Inside the NHL
Guyle Fielder has every intention of making it to the inaugural Kraken home game next year, where he’ll almost certainly be invited for some festivities and maybe even a ceremonial puck drop.
And so, when former Seattle Totems legend Fielder celebrates his 90th birthday this coming Saturday at his retirement community in Arizona, professional hockey’s fourth all-time leading point-getter anticipates a low-key affair. After all, he’s lived through nine decades and some of the most intense on-ice battles waged by the former minor pro Totems of the Western Hockey League and at this stage isn’t taking any chances with COVID-19.
“With all of this virus and that, I don’t really like to stray too far from home,’’ Fielder said in a weekend phone conversation. “So, I don’t really have anything planned that I know of unless there are some surprises coming up.’’
For most of the past year, he’s stuck to playing pool about three days a week in his retirement community’s recreation center. Pool has been a favorite pastime since his pro hockey playing days, which ended in 1973, and playing it is also how he met his companion, Betty Johnson, about seven years ago when she hit him up for lessons.
“That’s the only thing I’ve got left is playing pool,’’ Fielder said, chuckling. “I don’t like to venture too far because of the virus. I wear a mask when I do leave and try to be as careful as I can and get home safe and sound.’’
Ordinarily, he and Johnson would be hopping in their car and going on long-distance road trips. Fielder notoriously hated flying as a player and hasn’t gotten on a plane since he retired.
The pair drove 1,130 miles over three days to Seattle last year for a ceremony where the Kraken unveiled a replica of Fielder’s old Totems locker stall — replete with actual sticks and gloves he’d used and trophies he’d won — inside their Seattle Center season ticket preview showroom.
They had planned a trip to Canada this year, including a visit to the Alberta farm of his childhood friend, Hockey Hall of Fame goaltender Glenn Hall, who recently turned 89. Instead, Fielder settled for some phone conversations with Hall in which “we talked about the old days” and has limited any trips with Johnson to mostly within their retirement community.
“We have 2,700 homes, two golf courses and all the other amenities you can possibly think of,’’ Fielder said of the gated community. “So, we have our own pool room — a billiards room — with 10 or 11 tables and you can play any time you want for as long as you’ve got. We have to wear masks and use all the sprays and clean the cues and the balls and the tables after we’ve finished.’’
It wasn’t quite how “Golden Guyle’’ envisioned spending the latter stages of his life. But he’s content at how the Kraken’s formation has revived memories of the Totems and his contributions as a player decades ago.
Idaho-born, Saskatchewan-raised Fielder spent most of his 22 pro seasons with the Totems while enjoying a 15-game NHL career with Detroit, Chicago and Boston. He helped the Totems capture WHL titles in 1959, 1967 and 1968, compiling 2,037 combined goals and assists as a pro to trail only Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and onetime Detroit teammate Gordie Howe.
“I enjoyed playing in Seattle all of those years, they treated me very well,’’ he said. “We had some great fans when we started in that little Mercer Arena and then we moved into the Coliseum and it was great. And we won those three championships and also kind of got screwed out of another.’’
That’s when the Totems lost a seven-game 1963 finals heartbreaker to the San Francisco Seals in overtime. What made it even tougher to swallow was scheduling conflicts — the Ice Follies and Oral Roberts had Mercer Arena booked for shows — had forced the Totems to play all seven games at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California.
Fielder’s team took a 3-1 series lead, but the Seals roared back to tie it. San Francisco had the better regular-season record, and thus, Game 7 was automatically to be played at the Cow Palace. But Mercer Arena by then was available, so the Totems applied to have the game transferred.
But the Seals, unsurprisingly, refused to give the Totems a decisive home game. “We had to play all of the games on the road,” Fielder said. “And that’s not right.”
Still, happier moments were to come. And they’ve continued long after the Totems ceased operations in 1975 and Fielder thought his on-ice exploits were forgotten by today’s fans. He was moved to tears by last year’s ceremony at the Kraken preview center and is thrilled this city is finally getting pro hockey back.
But he admits the name “Kraken” has taken getting used to.
“I was a little disappointed,” Fielder said. “I thought they might stick with the Totems. I don’t really know much about this Kraken business, I guess it’s some kind of fish or something, but I guess they wanted to be different with something that was original. Anyway, we’re stuck with Kraken, so we’ll have to make the best of it.”
That won’t stop Fielder from rooting for the team. Or making it back up here to be a part of opening weekend, if he’s asked.
His companion, Johnson, said — knowing Fielder was listening — that she does have something planned for his birthday. “We’ve got some things going but I can’t talk about it,” she said.
Just don’t expect a full-on party like back when Fielder and the Totems owned this town. Fielder and Johnson are too cautious right now, and besides, they’ve got a pretty big party they hope to attend up here once the Kraken hits the ice.
“If I’m still around,” Fielder said. “I would be more than happy to do it. You bet.”