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Outstanding in Obscurity : The Kings' Triple Crown Line Accumulated More Than 350 Points in 1980-81, but Support From Fans and Success in Stanley Cup Playoffs Didn't Follow

June 09, 1993|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

They were blessed with each other, but they were cursed with those yellow-and-purple uniforms.

Marcel Dionne, Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor made up one of those special combinations that becomes something better together than apart.

Dionne, the center, had the playmaking skills, the vision and the pride that would make him a Hall of Famer and the third-leading scorer in NHL history.

Simmer, the left wing, had a touch around the net that gave him two 56-goal seasons.

And right wing Taylor--"the youngest," Taylor reminds with a smile--had the dedication and work ethic that make him still a King today, playing in his first Stanley Cup finals at 37.

Together, they were the Triple Crown Line, the highest-scoring line in King history. But during the late 1970s and early '80s, they were Kings when being a hockey player in Los Angeles meant nothing.

"When we first got here, people would ask what your job was," said Simmer, 39, now a businessman and occasional hockey commentator who splits his time between Orange County and San Diego. "Then they'd ask, 'What do you do for a real job?' They'd think it was a hobby."

Simmer and Dionne are part of something that became ancient history only last month--a King organization that had never made it past the second round of the playoffs. You would think the congratulatory calls would have been made after the Kings had defeated Toronto in Game 7 to reach the finals, but Dionne phoned Taylor after the victory they never won together--winning the second round.

Dionne, 41, a businessman in Bedford Hills, N.Y., is even more pleased now, but he has loyalties on both sides, with his little brother Gilbert playing for Montreal.

"I'm pulling for both . . . I cannot lose," Dionne said.

Still, the Kings' success is particularly satisfying.

"To have played with them and see things and be isolated, to kind of be the laughingstock of the NHL for a while--La-La Land and Beach Boys--the proudest moment is to see that, yes, it can be done," Dionne said.

There was a time when glory was not so common for King games--and crowds of 7,000 were.

"We had the yellow jerseys, and until we got the purple pants, we had yellow pants, too." Simmer said. "You looked like a canary. The whole thing was yellow.

"You could have worn your yellow jersey to a restaurant and people would probably look at you funny, but they wouldn't have known who you were."

Dionne, who had already had a 121-point season with Detroit when he joined the Kings in 1975, was never quite so anonymous. He became the first offensive star on a team whose only real star before had been goaltender Rogie Vachon.

Taylor arrived in 1977, fresh from Clarkson University. Dionne saw a shy, soft-spoken boy whose perseverance on the ice impressed him. Now he is the veteran Dionne is so proud of, a man who has gone from a shy young player with a slight speech impediment to a quietly confident elder statesman.

"When I first saw him in training camp, I thought, 'What is this kid doing, bumping into everybody?' Doesn't he know you don't do this at the start?' " Dionne said.

One indication of how offense-starved the Kings had been was Taylor's second season. He scored 43 goals, becoming only the second King--after Dionne--to score 40 in a season.

Simmer was close to quitting hockey before he got called up from a minor league team in Springfield, Mass., to join the Kings on an East Coast swing during the 1978-79 season. He thought it would be a token visit, a chance to skate with the fourth line. But Coach Bob Berry put him on the ice with Dionne and Taylor, and it clicked. Simmer had 21 goals and 27 assists in the final 38 games, and a line was born.

"What makes great lines is that everybody has their little thing," Dionne said.

Taylor dug the puck out of the corners, and did a lot of the other dirty work.

"Dave Taylor, that was his game," Dionne said, then added, jokingly: "If he had the touch, somebody else would have to go get the puck for him.

"Charlie had the perfect touch around the net, Dave was perfect to drive and forecheck. Once you find that combination, you're home free. The game becomes so much easier to play."

At times, it seemed laughably easy. In 1980-81, all three were All-Stars, and remarkably, all three had 100-point seasons.

That season, too, they fell three Dave Taylor goals short of being the first team to have three 50-goal scorers in one season.

That mark has been accomplished only twice since, both times by Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson, when they were Edmonton Oilers in 1983-84 and '85-86.

But at the end of the season, Dionne had 58, Simmer 56--despite having sat out 15 games--and Taylor 47.

Taylor remembers how close he was.

"Charlie broke his leg with 15 games to go, but I remember I scored 12 goals while he was out," he said. "But I missed eight games that season--I think it was a knee injury.

"It would have been nice for all three of us to do it, but all three of us scored our 100 points. It was kind of nice to have done that."

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