Of all NHL goals scored by former Seattle Totems players, none was bigger than the one Bobby Schmautz netted in overtime for the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the 1978 Stanley Cup Final.
Schmautz, who died this past week of unspecified causes on his 76th birthday, played 66 games for the minor professional Totems of the Western Hockey League in 1969-70. His Boston Garden overtime winner unexpectedly knotted the Cup Final 2-2 against a Montreal Canadiens side many consider the league’s best ever.
Interestingly enough, Schmautz went from his career peak to arguably his lowest the next game, as he had his jaw broken by Mario Tremblay in one of the longest one-punch fights you’ll ever see. The Canadiens won that game and the next to take the Cup, though a photo of Schmautz’s goal remains among the most celebrated in Bruins history.
Schmautz is the latest of several former Totems to die since efforts to bring the NHL to Seattle began in earnest in 2017, including Larry Hale, Chuck Holmes, Jim Hay, Ron Boehm, Noel Picard and Ed Stankiewicz. Some ex-Totems, among them Howie Hughes, Jim Powers and Dan Brady, still live in the Seattle area, and Tom McVie resides in Camas.
The Kraken plans to honor the Totems when Climate Pledge Arena reopens this year. Let’s hope several can see that happen.
On to your mailbag questions!
Q: From @AltitudeSports: Are the Kraken able to sign amateur free agents currently?
A: NHL squads can sign undrafted college players and others as soon as their teams finish playing. Most NCAA teams are done, and the Frozen Four national college championship starts Thursday in Pittsburgh — featuring Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State, St. Cloud State and, um, Massachusetts (which isn’t from Minnesota but somehow got in).
North Dakota captain Jordan Kawaguchi, whose team lost last weekend to Minnesota-Duluth in five overtimes — the longest game in men’s NCAA tournament history — just signed a one-year, entry-level deal with the Dallas Stars. Boston College forward Mark Hardman signed a two-year deal with Chicago, and Alex Steeves of Notre Dame and Odeen Tufto of Quinnipiac University signed for three years with Toronto and one year with Tampa Bay, respectively.
The Kraken, though, can’t sign anybody until officially becoming part of the league by paying the final installment on its $650 million expansion fee this month.
Regardless, in speaking with Kraken general manager Ron Francis, it’s going to be tough for him to crack the undrafted market this spring.
Such players typically want a deal for the current season, which burns a year of service time in a minimal number of games and gets them closer to free agency and bigger money. Unfortunately, the Kraken isn’t playing this season.
Francis will watch for amateur free agents interested in signing for next season. But a more realistic route, as mentioned last week, will be looking at pending unrestricted free agents left unprotected by NHL teams and signing them ahead of July’s expansion draft, where they’ll count as relinquished picks.
Q: Palm Springs isn’t very close geographically to Seattle, why are the Kraken going with a team in that area as their AHL affiliate?
A: It’s technically not in Palm Springs anymore, but the Palm Desert, California, vicinity is close enough at just under three hours by direct flight. So, once the newly 9,918-seat arena is operational by late 2022, the Kraken can call up a player late morning and have him by game time. More important, there are driving-distance California opponents in Bakersfield, San Diego and Ontario. That saves big on travel compared with flying everywhere from the Pacific Northwest.
Plus, Seattle and hockey-city “snowbirds” have moved to the Coachella Valley or have second homes there. There have been 2,000 season-ticket deposits made with an eye on securing an AHL-best 5,000 season-ticket holders. And, of course, Live Nation Entertainment is sending musical acts to the arena — which is close to Los Angeles and a huge base of bands and concertgoers — for other revenue.
Q: What are some classic hockey films (for those of us who don’t want to do a 90s flashback to the Mighty Ducks)?
A: Everything starts with “Slap Shot” from 1977 featuring Paul Newman. Not as a hockey documentary, but a parody of what hockey in the 1970s was becoming. Players going into the stands and police coming for them actually did happen more than once. Understanding where today’s game is at requires knowing where it’s been.
