There were three games scheduled in the National Hockey League last night, but the main topic of conversation this morning seems to be the sagging attendance figures being put up by the new teams admitted to the circuit last summer. NHL president Clarence Campbell addressed expansion issues, professing to be comfortable with the progress of the new kids on the block so far.
Campbell: No Immediate Worry
National Hockey League president Clarence Campbell says that things are going as expected with the six expansion franchises so far this season. Yesterday he addressed the issues of sagging attendance, unstable management and a perceived lack of competitive balance.
Campbell says that 50-per cent of capacity attendance in the new cities was expected.
“For five years arenas in the old section operated at 92 to 97 per cent for hockey. But all along I’ve felt that the new cities would do well if they drew 50 per cent of capacity.
“Minneapolis looks particularly strong. Their second game crowds are better than any in the new division. (Well, SOMEBODY has to be best) They’ve been sold out for the Chicago game Saturday.
“Any team that can draw between 8,000 and 10,000 fans a night will be in excellent shape.”
Eight to ten thousand is a bit more than 50 per cent capacity in any NHL building. And in some cases even 50 per cent might be optimistic. The Pittsburgh Penguins are trending downwards – their last game against California Seals drew less than 4,000. It’s no secret that the Penguins are looking to secure additional financing.
Campbell denied a recent report that baseball’s Atlanta Braves had purchased a quantity of stock in the Pittsburgh hockey club.
“The reports are not true at this time. There was an offer from the Braves to buy into the franchise but it has been withdrawn.”
The major stumbling block there is that the Braves already hold a minority share in the California Seals. Buying into the Penguins would have been a conflict of interest.
Speaking of the Seals. the major league trouble spot appears to be in Oakland, where the owner Barry Van Gerbig and his management team seem to have completely misread their potential audience.
Opening night crowd in Oakland was around 5,000, about half of what the team expected. The problem seems to be that the Seals have not marketed the team as an Oakland entity. Their plan to try to appeal to fans in both San Francisco and Oakland isn’t working. Oakland and San Francisco sports fans have historically maintained separate identities and there is no reason to expect that would change for big-league hockey.
There are whispers that Van Gerbig has already begun to explore the possibility of moving the team. Sources in Vancouver say the city has been approached by two of the new franchises about moving their teams to the Canadian west coast. Campbell dismisses such reports, calling them “idle conjecture.”
“Let’s wait and see how Vancouver supports their minor-league team now that they have lots of seats.”
Vancouver’s new arena opens this season. It will seat about 12,000.
Campbell also spoke about the ownership kerfuffle in Philadelphia. Ed Snider, former executive and partner in the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League with Jerry Wolman, has replaced Wolman as principal owner of the Philadelphia Flyers. The two dissolved their partnership this week. That move left Snider with the Flyers and Wolman with the football team.
“We’re not at all embarrassed by the change. Wolman has not been involved in the hockey picture since about June 5, and we’re satisfied that Snider will be a sound NHL partner.”
Campbell also expressed surprise at the calibre of play early this season:
“I’m agreeably surprised by the calibre of competition in the program. Parity is being reached sooner than I expected, probably because the former minor leaguers in it are no longer frustrated.
“Minor leaguers got sick of the up-down, up-down deals they got. First they’d be up in the NHL, then down in the minors and it eroded their ambition. Now they know they can get a full career in the NHL and they’re putting effort into proving they belong.”
Bruins Blank Kings
The Boston Bruins rode the spectacular goaltending of Gerry Cheevers and two goals by Johnny Bucyk to a 2-0 whitewashing of the Los Angeles Kings last night at Boston Garden in one of three NHL games.
The other two contests saw Detroit crush the California Seals 8-2 at the Olympia in Detroit and Montreal and New York skate to a rather boring 1-1 tie at the Forum in Montreal.
Cheevers made 26 saves to register his first shutout of the NHL season. He also had Boston’s only shutout last year.
Kings goalie Wayne Rutledge also played very well. He made 38 saves, many of the difficult variety in keeping the final score more than respectable.
The turning point of the game came in the second period when the Bruins Phil Esposito single-handedly killed off a two-man Kings advantage for over 30 seconds. Seconds after Boston returned to full strength, Johnny McKenzie skated in alone on Rutledge, who blocked his shot from point-blank range. But Bucyk deposited the rebound into the net for his second of the night.
That goal seemed to take the wind out of the Kings’ sails and the issue was no longer in doubt.
Boston coach Harry Sinden after the game pronounced Cheevers as the Bruins number one netminder:
“The way he is playing now there isn’t any way I can take him out of the lineup. He didn’t make a mistake and came up with four or five big saves that earned him the shutout.
“Cheevers is the number one goalie but I’m very glad I have a guy like Ed Johnston backing him up. It’s a nice problem.”
Cheevers has come a long way since he was farmed out to Oklahoma City of the Central Professional League last season.
