But the Kings were better off personnel-wise than others realized. Cooke had the foresight to buy an unaffiliated minor league franchise in Springfield, Mass., giving the Kings a core of young players.
They also had goaltender Terry Sawchuk, who was on the downside of a Hall of Fame career.
“We were just a bunch of kids,” Irvine said. “They put us in a hotel room, no money, no cars, no nothing. Terry told them you can’t treat these guys this way.”
The other side to Sawchuk, McDonald said, was that “he could be a mean drunk. He’d get loud and be ready to tear the room apart.”
But Sawchuk made sure his teammates were treated right. When Coach Red Kelly complained about the effort one practice, “Terry told him, ‘These guys haven’t eaten in days,’” Irvine said.
Those who made it out of Barrie found a lifestyle like no other in hockey.
Forward Brian Smith and Joyal took an apartment in Hollywood. Smith dated “Beverly Hillbillies” star Donna Douglas for a time. Others, such as Wall, settled in the South Bay.
Said Wall, “We’d practice in Burbank and there usually was this older lady skating before us. I finally asked who it was and was told, ‘Sonja Henie.’ I was in awe. I still hear California calling me.”
Henie was an Olympic figure skating champion for Norway in 1928, 1932 and 1936 who later acted in films.
The price for the Southern California experience was the road. The Oakland Seals also joined the NHL that season, but the next nearest team was St. Louis.
“It was a nomadic life,” McDonald said.
Not that the long road trips were all bad.
“I won’t lie, we had fun,” Wall said.
So much fun, Irvine said, that on a trip to New York, “We had to stay in a hotel at West Point. They didn’t want us to get into town.”
Wall remembers the opener against the Philadelphia Flyers, a 4-2 Kings victory on Oct. 14, 1967.
“I scored two goals,” Wall said. “One into our own net.”
The Kings were picked to finish last in a Western Division made up entirely of expansion teams. They finished second, behind Philadelphia, with a 31-33-10 record.
The team shuttled between the Long Beach Arena and Sports Arena until the Forum was ready. Crowds were sparse, but the team could count on sellouts when an “Original Six” team — Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York or Toronto — came to town.
“Yeah, but they wouldn’t be rooting for us,” Irvine said.
Still, the Kings had a 10-12-2 record against the “Original Six,” the best among the expansion teams.
And when the Forum opened on Dec. 30, they had a home . . . sort of.
“The doors on the locker room were nine feet tall,” Irvine said. “Howie Menard was about 5-6 and when he sat on the bench in front of his locker, his feet didn’t touch the ground. The place was built for the Lakers, not us.”
The Kings forged ahead, reaching the playoffs and taking a 3-2 series lead against Minnesota.
In Game 6, the Kings let a 3-2 lead slip away late and lost in overtime at Minnesota. In Game 7, everything unraveled.
Goalie Wayne Rutledge was having a better series than Sawchuk, but “Cooke insisted it be Terry,” McDonald said. The Kings lost at home, 9-4.
Afterward, Wall walked out with Sawchuk, who could have used a Stetson, headdress or beret.
“Fans were throwing popcorn and stuff on him,” Wall said. “I felt sad about the fans. It was a horrendous score, but this was their team.”