kurt Russell, Goldie Hawn, John Candy and Tom Hanks at home games, his most surreal encounters occurred as he walked out of the building one day.

"There was this big tunnel that we used to walk down. I walked out of it with Muhammad Ali. Just him and I. He fake jabbed me and said 'you probably don't remember me.' If you can imagine... just him and I walking out of the Forum together," he described. 

Ferraro, however, was not as lucky. "We didn't win enough," he laughed. "The guys of course did when [Gretzky] was rolling. They had all kinds of people around there," he added. 

Ferraro may not have had the opportunity to rub shoulders with celebrities during his time in LA, but he does recall getting that chance as a visiting player during his early years in the league. At the time, the arena boasted the Forum Club, which was the ultimate sports bar and one of Los Angeles' most exclusive clubs. Following games, it was where could find actors, athletes and supermodels mingling until the early morning.

"We couldn't wait to get there," Ferraro exclaimed. "Guys would play pretty well out in LA. The Kings had home ice advantage because every road team wanted to play great to get to the Forum Club as fast they could," he continued. 

"It was the only bar in the league like that," remembers Nicholls. "Guys couldn't wait to get off the ice to get to the Forum Club. It was unbelievable. The celebrities go there, all the people from the game go there. Obviously pretty women were there, the guys couldn't wait to get there," Nicholls explained. 

Video: 50 Greatest Moments - The Fabulous Forum

Although memories abound of celebrity sightings and stories from the Forum Club that cannot be retold, the Forum was a great place to play hockey because of the fans. Nicholls recalls one game when he scored four goals against the Greztky's Oilers on October 20, 1983.

"The place was sold out and the crowd was chanting my name," recalled Nicholls. "Here I am, a young kid, playing against arguably the greatest player in the game and you've got 16,005 people chanting your name. You feel like you're Wayne Gretzky."

"Obviously you're not, but for that time, they're all there cheering for you," he beamed.

Though winning wasn't always guaranteed; one thing was for certain at the Great Western Forum. Each night, under the bright lights, as the puck dropped and the stars took the ice, the stars of Hollywood roared in unison from the crowd.

A fabulous place, indeed. 

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