FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: Retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers toiled for long hours behind the scenes during his 34-year career with the Los Angeles Kings, along with three years with their minor league affiliate, the Springfield Kings, starting in August 1969. In part four of this series, Frozen Royalty looks at some of the characters Demers worked with from the early days of the Los Angeles franchise, including the eccentric Jack Kent Cooke.
LOS ANGELES — In an illustrious 37-year career with the Los Angeles Kings organization—three years with the Springfield Kings, the big club’s American Hockey League affiliate, followed by 34 years with the Los Angeles Kings (for purposes of this story, “Kings” refers to the Los Angeles Kings), retired head athletic trainer Pete Demers bore great responsibility. To be sure, along with assistant athletic trainer John Holmes, Demers wore all the hats of the trainers, equipment managers, strength and conditioning coaches, and the massage therapists.
But even after endless hours treating injured players, sharpening skates, darning socks, ordering new sticks, and much, much more, Demers also had to deal with the demands of the eccentric Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the Kings, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Forum in Inglewood, California, which was the Kings’ home arena from December 30, 1967 to October 20, 1999, when they played their first game at Staples Center.
To say the least, Cooke was quite the character.
“I remember being [at the Forum] one day, and I was going down to the Kings offices, down past his office, and he came out of his office,” Cooke explained. “I had my little girl, Aimee, with me. She was hardly walking. She couldn’t talk—she was a tiny baby. He got right down on the floor and said, ‘say the Kings will win the Stanley Cup. Can you say that?’ He was quite a guy.”
Quite a guy, quite the understatement, as Cooke was very demanding of his employees, often times, unreasonably so. As a result, they were often on edge.
“[Demers had] quite a bit [of contact with Cooke], probably more with Mr. Cooke than any other owner,” said Demers. “I think I [worked under] six owners. He was a very, very unique guy. He meant business. He had that funny kind of drawl—[long time television play-by-play announcer] Bob Miller does it well. He’d drag his words out, or something. He knew the answer to the question before he asked you the question.”
“It was almost like God was around when Mr. Cooke was there,” added Demers. “In fact, Bob Miller mentioned that in his  book, [Bob Miller’s Tales Of The Los Angeles Kings]. There would be a guy standing outside the Forum, washing the windows every morning when Mr. Cooke would come in. His name was Vincent Ramirez. He had a handlebar mustache—very distinguished. He looked like he could be the President of Mexico. He ran all of the custodial duties at the Forum.”
“He would always be outside washing the windows in front of the Forum when Mr. Cooke would come in. So he would alert one of Mr. Cooke’s assistants, Eddie Parr. He was a Hungarian or German guy, and had a deep accent. He would run down the hall and yell, ‘Mr. Cooke is coming! Mr. Cooke is coming!’ It was so funny.”
In addition to treating Kings players and others who were associated with the team, Demers had to take care of the owner as well.
“I took care of his neck quite a few times,” Demers recalled. “He had a sore neck.”
But it went beyond treating his ailments.
“I remember being low man on the totem pole, being in Springfield,” said Demers. “We went to [Kings] training camp in Victoria, [British Columbia]. At 5:00 in the morning—Norm Mackie was the trainer here in LA—at the Empress Hotel, I had to go down to the front desk and get the newspaper, take it up to Mr. Cooke’s room, and take his dog, Coco, out for a walk.”
In short, in addition to all the hats he wore for the Kings, he was, on occasion, one of Cooke’s personal valets.
“That’s just the way it was,” Demers stressed. “5:00 AM. But we were up anyway. We took the players out to a park at 5:00 in the morning—Beacon Hill Park. Guys were hiding behind trees in the dark. We’re doing running and calisthenics.”
As mentioned earlier, the Kings and Lakers both played their home games at the Forum until Staples Center opened. But Demers was so consumed by his job, the Lakers barely existed to him back in the Forum days.
“I remember one time, [Cooke] said, ‘we are going to sign [Lakers all-time great Earvin] Magic Johnson,’” said Demers.
“I didn’t know who Magic Johnson was,” added Demers. “Look at the player he turned out to be. In fact, I never went to a Lakers game, ever. I realized it after about twenty years, and I didn’t want to break my record after that. I was always there working anyway, so I wasn’t really interested in going. That’s just the way it was.”
“Give each team 100 points, play the last five minutes and see who wins.”
Of course, Demers’ primary focus was dealing with the Kings’ cast of characters, and quite the characters they were.
