LOS ANGELES — Long before Anze Kopitar’s skates hit the ice at Staples Center, years before superstar Hall of Famers Wayne Gretzky and Marcel Dionne lit up opponents on the ice at the Forum in Inglewood, California, and even before superstar and should-be Hall Of Fame goaltender Rogie Vachon often won games single-handedly at the Forum, center Robert Thomas “Butch” Goring thrilled fans with his speed, scoring ability and hard work for eleven seasons after being selected by the Kings in the fifth round (51st overall) of the 1969 National Hockey League Amateur Draft.
In the 1969-70 season, his first with the Kings, Goring scored thirteen goals and added 23 assists for 36 points in 59 games. But he wound up splitting time between the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Springfield Kings of the American Hockey League and the big club the following season, playing in just nineteen games at the NHL level.
It was not until the 1971-72 season that Kings fans became enamored with the speed and scoring ability of the St. Boniface, Manitoba native, but Goring quickly became the Kings’ first star and fan favorite.
“We had probably 10,000-12,000 people who showed up on a fairly regular basis and they were great,” Goring said during a recent interview.
Although the Kings rarely played in front of capacity crowds back in those days, Kings fans were devoted and could get as raucous and rowdy as anyone.
“It’s obviously a lot more fun to be in front of a bigger audience because the more they get into it, the more you can get into it,” said Goring. “In spite of what people say, yeah, you may not hear some of the hootin’ and hollerin’ that’s going on because you’re concentrating on the game. But when you have 10,000, 12,000, 16,000 people that are really into the game, it does make a difference. There are times when you can hear them.”
In his NHL career, Goring scored 375 goals and tallied 513 assists for 888 points in 1,107 regular season games with the Kings, New York Islanders, and Boston Bruins. In 134 playoff games, Goring scored 38 goals and added fifty assists for 88 points.
Goring gave Kings fans some great memories while scoring 275 goals and contributing 384 assists for 659 points in 736 regular season games with the Kings, along with nine goals and nine assists for eighteen points in thirty playoff games.
Goring ranks sixth on the Kings’ all-time scoring list. He is also fifth all-time in goals, sixth in assists, eighth in power play goals (62), and second in shorthanded goals (20).
He too has some vivid memories of his days wearing the Forum Blue and Gold jerseys.
“My memories of the Kings, for me—I kind of grew up here,” he said. “I came in as a nineteen-year-old and left as an older guy in some ways. But I played with some great guys and had some great coaches. We had ownership that was very good to me in Jack Kent Cooke.”
“I do have a lot of great memories in LA and I always enjoy coming back,” he added. “I get a chance, once in awhile, to see some old friends and that’s always fun. But when you come back to LA and get inside the LA Kings building, even though it’s not the Forum anymore, it’s Staples Center, it still brings back a lot of memories and, for me, a lot of good times.”
Goring’s most vivid memory is also the one Kings fans remember most about him…the 1976 playoff series against the Bruins.
“We had some exciting times,” said Goring. “People remember the playoff series against the Boston Bruins, which was a particularly vivid moment for me. I can re-live that every once in awhile.”
That season, the Kings finished second in the James Norris Division and swept a best two-out-of-three preliminary series against the Atlanta Flames. That put them into the quarterfinals against Boston.
The Bruins were leading the series, 3-2, and the Kings faced elimination in Game 6 on April 22, 1976, at the Forum. The game was a hard-fought battle and was tied, 3-3, at the end of regulation.
That set the stage for Goring in overtime, and he got the puck high in the Boston zone. From the high slot, he fired a wrist shot past Bruins netminder Gerry Cheevers, leading the Kings to a 4-3 victory.
As the team celebrated their overtime win, Goring’s teammates carried him off the ice on their shoulders. It was the only time in Kings history that a Kings player has been carried off the ice by his teammates.
“I have that on tape,” said Goring. “That was an exciting moment for me, but I always tell people that one of the great things about that series was the arrival of the LA Kings fans. I don’t know how many people remember, but that was the time when we were getting 10-15 minute standing ovations before the game ever started.”
“No one in the National Hockey League had ever done that,” added Goring. “They were the first fans that had ever done that. That was exciting. That was a great memory for me.”
Despite Goring’s heroics in Game 6, the Bruins won Game 7 to eliminate the Kings, who made the playoffs in six of Goring’s eleven seasons with the team, but never got out of the second round.
“We obviously didn’t have as much success as we would’ve liked,” Goring lamented. “I can remember some pretty good years that we had, but for me, not winning the Cup in LA was a huge disappointment. Every year, you’re starting off and you’re hoping you’re going to win one. For me, playing the first eleven years of my career and not winning a Cup was disappointing.”
