The wait is now over! On November 1 of this year, my very first book, The California Golden Seals: a Tale of White Skates and Red Ink, and One of the NHL’s Most Outlandish Teams hit online bookshelves, you can add it to your actual bookshelves by ordering it from University of Nebraska Press.  If you order using this form, you can get 30% off the cover price.  You can also check out the book detail page on the UNP website.

The book covers the franchise’s entire history, from its championship years in the Western Hockey League, to its relocation to Oakland, to its excruciatingly slow death in Cleveland.

Several people associated with the Seals, including Lyle Carter, Ted Hampson, Joey Johnston, Marshall Johnston, Wayne King, Larry Lund, Dennis Maruk, Howie Menard, Morris Mott, Larry Patey, Tim Ryan, the late Frank Selke Jr., Len Shapiro, Gary Simmons, Joe Starkey, and Tom Thurlby, took the time out of their day to speak to me about their experiences.  Other NHL players of the era, notably Bryan Campbell, Ron Lalonde, and Jack Lynch also provided me with some great quotes, and several members of the Seals Booster Club, including John Bonasera, Greg Lamont, Larry Leal, Sandi and Dick Pantages, Scott Ruffell, Larry Schmidt, and Cathy White shared some great memories from a fan’s point of view.  With the help of hundreds of newspaper articles from the era, I was able to unearth some fantastic long-forgotten stories and quotes, and I was able to shed some light on several Seals tales that have been skewed over the years, including the identity of the famous 1974 streaker, and the person responsible for trading away the draft pick that would have brought Guy Lafleur to Oakland.

For those of you who would like a sneak peak at what awaits in the pages of the book, here is a brief outline of each chapter:

Chapter 1:  SAN FRANCISCO TREAT, 1917-1967

One can trace California’s hockey roots back to a 1917 three-game series in San Francisco between the Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Metropolitans, but the sport did not catch on until the San Francisco Seals of the WHL won back-to-back championships in 1963 and 1964.  Meanwhile, the NHL decided to include Los Angeles and San Francisco in its ambitious 1967 expansion.  Young millionaire Barry Van Gerbig was granted the San Francisco franchise.  He then bought the Seals and moved them to Oakland, setting the team on a path towards failure.  This chapter will discuss:

  • the exhibition series between Seattle and Montreal (March 31 to April 4, 1917)
  • the rise and fall of the California Hockey League (1929-1933)
  • the creation of the San Francisco Seals in 1961 and their two Patrick Cup championships
  • the tale of Tommy Green, the paralegal/practice goalie who gave up eleven goals and received stitches in his only professional game
  • the changing of the franchise’s name from San Francisco Seals to California Seals and the impact on the team’s ability to draw fans in the NHL

Chapter 2:  THE OAKLAND ERROR, 1967-68

This chapter focuses on the Seals’ difficult first season in the NHL, the team’s founding fathers, and the players who made up the first edition of the club.  This disastrous inaugural season laid the shaky foundation for the team’s future, as early mistakes by team owners and general managers became too difficult to overcome.  San Francisco fans refused to cross the bridge to Oakland and Oakland had very few hockey fans, therefore attendance was abysmal.  Coach and general manager Bert Olmstead clashed with key players and members of the media as the club stumbled to a league-worst 15-42-17 mark.  This chapter will review:

  • the player selections at the 1967 NHL expansion draft
  • the hiring of coach Bert Olmstead and the firing of original general manager Rudy Pilous
  • Jacques Plante’s comeback attempt at training camp
  • Labatt’s Brewery’s failed attempt to buy the Seals and move them to Vancouver
  • Bert Olmstead’s difficult relationship with both players and media
  • the death of Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton
  • the changing of the team’s name from California Seals to Oakland Seals

Chapter 3:  THE THREE MUSKETEERS, 1968-69

A new ownership group called Puck Inc. showed interest in buying the club from Barry Van Gerbig and keeping it in Oakland.  Unfortunately for Van Gerbig, the Seals’ monetary losses continued to mount, and by Christmas Puck Inc.’s interest waned.  Trans-National Communications Inc. bought the Seals in January 1969, but its wish to move the team to Buffalo was nixed by NHL owners.

