For one Ponoka native, the shock of being drafted and playing in the NHL was nothing compared to the craziness of living in California and playing for one of the craziest franchises the league has ever seen.
Stan Weir is one of the players mentioned in the recently released book about the most infamous failed NHL franchise, the California Golden Seals.
Weir, now 66 and living in Calgary, was born and raised in Ponoka and wound up playing 11 seasons in the NHL with the California Golden Seals, Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers. His break came in being selected 28th overall by the Golden Seals in the 1972 amateur draft, after having a huge 133 point season with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, especially as a 19-year-old going into an NHL camp,” he said.
“Moving from Ponoka and Medicine Hat to California was kind of a culture shock…Hockey wasn’t one of the more popular sports there, but we had a good fan base and funny enough most of those came from the San Jose area.”
Weir did a decent job that first season, notching 15 goals and 24 assists while playing all 78 regular season games in the 1972-73 season. The next season would be cut short by a knee injury, leaving him with just nine goals and seven assists in 58 games. The 1974-75 season would see Weir score 18 goals and hit 27 assists while playing all 80 games (the NHL season was increased by two games as a result of adding the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts).
“I was only there for three years, but it was kind of filled with turmoil. Charlie Finley owned the team and also the baseball team (the Oakland Athletics) and he didn’t know any of the hockey players,” Weir said.
“It was quite hilarious at times, but it was something you learned to live with.”
Included in that ‘learning to live with’ category was the infamous white skates which, by the time Weir arrived, became green and white skates.
“They didn’t come green and white, but in the regular colours. So the trainers had to paint them and repaint them after every game. By the time you threw them away, they weighed like 10 pounds more because all the coats that were put on,” he remembered with a few chuckles.
“We also had green and yellow suitcases given to us by the owner. We looked like clowns on the road, gathering our suitcases at the airports. I think having his teams stand out was Finley’s idea on ownership, having teams wearing the same colours whether it was skates or baseball cleats.”
“Even to this day, I take some ribbing over that,” he joked.
Other than being out of the NHL playoff picture by Christmas, Weir has some good memories.
“We had a decent team, but from top to bottom management wise, they weren’t as organized as they could have been. That poor operation rubbed down to the players. We played hard, but my hockey went downhill and my golf game improved,” he laughed.
“We had a good group of guys, but everyone knew the situation and tried to be as competitive as we could. I remember one night playing the Rangers at Madison Square Gardens and they outshot us 21-2 in the first period with still no score because of our standout goalie Gilles Meloche.
“So, a player by the name of Stan Gilbertson walks into the dressing room, looks around and then asks, ‘Who are the two smart-asses?’ Of course, the room erupted. The little things like that, when you lose as much as we did, it’s one of those funny occurrences you remember and got us through the season.”
And unlike his playing time in Toronto and Edmonton, Weir admitted the anonymity was nice to have in California although none of the players were happy when Bill McCreary Sr. became the head coach.
“He chastised guys for going and playing golf. What else was there to do when you had three days off in sunny California,” Weir said.
“One day, he came in with a pull cart and a golf bag, then pointed out ‘this’ is not what they were there for, we’re here to play hockey. Well, we were out of the playoffs and wanted to do something, so what else could we do. All in all, it was a good learning experience.”