LOS ANGELES -- What kept Charlie Simmer going during those seemingly endless bus rides?
"The paycheck," he said, joking.
Not only was Springfield, Massachusetts, geographically distant from Los Angeles, the American Hockey League outpost seemed light years from the NHL's Kings. Simmer was inching toward the career decision faced by so many before (and since), wondering if he would get another NHL chance or if it were time to acknowledge the ticking athletic clock.
"I was still under contract," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Calgary. "You always hope things are going to turn. I didn't give up or quit. That's not part of my DNA. The team wasn't as good and weren't having as good a season.
"It was just one of those off years. You get tired of riding the buses around, 'OK, what's next? Do I go here or do I go there?'"
Fortunately, for Simmer, "there" happened to be Detroit.
Video: Triple Crown Line makes debut for Los Angeles Kings
The struggling Kings were on an eight-game trip. They had lost three consecutive games, to the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Islanders and the Chicago Blackhawks, by a combined score of 13-1.
On Jan. 11, 1979, they called up a 24-year-old left wing mired in the minor leagues, who had played three games for them in 1977-78, with little fanfare. Two days later, coach Bob Berry put Simmer on a line with a proven star, center Marcel Dionne, and a rapidly emerging talent, right wing Dave Taylor, to play the Detroit Red Wings.
The "Triple Crown Line" was born on Jan. 13, 1979, in an afternoon game at the historic Olympia in Detroit.
The Kings won 7-3 and the newly formed line combined for five goals and an assist. Dionne scored four goals, Taylor scored a goal and Simmer had the primary assist on Dionne's fourth goal, at 19:33 of the third period.
"Someone had to backcheck, right?" Simmer said. "It was me, the kid."
Detroit's goaltender happened to be a future Hall of Famer and a beloved Kings icon, Rogie Vachon, who had left Los Angeles and signed with the Red Wings in the previous offseason. At the time, the five-year contract worth $1.9 million with the Red Wings made Vachon the highest-paid goaltender in the NHL.
Years later, Simmer didn't remember getting the assist. For that matter, Vachon also didn't recall the specific game but chuckled and kidded, saying: "Did I stop them all?"
Other memories are stronger, and Simmer told a story he has mentioned in previous interviews. He assumed the recall was a token appearance, fully expecting to return to Springfield after the Kings played at Boston on Jan. 14. But Berry, an old-school coach with a sharp instinct, had other plans.
"I had a couple assists that game," Simmer said. "I actually had friends from Springfield at the game coming to pick me up to take me back. That's how I was feeling.
"Bob was a funny guy. I said, 'Thanks for the opportunity, Bob. I appreciate you giving me the chance.' He said, 'I've got to send you down.' I said, 'No problem.'
"He said, 'Get some clothes and fly back out to L.A.' That was the start of it."
You could say it was like finding the right drummer or guitar player for a hit band. You know it when you hear it. In this case, Berry and others knew it when they saw it on the ice.
Simmer scored 48 points (21 goals, 27 assists) in 38 games for the Kings in 1978-79 and was their fourth-leading scorer. The next season, he finished in a three-way tie with Danny Gare of the Buffalo Sabres and Blaine Stoughton of the Hartford Whalers for the NHL lead in goals with 56.
The high point for the Triple Crown Line was when Dionne, Simmer and Taylor combined for 161 goals in 1980-81, and the Kings had a 99-point season.
The birth of a line one afternoon in Detroit may have saved Simmer's career.
"I had some friends playing in Europe," Simmer said. "That was probably my next step. Other than that, back to the pulp mill or whatever.
"You go from possibly 38 games from quitting hockey to the next year leading the League in goals. That's how bizarre it was."