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Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Goes From Stick Boy To 34 Years With Los Angeles Kings

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A Mentor Opened Doors

Some people are fortunate enough to have had a mentor in their lives, and Demers was one such person.

“They had an assistant trainer there who was an older guy, and the trainer, George Army, who I had known since I was a little kid, he was getting up there in age himself, so he took me under his wing when I started to go to school at the University of Rhode Island and Brown University,” Demers noted. “Then it got to a point where I had to make a decision as to what I was going to do.”

“My pay was about $75.00 a week with the Rhode Island Reds,” Demers added. “That’s just the way it was then. Less than one dollar an hour, and, for the hours that we were putting in, it was unbelievable.”

“I had a good government job with all kinds of benefits and everything, but my passion [was hockey]. That was what I wanted to do. I couldn’t imagine just being on an assembly line the rest of my life. So I quit that job and went to work with the Rhode Island Reds.”

Not long after, Army would be stricken with cancer, but even while sick, he was hard at work, grooming his protégé.

“George Army started to become pretty ill,” Demers explained. “He had cancer, and couldn’t work as much. I kind of took over. Then, he got pretty sick and couldn’t work at all. I didn’t have enough experience to take right over for that American league team. This was in 1968, and there were only twelve teams in the NHL.”

“Before [the National Hockey League’s] expansion [in 1967-68], the AHL was the top league,” Demers elaborated. “It was a microscope looking down from the [Boston] Bruins or the [New York] Rangers, whatever the [NHL affiliate] was. I just didn’t have the experience to take over as that trainer, so they brought in another trainer, and I worked with him for awhile.”

“George Army, before he died, sent out a message to the other leagues, and I went to work [for the] Columbus [Checkers] in the International Hockey League for three-quarters of a season as the head trainer. Then, the job became open in Springfield in the American league [the Springfield Kings of the AHL were the Los Angeles Kings’ minor league affiliate at the time], and I stepped up there the following year, 1969. I joined the Kings organization with Springfield.”

Press release from the Springfield Kings announcing Demers’ hiring as head
athletic trainer on August 20, 1969
(click to view larger image).
Photo: Demers Family Collection

From that moment on, Demers became a fixture in the Kings’ organization.

“It was uphill after that,” said Demers. “I stayed three years in Springfield, and my 34 in LA.”

The Royal Odyssey Begins

Demers has fond memories of his time with the old Springfield Kings.

“We [played] in the old [Eastern States Coliseum, also known as the Big E Coliseum],” Demers reminisced. “The Eastern States Exposition was there. [Former NHL legend] Eddie Shore was around. He owned the building and had some kind of partnership with Jack Kent Cooke. [Shore] had a lot of control over the building, and he would watch very closely how we did our jobs.”

“I remember him coming down to me, telling me that a guy’s skate blade had to be moved over by a tiny bit,” Demers added. “So here’s Eddie Shore talking, so you’d go and do that.”

Shore gained a reputation for some rather odd behavior as owner of that building.

“I remember after I was married [his wife], Marilyn would wait for me after the games,” said Demers. “But Eddie Shore would kick everybody out of the building. She would go into the bathroom, and he would go into the women’s bathroom with a flashlight and look under all the stalls. She would hop up on one of the seats so he couldn’t see her. Otherwise, she had to wait outside in a cold car until I came out.”

“Above the locker room, [Shore] had a driving range,” added Demers. “We’d be in there and between periods, he’d go up to his driving range and our guys would be in the locker room trying to focus on the next period, and these golf balls would be banging [off the floor above them].”

Calder Cup Champion Springfield Kings, 1970-71
(click to view larger image).
Photo: Demers Family Collection

Springfield won the Calder Cup, the AHL championship, in 1971.

“We won the cup in Springfield,” Demers beamed. “That was very, very exciting. We had to play an extra game, or some kind of extended period to get into the playoffs. We had to play Quebec, and the game went into overtime. Butch Goring was our big star [he would become a star with the Los Angeles Kings and would go on to win four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders], and he went over to Eddie Bush, the coach of the Quebec Aces, and said, ‘I’m going to get the goal. You’d better put your whole team on me.’ This was in overtime, and darn it if Butchie didn’t score that goal.”

