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Seiling pulling for Capitals to win Stanley Cup

Former defenseman has 'soft spot' after playing one game for expansion Washington in 1974-75

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

Rod Seiling's home isn't exactly overflowing with Washington Capitals memorabilia from his time with the team during its inaugural 1974-75 season.

Or even one item from his five days and one game, a parachute drop into Washington following 11 seasons as a defenseman with the New York Rangers and before he returned to Toronto for two years on his second tour of duty with the Maple Leafs.

"As much as I'd like the Vegas fairytale to continue, I do have a soft spot for the Capitals - for my one game," Seiling, 73, said with a laugh on Monday from Niagara Falls, Ontario.

 

[RELATED: Complete Golden Knights vs. Capitals series coverage]

 

The Capitals are knocking on the door of their first championship, leading the Golden Knights 3-1 in the best-of-7 Stanley Cup Final with Game 5 at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, NBC, SN, TVAS, CBC).

"Washington made a lot of changes a year ago for a run at the Stanley Cup and they flamed out," Seiling said. "A year ago, if you were to ask [general manager] Brian MacLellan and [coach] Barry Trotz whether they thought they'd be in the Stanley Cup Final this year, I'm not sure they'd say it was going to happen.

"And anybody who says they haven't been impressed by Vegas would be living in Technicolor. … The Golden Knights have been great for hockey, something to talk about, and what they've done is something we'll likely never see it again."

Seiling was one of two players who skated a single game with the expansion Capitals in 1974-75, before he was traded to Toronto on Nov. 2, 1974. The other was forward Bill Riley, who would play 124 more games for Washington over the next three seasons.

That one-and-gone maiden-season distinction, Seiling said, laughing again, "isn't what I'd call a career highlight."

Seiling had broken into the NHL with the Maple Leafs at age 18 for a single game in 1962-63, a product of Toronto's famous St. Mike's major-junior factory. He was traded to the Rangers on Feb. 22, 1964 with forwards Dick Duff, Bob Nevin and Bill Collins and defenseman Arnie Brown for center Don McKenney and future Hall of Fame forward Andy Bathgate, playing the next 10 full seasons on Broadway as a steady defenseman, often paired with Jim Neilson.

Seiling has many great friends from his decade on Broadway, in February having attended the New York jersey retirement of Rangers Hall of Fame icon center Jean Ratelle. He took in that day's morning skate at Madison Square Garden with Ratelle and former forward Ron Duguay, who starred for the Rangers from the 1970s into the 1980s.

That things had turned sour for Seiling early in the 1974-75 season is but a distant memory. The story repeated since that time says he spoke harshly of Rangers fans for their treatment of him following a 5-5 tie against the visiting California Golden Seals.

Now, more than four decades later and for the first time publicly, Seiling wants to set the record straight on the reason things came unglued for him in New York. It wasn't the criticism of Garden fans that pushed him over the edge, he says, but rather the cruel verbal taunts his two young sons absorbed at their school, from adults.

"I had this discussion with [former Rangers coach and GM] Emile Francis recently. I've never gone public with it before," Seiling said. "I just wasn't going to let my kids bear the brunt of those trying to get at me. Nobody in their right mind should harass young boys because of their father. Had it been other kids, I could have accepted it. But it was adults."

Francis, himself on thin ice for a succession of Rangers teams that had come close but never got over the top, knew changes had to be made. He put Seiling on waivers, and Capitals GM Milt Schmidt took him for the $30,000 fee on Oct. 29, 1974. 

Schmidt thought he had to keep the defenseman for two weeks before he could move him again, the plan all along, unaware he could have done so without even having Seiling report to Washington.

"Milt told me, 'I don't want you to move your family down here,' and I said, 'Milt, I have no intention of doing that,' " Seiling recalled. "I was out of there quickly."

But not before arriving on Oct. 30, practicing once with his new team, and suiting up the following day in the half-empty Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, for a 3-0 loss to the visiting Montreal Canadiens. 

He wore No. 17 that day, his long-familiar No. 16 on the back of Mike Marson, who was making headlines as the NHL's second black player following Willie O'Ree of the late 1950s and early 1960s Boston Bruins.

"The Flying Frenchmen were in rare form," Seiling remembered of the Canadiens that day. "It was a stretch for Washington to keep up. If you had the stats back then that they keep today, well, let's put it this way: The ice was tilted."

Two days later, he was traded to the Maple Leafs for forward Tim Ecclestone and defenseman Willie Brossart. His 979-game NHL career would play out with two seasons in Toronto, 2 ½ with the St. Louis Blues and 36 games with the Atlanta Flames before he retired in 1979. 

Seiling had represented Canada at the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics, and in 1972 played for Team Canada in the historic eight-game Summit Series against the Soviet Union.

He has nothing from his "career" with the Capitals but a few sepia memories; if there's a photo of him in a Washington jersey, he has never seen it.

"I stayed in a hotel and hardly even got to know my teammates," Seiling said. "We had a practice, played a game, then I was gone. There wasn't time to strike up any kind of relationship."

Seiling's single game was but a footnote for the Capitals, who had many forgettable moments during that first season; they finished 8-67-5 (five ties) and were outscored 446-181.

Seiling would enjoy a fine post-hockey career in horse racing and with the Ontario Jockey Club, and for 13 years he was president of the Greater Toronto Hotel Association. Today, he and his wife, Sharon, live in Waterloo, Ontario, where he volunteers one day a week at a local golf course "to get out of the house a bit - and for the golf privileges."

He says he'll be watching Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday, as he has the four games before it, hoping "his" Capitals can seal the deal, at long last.

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