Despite the gloomy financial forecast, the Seals surprised league pundits with an impressive second-place finish.  Moody and unproductive veterans were either traded away for youngsters or left unprotected in the intra-league draft, while new head coach Fred Glover promoted a few American League stars to the NHL.  The Seals’ first-round series versus Los Angeles developed into a bitter affair that went the full seven games.  This chapter will discuss:

  • Puck Inc.’s disastrous arrangement to buy club from Barry van Gerbig
  • the “Three Musketeers”: coach Fred Glover, general manager Frank Selke Jr. and executive vice-president Bill Torrey, and how they turned the Seals around
  • the emergence of several new stars, such as Norm Ferguson, captain Ted Hampson, and flashy defenseman Carol Vadnais
  • the exciting Battle of California which ended in defeat for the Seals

Chapter 4:  HUNG OVER, 1969-70

Following a surprising second-place finish, the Seals were faced with lofty expectations, but they stumbled out of the starting blocks and played lethargically.  Most players saw their numbers decline and the defence was porous.  The team qualified for the playoffs thanks to a season-ending hot streak and Gary Smith’s acrobatic goaltending, but big changes to the roster were imminent.  In this chapter, the following subjects will be discussed:

  • the Seals’ overall complacency early on
  • Trans-National Communications’ empty promises and lack of capital, which forced them to forfeit their payments to Barry van Gerbig
  • Norm Ferguson’s struggle to return to his rookie form
  • the exciting race for the final playoff spot
  • Pittsburgh’s four-game sweep of the Seals in round one of the playoffs

Chapter 5:  FOOLS’ GOLD, 1970-71

Despite an impressive increase in attendance, another serious ownership crisis in the summer of 1970 put the Seals’ future in jeopardy.  The boorish and controversial Charles O. Finley bought the team and brought many wild ideas to the table, such as coloured skates, garish yellow uniforms, and a new nickname for his team: California Golden Seals.  The team may have been golden in name, but it was anything but that on the ice.  Finley’s gimmicks failed to generate any excitement at the box office, and the team floundered after a decent first half.  Youngsters Dennis Hextall, Gary Croteau and Ron Stackhouse led the offense while aging veterans were phased out at the end of the season.  This chapter will discuss:

  • the competition between Charlie Finley and Jerry Seltzer to buy the Seals
  • Finley’s legendary stinginess and eccentric behaviour
  • Finley’s bizarre promotional ideas, such as Barber Night and the use of live seals as mascots
  • Finley’s refusal to honour Frank Selke Jr. and Bill Torrey’s contracts, leading to their resignations
  • how the Seals fell to last place overall
  • how the Seals received the first overall draft choice in June 1971, but wasted their opportunity to select future Hall-of-Famer Guy Lafleur

Chapter 6:  YOUNG BLOOD, 1971-72

After sputtering to a dismal 20-53-5 record in 1970-71, Finley hired former Boston Bruins scout Garry Young as the Seals’ new general manager.  The crafty Young imported prospects like Joey Johnston, Walt McKechnie, Ivan Boldirev, and Reggie Leach to replace several departing veterans.  The club’s subsequent improvement astounded fans around the league.  Rookie goaltender Gilles Meloche stole more than a few games, while newcomers Bobby Sheehan, Gerry Pinder and Dick Redmond led the resurgent Seals offensively during an exciting playoff race.  This chapter will examine:

  • how Garry Young rebuilt the Seals on a shoestring budget and under the watchful eye of Charlie Finley
  • the controversial firing of Fred Glover
  • how goaltender Gerry Desjardins’ broken arm became a blessing in disguise for the Seals
  • Gilles Meloche’s shocking first NHL shutout versus the Boston Bruins
  • the blockbuster trade that sent all-star Carol Vadnais to Boston
  • the late-season collapse that cost the Seals a playoff spot