“It was a big disappointment. I felt I was playing well, I couldn’t play any better.”
Cheevers felt that former general manager Hap Emms was showing loyalty to the Bruins other young goaltender at the time, Bernie Parent. Parent had played for Emms when he ran the Bruins Niagara Falls junior A club.
That issue was decided last summer when Milt Schmidt took over as general manager in Boston and Cheevers was protected in the Expansion Draft. Parent was taken by Philadelphia with the second pick in the draft.
Being protected did wonders for Cheevers’ confidence.
“I was a bit surprised that the team protected me as their number one goalie. I thought I might have a chance to be protected. Then, when Hap Emms left, I knew my chances were much better.
“I think the reason I am playing so well is that the team is playing terrific hockey in front of me. The defence has been staying up and they haven’t been backing in and screening me. And the forwards are coming back to help out too. There is always someone backchecking so we aren’t giving the other team a break.
“The team is going real well. I feel that with the deals that were made in the off-season there is a good chance for the playoffs.”
Bruins star defenceman Bobby Orr did not play after the first period. He suffered a strained back muscle and was rested for the final 40 minutes.
Kings also lost a player to injury. Center Brian Kilrea had to be helped off the ice late in the game after a collision with Bruins’ Eddie Westfall.
Habs, Rangers Tie in Yawner
Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers skated to a 1-1 tie at the Forum in Montreal. The game was one of the least exciting in recent memory, featuring sloppy play and very little sustained action.
All the scoring took place in the first period. Habs captain Jean Beliveau connected for his fifth of the year at 3:57, converting a goal-mouth pass from Yvan Cournoyer.
Former Canadiens great Bernie Geoffrion knotted things up for the Rangers at 1-1 with just less than five minutes to play in the opening frame. He blasted a slap shot from the left side which eluded Montreal goalkeeper Rogatien Vachon.
From that point onward, neither team seemed particularly interested in winning the game. It could be said that they both played “not to lose.”
Goaltenders Ed Giacomin of the Rangers and Habs’ Vachon were solid, although neither was tested severely. Vachon made 22 stops on the night, while Giacomin denied 30 Montreal drives.
Wings Slaughter Seals
Based on the visit of the California Seals to the Detroit Olympia last night, parity in the National Hockey League is a long way off. The Detroit Red Wings completely outclassed the Seals by an 8-2 score that was completely indicative of the play.
Veterans Gordie Howe and Dean Prentice showed the way for the Wings scoring two goals apiece. Single markers came from Gary Bergman, Ted Hampson, Alex Delvecchio and Floyd Smith.
Bill Hicke and Ron Boehm found the range for the visitors.
The Red Wings, who had scored only 16 goals in their previous six games, enjoyed the offensive outburst against a badly over-matched California club.
Gordie Howe had a strong game. Along with his two goals, he added two assists and was tagged with a highsticking major. Howe earned the five-minute sentence plus a $25 fine when he creased the scalp of Seals Wally Boyer for seven stitches in the second period.
California coach Bert Olmstead was frustrated and upset with his team’s dismal performance. But some of Bert’s coaching strategies raised more than a few eyebrows as well. During Howe’s major, with the score 2-1 for the Wings, the Seals enjoyed a two-man advantage for a full two minutes. When Detroit defenceman Gary Bergman was sent off with a two-minute minor, Olmstead sent out a rather curious power play unit. He had defenceman Kent Douglas at centre, with rearguards Bob Baun and Larry Cahan, neither an offensive dynamo, on the points. Seals failed to score.
Detroit coach Sid Abel was elated with his team’s performance:
“That’s the best game we’ve played. We carried the puck and passed it like we knew how.”
And as Jack Berry of the Detroit Free Press put it, California played like it didn’t know how.
- Richie Bayes three goals led Toronto Marlboros to a 9-2 romp over the Petes in Peterborough in one of two OHA Junior A games.
- Hamilton Red Wings downed Montreal Junior Canadiens 4-2 in Hamilton in the other OHA game. Danny Lawson led Hamilton with two goals.
- Flyers captain Lou Angotti was knocked out cold when slammed into the boards by teammate John Hanna during yesterday’s practice at Cherry Hill, N.J. Angotti has a concussion and was kept in hospital overnight for observation.
- Pittsburgh Penguins will use winger Paul Andrea at centre on their number one line. He will replace Earl Ingarfield, who sustained a severe knee injury in their last game against the California Seals when he was hit by Seals Bobby Baun.
- Former Cornell University captain Doug Ferguson will play this season with the Saskatoon Quakers of the Western Canada Senior Hockey League. He had earlier tried out with the American Hockey League Buffalo Bisons.
- Goalie may soon earn a look with the Detroit Red Wings. Now with Fort Worth Wings of the CPHL, Edwards has allowed only one goal in four games.