“Unique guys would be like Gilles Marotte,” Demers reminisced. “Different guy. Great, big strong, burly guy. He’s gone now. [Juha] ‘Whitey’ Widing. He’s another guy who’s passed away. Tremendous skater with a tremendous backhand shot. Real Lemieux, one of the funniest guys, he passed away also. Man, could he drink. But he could play hockey, too.”
“In Victoria, I remember that the Empress Hotel didn’t invite us back,” Demers added. “It’s one of the finest hotels in Canada, right on the harbor in Victoria. Guys got into a little scuffle one night in one of the rooms. The first instance, we got a warning. Guys were putting beer on the ledge outside their room. The whole world could see it because everybody and their brother who comes to Victoria takes pictures of the hotel from that side, and you see these cases of beer on the outside ledge of the window. So they asked us to move those.”
“I remember that somebody took an axe to a door one night, trying to get in—the roommate wouldn’t let them in. Guys get rambunctious.”
Many others would come and go as well.
“Jerry Korab, Frank St. Marseille, Butch Goring, Bob Pulford—he taught me a lot,” said Demers. “He was very, very firm, I remember in Victoria, when I was with Springfield and he was playing for the Kings, after the players get undressed and [went] to the shower, we’d adjust their gear. They don’t throw their gear on the floor. They hang their gear, but never the right way. So we’d go around and adjust it.”
“I was adjusting some gear next to him, and he said, ‘hey kid, do you know what you’re doing?’ I’ll never forget that as long as I live,” added Demers. “[When Demers joined the Kings in 1972], he was my coach for the first five years. He was really a great guy. But the perception of him was that he was so firm, and that on the 12th of January, someone saw him smile, that kind of a thing.”
Pulford would be a tremendous influence on Demers’ career.
“He made me a real King,” Demers emphasized. “Really firm. But if you had on your mind to stay at a place for a long time, you’d want to have it tough on you in the beginning. Something has to mold us into being able to do our jobs. They don’t just keep us here because we bring them their coffee, or something. Pulford was really firm, and I think that made the difference.”
“I got to be really good friends with him,” Demers added. “I’ve got to thank him for my longevity because he molded into me what it’s all about to be in the NHL. You have to have someone hammering you.”
“He went to Chicago for years and years. Every once in awhile, he’d come to our [dressing] room, and have someone come and get me. That was a real honor, and everybody would see that. ‘Hey! Bob Pulford’s outside looking for Pete.’ That was unbelievable to have Bob Pulford come to see me.”Goring played for the Springfield Kings while Demers was their head trainer, helping lead Springfield to a Calder Cup championship in the 1971-72 season. When Demers made the move west to Los Angeles in 1972, Goring joined him for his first full season with the Kings.
“[Goring was known as] the ‘Old Seed Bag,’” said Demers. “On a two-week road trip, he’d bring a toothbrush, and that’s it. But boy, could he play hockey. He was really fun to watch.”
Goring’s most visible trademark was the flimsy helmet he wore throughout his career.
“I still have my helmets,” Goring said in a February 2010 interview. “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 that helmet, along 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,” said Goring. “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.”
Despite Goring’s claims that the helmet offered protection, it did nothing of the sort. In fact, Demers tried to get Goring to switch to a real helmet, and even resorted to drastic measures.
“I ran over it, in the tunnel [at the Forum], on purpose, with the truck one night, trying to get him into another helmet,” Demers admitted. “But then, the next day, he came in with another one.”
“When we went on the road, we’d paint the helmet purple,” Demers added. “When we were at home, we’d cover it with yellow tape. It was his only helmet. He refused to wear anything else, and I was the one who had to get that helmet ready for him. He didn’t have a purple one and a gold one. He only had one.”
A player who would become the Kings’ first true superstar, goaltender Rogie Vachon, was already in Los Angeles when Demers arrived from Springfield in 1972.
“[Rogie Vachon was an] easy guy to take care of,” said Demers. Low maintenance, quiet, nothing rattled him. A really good guy. I still keep real close touch with Rogie. I see him at church. I’ve never seen Rogie get upset, except for one day.”
“After practice, I took Rogie’s gear down to the washing machine,” added Demers “I washed it, and then forgot about it. I went back to get it, but the guy who helps in the dressing rooms put it in the dryer. Rogie wore these felt arm and belly pads—it was one piece. That thing shrunk up. That belly pad was as big as his chest—a chest protector. It had a big piece of leather in front of it. That thing shrunk up to the size of a softball, and the arm pads wouldn’t fit a three-year old. They were ruined, he couldn’t wear them that night. He was mad that night, and that was his game gear. It was sacred.”