Chapter 7:  GOODBYE, OAKLAND, 1972-73

The arrival of the World Hockey Association decimated the Seals’ roster and set the team’s development back several years.  In all, seven regulars left the team for the fledgling league.  Garry Young gave star defenseman Dick Redmond a rich new deal to keep him away from the WHA, but Finley refused to pay up, believing Redmond was worth much less.  Consequently, Young and Finley became embroiled in a bitter war of words over the lucrative contract.  As if the Seals did not have enough problems, attendance plummeted in the first half of the season forcing Finley to cut ticket prices in half.  The team never managed to get in gear despite breakout seasons from Joey Johnston, Reggie Leach, Walt McKechnie, Craig Patrick, and rookie Hilliard Graves.  This chapter will discuss:

  • the establishment of the WHA and the new league’s impact on the Seals and the NHL
  • the strange courtship and signing of radio play-by-play man Joe Starkey
  • the rehiring of Fred Glover as coach and general manager, and his inability to inspire his players
  • how Young’s signing of Redmond led to front-office turmoil

Chapter 8:  BIG HATS, NO CATTLE, 1973-74

Just when it seemed the Seals could not get any worse, they did.  Johnston, McKechnie, Boldirev, and Leach continued to shine, but 13 wins and 36 points were all the club could muster.  The ghastly figures surprised few people considering the Seals’ defence corps consisted of minor-leaguers and rookies.  Moreover, goaltenders Gilles Meloche and Marv Edwards missed significant time due to injuries, which forced the club to use two journeymen in their place.  Embarrassing six-and-seven-goal losses were the norm rather than the exception, but a late-season change in ownership gave everyone hope for the future.  This chapter will discuss:

  • how several players enrolled themselves in a positive thinking course to combat the team’s overall negative attitude
  • the Barry Cummins-Bobby Clarke stick-swinging incident and the origins of the heated California-Philadelphia rivalry
  • Charlie Finley’s heart attack and the subsequent sale of the franchise to the NHL
  • how a New York Rangers fan on vacation in California became an honorary member of the Seals Booster Club
  • the rehiring of Garry Young as director of hockey operations and the appointment of Marshall Johnston as coach
  • the 4-3 win versus Montreal on March 2, 1974 that ended the Seals’ 24-game winless streak on the road
  • the young woman who used the streaking fad, some green paint, and a strategically-placed sticker to show her support for the Seals

 Chapter 9:  RESTORING PRIDE, 1974-75

With Charlie Finley out of the picture, the team set about rebuilding its image under the guidance of director of hockey operations Garry Young.  The situation was similar to the one in which Young had found himself in 1971; the roster was thin and there were few talented prospects in the system.  The club’s best veterans were traded away for prospects, but the gamble paid off as newcomers Al MacAdam, Dave Hreckhosy, Gary Simmons, and a gaggle of rookies made major contributions.

After more than a year of waiting, the NHL finally found an owner for the orphaned Seals.  Respected San Francisco hotelier Mel Swig bought the club intending to move operations to a brand new state-of-the-art arena in San Francisco.  The future looked promising; the team improved fifteen points in the standings and averaged over 6,000 fans per game for the first time in three years.  This chapter will discuss:

  • the difficulties of working with the tightest budget in the NHL
  • how travel negatively impacted the Seals’ chances of qualifying for the playoffs
  • the roster rebuild orchestrated by Young
  • Young’s surprising resignation in the summer of 1974 and the hiring of Bill McCreary
  • the difficult relationship between McCreary and Marshall Johnston
  • the infamous bench-clearing brawl in which Seals defenseman Mike Christie was pummelled in the penalty box by three members of the Philadelphia Flyers
  • the Washington Capitals’ post-game garbage-can celebration after their only road victory of the season
  • the supposed conspiracy behind the dismissal of Marshall Johnston

Chapter 10:  SWIG VS. MOSCONE, 1975-76

The Seals finally regained the momentum they had lost after the WHA raids of 1972, and they  challenged for a playoff spot most of the season.  The 3-M Line, consisting of Al MacAdam, Dennis Maruk, and Bob Murdoch, set numerous club records while supporting players such as Rick Hampton, Gary Sabourin, and Wayne Merrick hit career highs in points.  Dubbed the “record-breaking season,” the Seals set or equalled over thirty club marks and recorded their highest point total in seven years.  Attendance climbed to 7,000 per game, a franchise record, but Mel Swig could not convince San Francisco city council to build the team a new rink.  The club had no choice but to move elsewhere.  Why ownership thought Cleveland was the Promised Land is anyone’s guess.  This chapter will discuss:

