“The Riverton Rifle” was one of the most talented, if not THE most talented player to ever wear a Seals uniform. He was undoubtedly the purest goal-scorer to ever play for the Seals. His scoring exploits with Flin Flon Bomber junior teammate Bobby Clarke are legendary. In 1974, the pair was reunited in Philadelphia, and every other National Hockey League team cursed Seals general manager Garry Young for allowing it to happen, because Leach and Clarke, along with line-mate Bill Barber, absolutely terrorized goaltenders for years afterward.
When Leach, and fellow 2017 inductee Bob Stewart were acquired from Boston in the Carol Vadnais trade, it was expected they would both play huge roles for years to come, and neither of them disappointed. Although Leach’s Bay Area stay was brief (171 games from 1971-72 to 1973-74), his impact was huge. He is one of only six Seals/Barons to have had two 20-goal seasons, and he accomplished this in back-to-back seasons (1972-73 and 1973-74). In 1972-73, he led the team in game-winning goals and shots on goal (184). He also recorded a hat-trick vs. Chicago on January 6, 1974. During this same season, Leach replaced Craig Patrick on the Seals’ top line alongside Walt McKechnie and Joey Johnston, and Leach went on a tear after a slow start to the season. He finished with a career-high 46 points, and the sky seemed the limit for the young sniper.
After the 1973-74 season, Leach would go on to super-stardom after being dealt to Philadelphia for future Seals star Al MacAdam. Leach would score 45 goals his first season in Philadelphia en route to winning his first and only Stanley Cup. The following year, Leach would score a whopping 61 regular-season goals, and he would add a yet-to-be-equally 19 playoff goals, helping him capture the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, even though the Flyers were swept by Montreal in the final series. He added another 50 goal-season to his resume in 1979-80, and he would finish his NHL career with 381 goals in 934 games.
When one talks about the greatest goalies in the history of the California Golden Seals, there are two names that consistently come up: Gilles Meloche and Gary “Suitcase” Smith. Smith was fortunate to play for the Seals at a time when the team had depth, skill and a fairly solid defense, and as a result, he is the only goalie in team history to finish a season with a winning record (22-20-7 in 1968-69). He is also the only Seals goaltender to play a playoff game (11 overall, from 1969 to 1970).
Smith recorded the highest career winning percentage by an NHL Seals goaltender (.382), as well as the highest career save percentage by an NHL Seals goaltender (.900). Smith also holds numerous single-season records, including most games played (71 in 1970-71), most shutouts (4 in 1968-69 – tied with Meloche), most wins (22 in 1968-69)*, most shots faced (unofficially 2230 in 1969-70), most saves (unofficially 2035 in 1969-70), highest average number of shots faced per game (unofficially 35.57 in 1969-70), and save percentage (.913 in 1969-70). He also holds the club record for shots against (63 vs Boston, March 4, 1971) and saves in one game (56 vs Boston, March 4, 1971).
Smith’s last season with the Seals, 1970-71, was an absolute nightmare, and how he survived it is anyone’s guess. He led the entire NHL in games played (71), minutes played (3975), shots against (2212), and, not surprisingly goals against (256) and losses (48), the latter of which is still an NHL record likely to never be broken.
Smith was what one would call eccentric. He had the strangest habit of stripping off all his equipment between periods and then putting everything back on again. He was also known to wear an obscene number of socks under his skates. “My record is sixteen,” Smith once said. He was also known as the goaltender who was so difficult to tie down that the NHL had to create a rule to keep him from roaming out to centre ice to score a goal, which he tried to do on several occasions. The rule, informally known as “The Gary Smith Rule” prohibits goaltenders from skating past the centre red line to score a goal.
* Note: the NHL does not recognize this as being Smith’s official record – the league says he finished 21-24-7, but after having verified the game summaries of every contest that season, I can assure you without a shadow of a doubt that Smith’s true record is 22-20-7.
The tough-as-nails Bob Stewart may not have set the world on fire with his offensive skills, but his contributions to the Seals and Barons cannot be overlooked. He was acquired by California late in the 1971-72 season (along with Reggie Leach and Rick Smith) for all-star defenseman Carol Vadnais. Stewart is the franchise’s all-time leader in penalty minutes (691), games played (414) and seasons played (7). His leadership skills were appreciated by teammates as he was named an alternate captain in 1974-75, and he became team captain the following year when Jim Neilson was injured. In 1976-77, he remained co-captain, and he was a stabilizing presence for his teammates, representing them in the bitter negotiations with owner Mel Swig when the Cleveland Barons were on the verge of folding, and were unable to pay their players.
Stewart won multiple awards during his time with the Seals, including the Most Popular Player Award in 1972-73 and the Seals Best Defenseman Award in 1975-76. He led the Seals in penalty minutes in 1972-73 (181) and again in 1973-74 (69) despite playing in only 47 games the latter season.
Bob Stewart passed away in February 2017 at the age of 66.