Hi everyone! I’m back from the big Seals/Barons Night, and I’m pleased to announce that the evening went off without a hitch, and that it was an overwhelming success. Due to the length of today’s entry, I won’t be adding anything else to the site this week, but rest assured, there are plenty of new things coming your way. There will be a Len Haley photo gallery added in the near future, not to mention several other photos and articles I promise to post once I can get my idiot printer to stop acting like a moron.
Today, however, I wish to share a few thoughts about the big Seals/Barons night, which also happened to be my very first opportunity to sign some books for anyone interested in buying them. I could say “my fans”, but that just sounds weird. Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to say that, but certainly not now. No, right now, they are people interested in buying my book, and maybe hoping that once I signed it, they might be able to get an extra nickel from selling it on eBay. Seriously, that’s what I was going to sign in the book, but I think I was so nervous, that I, well… lost my nerve, and so I just signed something more normal.
Anyway, the following paragraphs are what I submitted to the University of Nebraska Press for their blog. I’m not sure if they’re going to trim it down before posting it to their website, but I thought you might like to read an unedited, all-access, X-rated (OK, not really) version complete with photos (also not X-rated) from the event…
When I was invited in May 2017 to participate in a special evening commemorating the California Golden Seals’ 50th anniversary, I happily accepted even though I really am a homebody who never travels alone, mostly because I have a wife and young son now, and where I go, they come along, and vice versa. I knew the time was upon me to begin promoting my new book, The California Golden Seals: a Tale of White Skates, Red Ink, and One of the NHL’s Most Outlandish Teams, and I must say, the event organizer, Dr. Gene Willis, was pretty convincing as we spent a good half-hour talking about Seals history and how he planned on celebrating it. This is my blog entry detailing my very first promotional event.
The question most people probably wonder when they pick up my book is, “Why in the world would you want to delve into the history of the California Golden Seals?” For those of you unfamiliar with the most maligned franchise in National Hockey League history, the Seals were the real-life equivalent of the Charlestown Chiefs from the classic Paul Newman film Slap Shot.
I think what initially attracted me to the Seals, and their successors the Cleveland Barons was that unlike every other NHL team of the modern era, they are the only one frozen in time. When the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978, it ended the possibility of ever seeing any of the franchise’s records matched or broken. This was a team that would remain in its time period forever, much like Jimi Hendrix will forever remain in our minds the headband wearing, feedback obsessed guitar god. We will never know him as an old man, and we will never see him on tour again; we can only imagine what might have been had he not died so suddenly. The Seals and Barons are the NHL’s Hendrix, chock full of what-ifs, and still possessing some of the most loyal and loving fans.
It took a lot of careful planning and stressful evenings trying to figure out where I would be going the day of the big event, and more importantly, how I was going to get there, since I absolutely refuse to drive on those twelve-lane freeways that stretch out into every corner of Toronto. So, off to the train station.
The day of the big event was quite hectic. I left Ottawa at about 8:45am, and then spent the next four hours writing down ideas for a new book. I hadn’t been on a train since my then-new wife and I travelled from London to Edinburgh during our honeymoon three years ago. This trip to Toronto also felt like a little vacation, a little “me” time, which as a parent of a two-year old, doesn’t occur often. My wife will confirm that too, especially since our son has now taken to climbing out of his crib when it is time to sleep. Most afternoons and evenings, either my wife or I spends an hour or so lying on the floor next to his crib until he falls asleep. Translation: no “me” time for mommy or daddy ever. But I digress…
I wasn’t nervous at all on the train, probably because I was so immersed in my work that I had little time to think about my first solo trip to Toronto. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Union Station. I didn’t know where to go to grab lunch. I didn’t know how to get from point A to point B. Should I walk? Cab it? Take an Uber? A bus? Subway? I decided that taking the subway was definitely the best route, and a hell of a lot cheaper than taking a cab.
I found my hotel, took a shower, and read for a little while in my room before heading out for a quick bite at the pub next door. I should have ordered a few shots of Tequila while I was at the bar, or maybe brought along a mickey in my backpack (There’s an idea for next time…) My nerves started to get the better of me once I arrived at St. Mike’s College arena for the event. With me humbly being the center of attention in a room full of strangers, this was a particularly weird feeling. It wasn’t particularly hot in the room, but I was sweating bullets. I hadn’t even finished setting up my table when people were coming up to me asking to buy copies of my book and sign them. This was all new to me, and I really didn’t know what I was doing. I broke out my invoice pad, and started looking for a pen, because of course, that was the one thing I forgot to bring to a book signing. I quickly scribbled an invoice and as a tore it off the pad, a drop of sweat fell onto the paper. So that folks, was my first sale! Not only does the guy get a signed copy, but a sweaty invoice too. Could be a collector’s item!
Once I got my table set up, and signed a few more books, I started to feel at ease and enjoyed the spotlight, no matter how microscopic it really was. The event wasn’t so much for me, but for the players who were going to be in attendance. I met writer Greg Oliver, who had just finished writing a book about goaltender Gilles “Gratoony the Loony” Gratton, and who asked to set up at my table. He and his son asked me a few questions for a short feature for the Society for International Hockey Research blog. I think I stared at the microphone for the entire first answer I gave when I realized I was being interviewed and, just for good measure, I should probably look the interviewer in the eye to, you know, have a sort of conversation. I’m quick like that, you see. After a question or two, I felt relaxed and somewhat satisfied with the answers I gave.