“For LA, because I have so many good memories here, and it’s kind of like I learned to play hockey in the National Hockey League in LA, to not be able to enjoy the success that I had once I went to New York is always something I wish could’ve changed somehow, some way.”
Goring’s career took an abrupt turn in the opposite direction on March 10, 1980, when he was traded to the Islanders in exchange for goaltender Billy Harris and defenseman Dave Lewis.
“I guess every once in awhile you get a break, and that certainly was a great break for me,” Goring explained. “At the time, I was very disappointed about being traded. I think I was in the second year of a six-year contract, so I wasn’t anticipating getting traded, I didn’t want to be traded.”
“I was committed to playing in L.A. for the rest of my career with the possibility of not winning a Cup, although who knows—everything is subject to change from year to year,” Goring elaborated. “But it didn’t look great. Our team was only going to be average to above average, so unless things changed, it probably wasn’t going to be in our sights.”
The change of scenery also meant a change of fortune.
“[Being traded] was tough for me,” said Goring. “It was very difficult. But once [the trade] happened and I was sitting on the Island and then you take hold of the team you’re playing with, you think, ‘holy smokes.’ You now have a real chance to win a Stanley Cup because the New York Islanders, the year before, had the best record in the National Hockey League. They were upset [in the playoffs] by the New York Rangers in 1979.”
“Right away, I recognized this as an unbelievable opportunity to win a Cup,” added Goring. “There could’ve been half a dozen other teams I could’ve possibly been traded to. That was as good a hockey team as I could go to.”
Indeed, Goring’s move to the East Coast placed him on an already-loaded Islanders roster that was led by Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Denis Potvin, Clark Gilles, John Tonelli, Bobby Nystrom and Billy Smith that went onto win the Stanley Cup for four consecutive seasons from 1979-80 to 1982-83.
Goring’s arrival gave the Islanders a big shot in the arm, as he added character, a strong work ethic and some additional scoring. In fact, Goring is widely credited with being the final piece of the puzzle that put the Islanders over the top.
“It was a good fit,” he said. “As I’ve said many, many times, they were a pretty good hockey team before I arrived. I like to think I made them just a little bit better.”
“I gave them something that I think they sorely needed in a couple of different areas,” he added. “One is that I have my own character, my own way of doing things and I think that really helped them because I wasn’t a 22-year-old kid. I came in and I didn’t try to run the show or anything else like that. But I’m a pretty loose guy and I say what’s on my mind. I think that helped that club.”
“Just as important, I gave them secondary scoring. They never had secondary scoring they could count on. I was proven, I was a thirty-plus goal scorer. Right away, I gave them something they really needed.”
Goring retired as an NHL player after one season with the Bruins in 1984-85, but not before winning the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy in 1977-78, and the Conn Smyth Memorial Trophy in 1980-81—the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs that season.
Goring went on to coach the Bruins, the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, the Capital District Islanders of the AHL, the Las Vegas Thunder, Denver Grizzlies and Utah Grizzlies of the International Hockey League (not the current version of the IHL), the Islanders, the Anchorage Aces of the West Coast Hockey League and the Frankfurt Lions, the Krefeld Penguins and the DEG Metro Stars in Germany.
Today, Goring, 60, can be seen on MSG Network in New York, serving as an analyst for the Islanders and on MSG’s “Hockey Night Live” show. But he took time out from his broadcasting duties to participate in a fantasy camp sponsored by the Kings this past January.
Goring was on the ice with the camp participants, still sporting one of the two flimsy helmets that were given to him when he was twelve years old and continued to wear throughout his entire professional career.
“I still have my helmets,” he said. “I like to think I had a couple of trademarks, but that certainly was one of them. It was unique and, more than anything else, I won’t say I viewed it as a good luck charm, but I certainly had a lot of success with it.”
Anyone who remembers Goring will remember his helmet, with his fairly long, brown hair flowing out of it as he sped up ice on a breakaway.
“I was asked many times why I didn’t change and go with something with more protection. But I didn’t wear it just for protection. I wore it because it was comfortable and it was kind of like it was part of me and I never wanted to change it.”
Something else that has not changed was apparent on the fantasy camp ice as well. While watching him play the game, even though it was obviously not at the level of an NHL contest, it was evident that Goring still has the same love for the game and the dedication that helped make him a four-time Stanley Cup Champion, and it should surprise no one that he still has so many fans and is remembered so fondly here in the Los Angeles area.
Audio interview with Butch Goring (raw, unedited)
LEAD PHOTO: Butch Goring. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
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