LOS ANGELES –
|Triple Crown Line of Dave Taylor, Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer re-united for LA Kings Hockey Fest '09.
Each player was introduced from his corresponding team and those teams were announced in alphabetical order as a sellout crowd watched at the Forum in suburban Inglewood. First it was the Clarence S. Campbell Conference, then the Prince of Wales Conference.
As the Wales players were being introduced, the Los Angeles Kings' representatives were conspicuously skipped over at first, but it was quickly understood that they were being saved for last. The 1981 NHL All-Star game was being held for the first time in Tinseltown, so creating a little drama was a prerequisite for the midseason showcase.
Mario Lessard, the Kings' goalie, was greeted with a nice ovation that was expected. Moments later, Charlie Simmer, Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor skated out to center ice in unison and the delighted 16,005 in attendance all rose to their feet to greet their heroes.
An unexpected made-for-Hollywood moment, for sure.
"I still remember the ovation," Taylor said, recalling it as if it was just days ago. "The Forum was rocking. Everybody was standing. It was absolutely terrific."
The moment may have been produced, but in Simmer's eyes it couldn't have gone any other way.
"I think it symbolized what we were all about," Simmer said. "We weren't a group of individuals. We played as a line. We were successful as a line. And it was nice to be rewarded as a line. That's something that we were very proud of."
To many of the franchise's longtime fans, the highlight of the Kings' Hockey Fest '09 fan extravaganza this weekend was the reunion of the Triple Crown Line in what will be the 30th anniversary of when the line was put together by then-coach Bob Berry.
Simmer, Dionne and Taylor have met up with each other over the years to reminisce about their exploits, but this was the first time that one of the NHL's greatest power trios got together in the same setting. The three enthralled an appreciative crowd inside Nokia Theatre on Saturday night.
"For us, it's a lot of fun," said Simmer, now a businessman and a part-time hockey analyst in Calgary. "It's always a comforting thing. It's almost to a point where you see them and you can pick up with conversations about what's going on in life or memories in the past.
"I think it's just the personalities that meshed together. The camaraderie and the friendship that always continues."
To this day, the Triple Crown Line is revered by longtime Kings fans and has an entrenched spot in NHL history.
How successful was the line? During its two-season peak in 1979-80 and 1980-81, Dionne, Taylor and Simmer averaged 51 goals, 61 assists and 112 points. To illustrate their success and the way the game has changed over time, only Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin had more points (113) in 2008-09 and only Rocket Richard winner Alex Ovechkin had more goals (56).
It was a prolific game in the late 1970s and early 1980s but the effect of the Kings' triumvirate was felt across the NHL. Dionne's 137 points tied for the League lead in 1979-80 with up-and-coming Edmonton superstar Wayne Gretzky, while Simmer's 56 goals tied for the lead with Blaine Stoughton of Hartford.
The 1980-81 season was to be their apex. The first regular line to have all of its members each top 100 points in the same year, Taylor, Dionne and Simmer all ranked in the top 10 in scoring. Dionne finished second in scoring to Gretzky with 135 points (58 goals, 77 assists), Taylor would finish with career-bests of 47 goals and 112 points, while Simmer had another 56-goal season among his 105 points.
Dionne, who is an entrepreneur and resides in Niagara Falls, said he continues to be recognized and linked in association with the Triple Crown Line as he travels around the U.S. and Canada. They remain popular, he said, because they also represent a time when three-man forward lines were often the rule and not the exception.
In the present-day NHL, many coaches frequently change up their lines or opt to rotate wingers around a franchise center.
"It was really significant in the 50 and 60s and early 70s," Dionne recalled. "You had a unit that played a lot. As a unit, I look at the Islanders' like [Mike] Bossy, [Bryan] Trottier and Clark Gillies. You look at the French Connection with [Rene Robert], [Gilbert] Perreault and [Rick] Martin. People love that.
"To have a successful line, you've got to get along together and respond together. That's what we had. We had a lot of chemistry on and off the ice."
Taylor said the nickname was the winning entry in a contest, though he couldn't remember who provided it. On Saturday, the former Kings GM and current Dallas Stars director of player personnel jokingly said that they should have been named the "Bread Line" because they all made a lot of dough.
Given the franchise name and its bejeweled crown logo, the Triple Crown Line was a perfect match. Berry first put the group together on Jan. 13, 1979 prior to a game in Detroit after the Kings had scored just one goal total in three consecutive losses.
Simmer had an impressive training camp in the fall of 1978 after having been acquired from the Cleveland Barons the previous season and compiling big numbers with the AHL's Springfield Indians. But the Kings had picked up winger Murray Wilson from the defending Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens and he got the first shot at playing with Dionne and Taylor.
Looking back, Berry said the biggest mistake he made was not putting Simmer on the team after camp.
"We had somebody like Marcel Dionne, who is a Hall of Fame player," said Berry, now a scout for the organization. "And we tried so many different people. Actually I played with him the first year for a little while toward the end of my career. We got Davey Taylor fitted in there. And then we went through A, B, C, D, trying to find someone to complement that line.
"I know they still laugh about what was the best move that I made all year. Obviously that was bringing Charlie Simmer up a month or two into the season. The worst move? Sending him down after training camp."
Dionne was the established star, a first-rate playmaker who had racked up 100-point seasons with the Red Wings and Kings. Taylor was the grinding winger willing to battle in the corners and get the puck. Simmer, at 6-foot-3, became the classic big power forward who provided the net presence.
"Charlie was the perfect complement to us," Taylor said. "He's a big guy with great hands. He could finish around the net. And he had excellent hockey sense. He knew where to go on the ice and find the open spots. Right away, he had 20-something goals in that half season and then he put together back-to-back 56 goal seasons. We were hard to stop."
Simmer said he recalled being depressed when he got sent down in camp and wondered if he still had a career as a pro.
"You go from one day figuring that you'll have maybe 30, 40 games to go in your career in the minors and then end up leading the League in goals the next year," he said. "That's how quick it happened. Once Bobby called me up, it wasn't like in the past where I sat on the bench. He gave me playing time and obviously gave me two quality guys to play with. And that was the biggest difference."
The three had the Kings ready to join the NHL's elite in 1980-81 when they finished with 99 points, fourth-best in the League. But their greatest chance to win a Stanley Cup, at least until the 1993 Final appearance, ended when Simmer suffered a badly broken right leg in a late-season game in Toronto.
To this day, Simmer, Dionne and Taylor lament that the Kings didn't have more team success. Each, however, remains a proud member of a vaunted scoring line that still resonates 30 years later.
"Statistically, no one has had three players on the same line score 100 points plus," said Luc Robitaille, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame left wing. "It's amazing. Usually there's two guys that get 100 points and the other guy's a grinder. But they all did it at the same time in the same year.
"It's truly amazing."
Author: Eric Stephens | Special to LAKings.com