  • Mel Swig’s plan to build a new arena in San Francisco for the Seals
  • the positive influence of new coach Jack Evans
  • the disastrous trade of captain Joey Johnston to Chicago for Jim Pappin
  • the election of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and how the Yerba Buena arena deal fell through
  • the Seals’ move to Cleveland

Chapter 11:  MISTAKE ON THE LAKE, 1976-77

Despite several signs warning Mel Swig against transferring the Seals to Cleveland, the move went ahead as planned.  The season started off well for the newly-christened Cleveland Barons as the 3-M Line picked up where it had left off the year before.  Dennis Maruk set a team record with 78 points, while Al MacAdam participated in his second consecutive All-Star Game.  Unfortunately, there was little scoring from anyone else that year and the Barons fell out of the playoff picture in early 1977.

It did not take long for ownership to regret its decision to move to Cleveland as attendance was actually worse in Ohio than in Oakland.  By February, attendance was so bad the club could no longer pay its players.  The team looked to be heading into oblivion until Alan Eagleson, president of the National Hockey League Players Association, stepped in to save the day with a sneaky deal.  This chapter will examine:

  • the history of professional hockey in Cleveland
  • the shortcomings of Cleveland as a hockey market
  • how the players struggled to adjust to life in Cleveland
  • the dismissal of Bill McCreary and the subsequent hiring of Hall-of-Famer Harry Howell
  • Mel Swig’s attempts to pacify his players as the franchise crept closer to bankruptcy
  • how Alan Eagleson convinced the NHLPA to loan the Barons $1.3 million to save the team from extinction
  • the sale of the franchise to George and Gordon Gund

Chapter 12:  ONE LAST GASP, 1977-78

The Barons won four of their first five games and seriously contended for a playoff spot under a restructured seeding format.  The club acquired veterans Walt McKechnie, Chuck Arnason, J.P. Parise, and Jean Potvin in mid-season to give the Barons a second-half boost, but a disastrous (and by this point, traditional) late-season slump put the kibosh on Cleveland’s playoff hopes.

George and Gordon Gund realized Cleveland was an awful hockey market, so they decided to bail out.  The brothers approached the Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, and Minnesota North Stars about an unusual franchise merger, but only the Stars took the bait.  Starting in 1978-79, the Barons would be dead in name, but living in spirit as its players competed under the Stars’ logo.  This chapter will discuss:

  • the NHL’s new playoff format giving all teams a realistic chance of qualifying
  • how the acquisitions of McKechnie, Arnason, Parise, and Potvin gave the Barons a lift in early 1978
  • the franchise record fifteen-game winless streak late in the season
  • the Barons-North Stars merger

Chapter 13:  THE ROAD HOME

In 1978, the Minnesota North Stars were in dire straits and sat near the bottom of the NHL in attendance despite playing in a hockey-mad market.  The merger with the Cleveland Barons undoubtedly saved the franchise and allowed it to survive into the 1990s.  In the first year after the merger, the North Stars began their rise in the NHL standings culminating in an appearance in the 1981 Stanley Cup Finals against the New York Islanders.

When the Stars’ fortunes faded in the late 1980s, George and Gordon Gund expressed interest in acquiring a new franchise for the Bay Area.  In 1991, the San Jose Sharks were founded and became a model NHL franchise, but their success was paved by the players who once made up the California Seals.  Even though the Seals left Oakland in 1976, its Booster Club continues to meet every month to reminisce and to organize social activities.

  • the North Stars’ march to the 1981 Stanley Cup Final
  • the North Stars’ surprising run to the 1991 Stanley Cup Final
  • the dissolution of the Barons-Stars merger, and the founding of the San Jose Sharks in 1991
  • the Booster Club’s members reminisce
  • the impact of Krazy George Henderson, the Seals’ legendary one-man cheeleading squad