“[Goring] was a determined player,” Demers added. “He was fun to watch.”

That team was a tight-knit group, right down to the athletic trainer, and that got Demers into a load of trouble one night.

“We were playing a game in Springfield, and our bench was right next to the penalty box, and two players, [left wing] Dunc Rousseau, who played for the Springfield Kings, and [right wing] Red Armstrong played for [the] Rochester [Americans],” said Demers. “They got into a fight inside the penalty box. A Springfield cop was in the penalty box. He grabbed Dunc Rousseau, so Red Armstrong was just hitting Dunc. So I grabbed the cop.”

That move turned out to be a painful one.

“Seven cops beat me up, really bad, too,” Demers recalled. “[Goaltender] Bruce Landon came over to help me, and they restrained him, also. They took me to a police car, and then to the police station. I was really worried because I had just made all the sandwiches for the bus, and I hadn’t wrapped them up. I was going to do that the next period.”

Demers was released later that night. But there’s more.

“They kept me at the police station, and then the bus came to pick me up,” said Demers. “They let me out to go, and my wife—we had just met, and she saw this.”

Talk about making a great first impression…

For his role in the penalty box scuffle, Demers suffered a beating that was bad enough to prevent him from wearing a motorcycle helmet for a few days. The police also struck the handcuffs he was wearing with a nightstick to make them tighter, causing an injury to one of his radial nerves. The AHL took disciplinary action as well, even though charges against him would eventually be dismissed.

Letter from AHL President Jack Butterfield detailing disciplinary action to be taken against Demers for his role in a penalty box fight on November 7, 1970. (click to view PDF version)
Document courtesy Demers Family Collection

“The league fined me $250.00,” Demers noted. “The policeman took me to court, saying that I ruined all their uniforms. The judge said, ‘look at this guy. He’s 150 pounds.’ So the judge threw it out.”

Indeed, Demers is not some hulking behemoth like some hockey players are—far from it, which makes his actions in the penalty box that night surprising, and that is an understatement. But it illustrates how much the concept of team is stressed in hockey compared to other sports.

“We stick together, that’s what makes our game so much fun,” he said. “It’s like no other game. It all goes back to the players. They’re character people. They come from good, solid homes, they have great upbringing.”

“A lot of other sports have that also, but the teamwork it takes to play a hockey game is pretty unique in the surroundings and the sacrifices that kids have to make to play the game of hockey,” he added. “You can go out and play basketball or baseball on any field. But you go to a rink at 5:00 in the morning—that’s the only time you can get ice time. Parents have to come, there’s a big expense for gear and ice time, you make a commitment to be on a little team. My boy was playing hockey, and he was in San Diego one day and Big Bear the next afternoon to play—the sacrifices the parents have to make. It’s a bonding thing you have with your teammates that makes our game so special.”

“We hear it over and over and over again [from] service providers, from people in the airports, our bus drivers that might take us to the hotel and to the rink that you get to know. They all tell us the same things. Hockey players are just a step above other players, character-wise. I’m not saying that other sports don’t have good, character players. But hockey is different. We have characters and we have character players.”

After his stints with the Rhode Island Reds and the Columbus Checkers, along with his three seasons with the Springfield Kings, Demers was hired as the head athletic trainer for the big club in 1972, beginning his 34-year odyssey with the Los Angeles Kings.

Demers’ journey would take him to the Forum in Inglewood, California, the Los Angeles Kings’ home arena until October 1999, when Staples Center opened, and to what is now known as the Culver Ice Arena in Culver City, California, where the team practiced. In the next story in this series, Frozen Royalty will look at what it was like to be the head athletic trainer back in those days.

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28 Responses to Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Goes From Stick Boy To 34 Years With Los Angeles Kings

  1. Tom Ingalls says:

    Nowadays he’s catching house sized tuna. What a life!

  2. pucknfuss says:

    Another great article on what makes hockey and the NHL such a special sport

  3. Bill says:

    Pete’s first game with the Kings was October 10, 1969 against Baltimore at the Big E. The program also lists one “Robert Goring” at center.