To say the least, Vachon was not a happy camper.
“Especially on the day of a game, you don’t want anything or anyone to fool around with your equipment or your stick,” said Vachon. “I remember coming to the game one night, and he had washed my belly pad and arm protection. It had shrunk like crazy. Yeah, I was really pissed off.”
“It was already small in the first place,” added Vachon, chuckling. “It got smaller. In those days, we didn’t have [another set] of equipment. We had one [pair of] shoulder pads, one pair of skates, and that was it.”
Hockey players are known for their quirks and superstitions. But one player had a pre-game ritual that can only be classified as really, really weird.
“[Center] Jimmy Peters [who played parts of five seasons with the Kings from 1968-74, scoring 31 goals and adding 29 assists in 255 regular season games, along with two assists in eleven playoff games] was a player we had, he also played in Springfield when I was there,” said Demers. “He would be lacing his skates up, and he’d lick his fingers.”
“Guys would make a joke of that,” added Demers. “He would put his tongue out and run all his fingers across his tongue. There would be kind of a snapping of the wrists on both sides. So everybody would do that, all the time as a joke.”
In the early 70’s, the Kings’ enforcer was 6-1, 195-pound left wing Dan Maloney, who played in 159 regular season games with the Kings, scoring fifty goals and tallying 63 assists with 296 penalty minutes.
“He was the toughest guy to ever play for the Kings,” Demers noted. “[Defenseman] Dave Hutchison, you’ve got to put him in there, too. But when Dan Maloney—his mind would be so focused on his battle, you could sense it. He’d hit hard, too. He [threw a body check] so hard [once] that he broke his shoulder.”
“I remember one fight he had where he was banging a guy’s head into the ice so bad, they had to stop him, and it was a good thing they did,” Demers added.
Although he was not a heavyweight, left wing Bert Wilson, who played four seasons with the Kings from 1975-76 to 1979-80, played the same role as Maloney.
“We used to take an awful beating in Philadelphia, and a name that comes to mind is Bert Wilson,” Demers recalled. “We’d go in there, and they’d just line up to fight Bert Wilson. He’s gone now, passed away. You had to feel sorry for him. He was a middleweight, but he had a lot of heart. He took some beatings on Sunday nights there.”
Of course, there was always the pranksters and practical jokers.
“We were in Edmonton one day, it was a practice day,” Demers explained. “[Defenseman] Jerry Korab [who scored 18 goals and added 84 assists for 102 points in 211 regular season games with the Kings, along with three assists in 17 playoff games from 1979-80 through the 1982-83 season], we either rested him or he was hurt. He needed to get back at a couple of guys for some different things, so he took all the shoes and glued them to the ceiling. Twenty pairs.”
“They came in, and all the shoes were on the ceiling,” Demers added. “For years after that, you could still see the glue on the ceiling.”
Over 34 years with the Kings, Demers had to deal with more than his share of characters while toiling away behind the scenes. But the most urgent part of his job was caring for injured players, and he has certainly seen some serious injuries during his career, to players and even fans. In part five of this series, Frozen Royalty will look at some of the more gruesome injuries Demers had to deal with, along with the hazards he faced on the job.
- Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Goes From Stick Boy To 34 Years With Los Angeles Kings
- LA Kings Retired Trainer Pete Demers Had To Be A Jack Of All Trades
- LA Kings Trainer Emeritus Pete Demers On The Evolution of Treatment, Strength And Conditioning
- LA Kings Retired Trainer Pete Demers Dealt With Much More Than Injuries To Players
- Wayne Gretzky’s Arrival Changes Everything For LA Kings And Retired Trainer Pete Demers
- LA Kings Retired Trainer Pete Demers Was Honored To Serve On International Stage
- Los Angeles Kings Retired Head Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Is A King For Life
- From Blimp Rides To Breaking Televisions To Waxed Doughnuts, LA Kings Trainer Emeritus Pete Demers Has Seen It All
- Retired LA Kings Trainer Pete Demers Recalls Record-Breaking, Injury-Filled Seasons, 2001-02 to 2005-06
- LA Kings Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers Looks Back At Controversy Surrounding His 2006 Departure
- Honored In Obscurity: Los Angeles Kings Retired Athletic Trainer Pete Demers
- Frozen Royalty Audio: Interviews From The Pete Demers Series
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