I’ve always liked the junior-hockey loneliness depicted in the 1986 movie “Youngblood” with Rob Lowe, plus its cameo by longtime Chicago Blackhawks mainstay Eric Nesterenko. A darker film is “Gross Misconduct” from 1993 by Canadian director Atom Egoyan, chronicling the sad, turbulent life of former NHL player Brian “Spinner” Spencer. The “Net Worth” biopic from 1995 is based on a book depicting NHL great Ted Lindsay and his struggles to form what later became the NHL Players Association.
More recently, “The Last Gladiators” documentary from 2013 depicts the tragic aftermath of prior NHL goon-filled hockey. Part of Chris Nilan’s substance-abuse recovery is shown occurring here in Washington. “Of Miracles and Men” is a great ESPN 30-for-30 documentary depicting the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” in Lake Placid from the losing Soviet Union’s perspective. Finally, “The Russian Five”from 2019 is a must to understanding how the arrival of Soviet players on the Detroit Red Wings in the 1990s changed the modern game.
Q: What does hockey mean to the people in Canada? Are there folks that take it as seriously as some New Orleans Saints fans, who wanted to know more about a pre-season game, rather than the damages caused by Hurricane Katrina? Would love to hear some anecdotes!
A: No offense to New Orleans, but hockey in Canada is on a different self-identity level. A prior column referenced how former Bruins coach and former “Hockey Night in Canada” pundit Don Cherry was once voted No. 7 on a nationwide “Greatest Canadian” poll by the CBC, in which he beat out telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell and first Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald.
A 2017 survey of 1,500 Canadians by Infographic saw Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby — whose overtime goal in 2010 gave Canada the Winter Olympics men’s hockey gold — beat out LeBron James, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt, and Serena Williams as the greatest 21st century athlete in all sports. When a newly married Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles in 1988, the entire country was in an uproar, and his wife, actress Janet Jones, was accused by many Canadians of orchestrating it all, much like Yoko Ono was blamed for breaking up the Beatles.
A few weeks back I included a YouTube clip of “The Sweater” which is an award-winning animated film discussing hockey’s religious overtones in Quebec — one university there even offered a course likening the Montreal Canadiens to a religion.
Saturday night literally used to be the only one in which the NHL was televised in Canada, meaning any dinner dates, moviegoing and other non-hockey social outings were put off until after 10 p.m. so the games could be watched. Male fans attending Saturday night games in person often wore suits and ties (Toronto mandated it of season-ticket holders until the 1970s) and hats, and women had fancy headgear and furs, both out of respect for the event and so they could hit the town afterward.
When Montreal and the Soviet Red Army played to a 3-3 exhibition tie on New Year’s Eve 1975 in possibly the greatest hockey game ever, Canadiens forward Peter Mahovlich said on the national CBC broadcast postgame: “On behalf of the Montreal Canadiens, I apologize that we didn’t win.”
Similarly, during the eight-game 1972 Summit Series, after the Soviet Union upset Team Canada and its NHL All-Stars in early contests, Boston Bruins star Phil Esposito went on postgame TV chastising Canadian fans for putting too much pressure on players to win — an outpouring often credited with turning the series around. Paul Henderson’s last-minute, Game 8 goal to win that series in Moscow is widely viewed as Canada’s most iconic sports moment. An estimated 13 million of the nation’s 21 million people back then watched that game.
Beyond that, a nationwide Dominion Institute survey in 2000 ranked the Summit Series No. 5 of Canada’s greatest events of any kind, trailing only the country’s 1867 founding, the last spike in the Canadian Pacific Railway, The War of 1812 and its First World War capture of Vimy Ridge in France.
Another Dominion Institute survey from 2007 ranked hockey as Canada’s second most important defining symbol, person, place, or accomplishment, trailing only the Maple Leaf.