    The playoff game against Quebec was a one-game playoff – the Kings and Aces had finished tied for the last playoff spot, and the Kings got home ice by virtue of more wins. Quebec scored two goals in the last five minutes of the third period to force the overtime, before Butch began his playoff heroics in style just 26 seconds in.

    If you happen to see this Pete, I have the program from your first Kings game and would be very happy to send it to you. One question: Why did Roger Cote beat up the referee?

    • Pete Demers says:

      Bill, Wow, you know your hockey history. We had lots of fun in Springfield. Winning the cup so early in my career was a thrill. Little did I know of what was to come in the cup department. Glad I got one there. Roger Cote.. he and Butchie were my room mates in Spfld. I just don’t remember his scuffle with the ref, but I do remember that Roger played every game with a tooth pick in his mouth and that he was very tough. Doing these stories with Gann has brought back so many great hockey memories and makes me realize how lucky I was to work in the greatest game in the world.
      Pete

      • Bruce Green says:

        Roger Cote lived 3 houses away from me when he played in Springfield and his kids played on my team. He told the ref called a penalty and then by mistake gave it to him instead of the player who did it, he said he looked at the ref and said “what” and he gave him a misconduct, so he belted him. He got suspended for that and was at one of our games in which I received a game misconduct and Roger got the key to the dressing room and let me in and said to me “sometimes it’s not hard to get into trouble” He was a good guy and always had the toothpick in his mouth, in a game or otherwise.

  4. Gann Matsuda says:

    For anyone wondering, yes, that is the real Pete Demers who posted the comment above.

  5. Roger says:

    Great article Gann ! I’m surprised Pete dosen’t write a book. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  6. Gann Matsuda says:

    Glad you enjoyed it, Roger. I did mention to Pete that he should write a book. Maybe we’ll all get to read it someday.

    • Bob Bobson says:

      Guys like Pete Demers and Bob Miller are treasure troves of hockey stories. When I think that trainers are personal doctors to 20 elite, professional athletes (especially when they are hockey players) it boggles my mind how much they had to do. Great article Gann!

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  9. Betty Pajka says:

    Wow! Pete, Looking forward to the series, this is great, brings a lot of great memories. I agree, you should write a book.

  10. Keith Bagley says:

    Lucky is Pete Demers, and also those others who have the love of a game that goes right to the root of their being, as a lifetime of energy, love of life, and camaraderie are some of its gifts.

    Knowing Pete through his brother, Phil, my college roommate, I witnessed both of them fly on skates. Pete was our hockey equipment benefactor and I still have one of his old wooden LA sticks. Phil and I went to see the Kings play the Bruins in the Boston Garden and Phil disappeared in between periods. He turned heads when he returned with a stick from Pete autographed by the players. There are some great memories playing street hockey with Pete, Phil and friends in the local ‘closed-for-the-season’ tennis court (no nets!) with a hockey-taped tennis ball as our puck.

    Congratulations, Pete, on your legendary career and good luck pursuing the great Tuna!

    Keith Bagley

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  13. Bob Painton says:

    Pete
    Wow, what a ride, all the years the Kings trained in Victoria B.C. And “Then” 1988 The Great One came to camp, and how things changed, from the first game he played in Portland Ore. (exhibition )to now!

    No one will ever “Give” to the game as a trainer, like you did.

    You Are A True Friend
    Bob Painton

    • Pete Demers says:

      Thanks Bob,
      We had a lot of fun in Victoria in the 70’s and 80’s. You were my go to guy when we needed to get things done around town. Especially the laundry. I remember night after night Johnny and me sitting down on the sidewalk out side the laundromat at midnight eating Chinese food with ten washers going inside. Of course, you were our daytime laundry guy with your big bag of quarters in a sock. With 125 players at camp it was almost a 24 hour day. Although, if I had it to do over again I would never change a thing except to add another six trainers to the staff. We were just happy to be a part of it. Those were great times and great memories I will have forever. Thanks Bob for being such a good friend over the years.
      Pete

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