They always say that on your wedding day, you won’t even have time to eat a piece of your own cake. That’s a little how my first book signing felt. There was pizza and soda to be consumed, but I was running around so much, shaking hands, signing books, talking to people, trying to make personal connections, that I never even got around to grabbing something to eat. It really is a lot of work, but a lot of fun too.
I was asked to participate in a Q&A with the four other guests, former Seals Marv Edwards, Reggie Leach, Joey Johnston, and Wayne King. I never even thought to bring a copy of my book and place it on the table in front of me. Greg helpfully went to the back of the room, brought a copy over to the table and helpfully suggested, “You need to learn to shill more.” Point taken.
Seated from left to right are Wayne King, Joey Johnston, and Marv Edwards. That’s my left elbow next to Wayne.
Marv Edwards was the first player introduced, and he stepped up to the podium to say a few words. At 82 years old, he still looks and sounds great, and he’s still quick with a quip. He wanted to take the time to thank his wife of 60 years for going along on his hockey journey all those years. He said that together they had lived in 28 different cities over the years, and as he thanked her for her love and support you could see how touched she was.
Marv Edwards with event organizer Dr. Gene Willis
Joey Johnston, Reggie Leach, and Wayne King were then introduced one by one, and they each addressed the crowd for a few minutes. The players were asked how they felt about today’s players receiving millions of dollars to play hockey, while in the 1970s, they played for peanuts. To a man, they all believed today’s players get the money they deserve, but that back in the 1970s, and in the years before, they put up with low salaries because they loved the game, and they would have played it for free, if they had had to.
When the subject of Fred Glover and his infamous scrimmages came up, one of the guys in the crowd asked the players if they believed a different coach like Scotty Bowman could have turned the Seals around. Reggie Leach believed Bowman would have made no difference because he believed he was not a coach who could transform a team into a winner. All the teams Bowman won with – Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Detroit – had a great roster already established before he arrived, but when Bowman went to Buffalo, who were not at the same level as the Canadiens, Penguins, and Red Wings, he couldn’t lead them to a Stanley Cup. So, Leach believed even the legendary Scotty Bowman would have been unable to lead the Seals to greatness.
Former linemates Joey Johnston and Reggie Leach
Then it was my turn to stand up and address the crowd of about 40 people. I felt surprisingly at ease by this point knowing that these folks had actually come here to listen to me drone on about why I wrote my book. For those of you who have never heard me at my daytime job as a French as a second language teacher, I usually don’t prepare what I say in advance. I’m more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy. I just go up and wing it, usually because I like to sound natural and unrehearsed. I usually know my material like the back of my hand anyway, so winging it has always felt right for me, and that’s what I did here too. I just spoke about why I had written the book, about how as an 11-year-old I sent a letter to the NHL office in New York naively asking them to send me information about all of the defunct franchises from the 1970s. Someone at the league office took the time to photocopy the entire 1975-76 Seals media guide and send it to me. To this day, it is the greatest piece of mail I have ever received. I scoured the pages of that guide. I brought it to school for days and constantly read it over when I finished my work. I learned about these strange sounding players like Norm Ferguson, Dave Hreckhosy, and Joey Johnston. I had the Seals’ entire history in my hands, and I wanted to know more about them. Had that person at the NHL office sent me a media guide from, say, the Atlanta Flames, as I told the crowd, I probably would be in front of a bunch of Flames fans giving this same speech. It must have been fate that drew the Seals and I together.
That’s me, learning to shill…
After a short viewing of clips from Mark Greczmiel’s documentary about the Seals, there was a free-for-all autograph session, which was unusual for me because for the first time, I had people, including real NHL players, asking me to sign their copy of my book. It was also neat to ask Reggie Leach, Stanley Cup champion, for an autograph, and then him asking to buy two more autographed copies of my book for his kids. He mentioned that his daughter had found his old California Seals ring he had received when he played for the team. I then showed him a picture of it in my book, and I mentioned that I had noticed his Philadelphia Flyers Stanley Cup ring while we were doing the Q&A. You can’t miss one of those bad boys, let me tell you.
Reggie Leach addressing the crowd. His Stanley Cup ring is on his right hand.
The great thing about the evening was that it really felt like I had made a personal connection with the players. They were all incredibly friendly, and they really are just regular people who happened to live more interesting lives than most of us. But they are real people. This will probably be my lasting impression of the evening.
Wayne King and Reggie Leach
Wayne King, Joey Johnston, Marv Edwards, and Reggie Leach
All above photos courtesy of Greg Oliver.
The following photos were taken by me.
This is part of Gene Willis’ collection of Seals memorabilia, which he brought to the event.
Dr. Willis also made two collages featuring some classic photos from all eras of the franchise’s history.
As I close what has become by far the longest entry in this website’s history, I’d like to remind everyone that if you enjoy reading about the Seals, you can get a brand new hardcover copy for $36.95 US from the University of Nebraska Press.
Until next time, stay gold!