This is Bill Hicke at (I believe) the 1967 training camp for the Oakland Seals. It was a crazy TC for the Seals, with Jacques Plante hired to coach and then playing so well in scrimmages he almost made the team in front of Charlie Hodge.
The Seals were star-crossed: Bill Masterton lost his life in a game against Oakland that first season, Hicke himself became very ill during the season and missed a tremendous amount of playing time, and young hotshot millionaire owner Barry Van Gerbig started losing a lot of his Standard Oil and Union Carbide dollars because no one liked the Oakland Seals.
It should be mentioned that the old Western Hockey League (a pro league like the AHL, not to be confused with the junior league) flourished for decades in cities like San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles and that there were fans in the area but the Seals were so bad no one wanted to watch unless they were being paid to do so (and even then many of the veteran Seals asked for a trade during the first season). It should also be mentioned that the fact Van Gerbig chose Oakland’s new arena over San Francsisco’s less attractive Cow Palace meant many in the Bay area weren’t going to come to home games. I don’t really understand the difference, but social and economic reasons kept many San Fransisco residents from attending Seals home games. It was a costly error.
I always cheered for the Seals. My Boston Bruins would often trade their good young prospects (Reggie Leach, Ivan Boldirev) to Oakland for veteran help (Carol Vadnais) so following Oakland became like paying attention to the Bruins farm team. I had all the hockey cards, and the fact is that the Seals drafted pretty well over the years (Stan Weir, Charlie Simmer, Dennis Maruk) but could never make it happen.
The Seals eventually became the Cleveland Barons and then folded into the Minnesota North Stars and the Gund family (Gord Gund the primary mover) eventually decided to move the team to California’s Bay area. NHL head man John Ziegler said no, but did allow the Gunds to sell the North Stars and then were awarded an expansion franchise for San Jose’s market. The Sharks played their first home games in the Cow Palace, incredibly a building the original Seals had rejected playing in back in 1967 because it was considered below major league standards.
I’m explaining all of this as a backdrop to the reason I cheer a little for the San Jose Sharks. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Oilers fan and the Bruins are still dear to me, but the Sharks are somehow an extension of the old Oakland Seals in my brain. So the trade yesterday that sent Dany Heatley to the left coast is fine by me, and if Joe Thornton and the teal brigade end up winning the Stanley then I’ll cheer like hell for them and I bet Bill Hicke will smile a little from heaven too. Perhaps they could bring back Dennis Maruk, Stan Weir and Gilles Meloche to sit in the stands on the night they win it, those men could offer wonderful muse about the Oakland Seals, the San Jose Sharks and the fact that some southern American cities do indeed love the game.
The Seals and Sharks offer us testimony to one important fact: winning does matter to the gate.
That big trade yesterday closes the book on a bizarre summer for the Edmonton Oilers organization but it doesn’t address the plethora of minute (read: mine-yute) men. The Oilers still have the following signed players on the roster:
- Jordan Eberle 5.10, 174
- Gilbert Brule 5.10, 180
- Liam Reddox 5.10, 180
- Andrew Cogliano 5.10, 184
- Mike Comrie 5.10, 185
- Robert Nilsson 5.11, 185
- Patrick O’Sullivan 5.11, 190
- Sam Gagner 5.11, 191
- Rob Schremp 5.11, 200
- Ales Hemsky 6.0, 192
Hemsky doesn’t play a small man’s perimeter style (I wish he did sometimes), and guys like Brule and Reddox aren’t really auditioning for a top 6 job. However, among the rest of these men all of Cogliano, Comrie, Nilsson, O’Sullivan and Gagner are possible top 6F’s and likely to make this roster as it stands now. Add in phenom Jordan Eberle and it’s 6 small skilled men looking for work and none of them would be considered “the next Marchant” in terms of their level of play away from the puck.
I do believe Patrick O’Sullivan is somewhat unique in that group, he has more pro experience and can play a more complete game. I also believe Gagner is stronger than he appears at times (Gagner can win puck battles, just not a bunch of them yet) but after that we’re still left with Nilsson, Cogliano, Comrie and Eberle who have skill sets that cover a narrow view.
The Edmonton Oilers need to make a trade soon to address this issue.