LOS ANGELES — If you’ve been reading the previous installments of this series, you know that former Los Angeles Kings star right wing Dave Taylor had to threaten to play in the World Hockey Association (WHA) if the Kings didn’t sign him to a contract prior to his first National Hockey League training camp.
Then-Kings general manager George Maguire was definitely not one of the better general managers in the NHL, either at the time, or since. Not even close. But at the very least, he got one thing right: he gave in to Taylor’s demands, signing him to a two-year contract and getting him into training camp in 1977.
The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Taylor would go on to become a star for the Kings, most notably, as a member of the famed Triple Crown Line with Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer. But in 1977, he was an NHL rookie who had to make an impression and a name for himself, and on top of that, he had to make the big adjustment from the very small, nickel and copper mining town of Levack, Ontario to the bright lights and big city living in the Los Angeles area—it was quite the culture shock, to be sure.
“I flew from Sudbury to Toronto, and then, from Toronto to L.A.,” he recalled. “It was dark when I landed in L.A., and when we were flying in, it felt like you were flying forever over the lights before landing at LAX—[Los Angeles International Airport]. I was amazed at how big the city was.”
“I took a shuttle from LAX to the old Airport Park Hotel, which right across the street from the Forum [in Inglewood],” he added. “It was between the Forum and Hollywood Park. I stayed there and got ready for training camp.”
Taylor described a training camp that was very different compared to how NHL training camps are run today.
“Back then, we were doing two-a-days,” he said. “In the morning, we did a bunch of drills. They skated the heck out of you. We went back to the hotel, ate lunch, got maybe a half-hour of sleep and then, we’d go back to the Forum and we’d scrimmage. We did that every day.”
Going into the 1977 training camp, Taylor was not on the radar in terms of making the big club’s roster. The thinking was that he would be assigned to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts. But Taylor had other ideas.
“In all the pre-season talk, my name wasn’t mentioned,” he noted. “Nobody thought I would make the team. But during training camp, I thought that I led every skating drill and I scored in every scrimmage.”
“The way training camps went, it was almost one month long,” He added. “It was a crazy grind. But I was in good shape. I had trained hard. I was ready for it. I think I made an impression every day, so I felt pretty good. So even though they hadn’t talked about me, I was still with the team when training camp ended. That was pretty exciting.”
Taylor made the opening night roster for the 1977-78 season. But he still had an uphill battle, trying to stay in the lineup.
“In the first game, I was a healthy scratch,” he recalled. “When I did play, I was on the fourth line with center Vic Venasky and left wing Don Kozak. We got one shift a period. I played a few games—scored my first NHL goal against Boston. I had an assist in another game, and I was scratched a few times.”
Then, an opportunity presented itself, albeit under adverse circumstances.
“The Kings made a trade with Pittsburgh,” said Taylor. “Hartland Monahan and Syl Apps came to us for Dave Schultz. All of a sudden, we had two more right-hand-shot forwards, so I went back into the stands, and I thought, ‘Oh oh. I might be heading down to Springfield.”
“But Hartland Monahan got injured,” added Taylor. “I jumped back in and played some games with Pete Stemkowski, and we hit it off pretty good, so at that point, I was kind of a regular, a third or fourth-line guy.”
Taylor got a few big breaks in his career and, to his credit, he had positioned himself to be able to take full advantage of them.
“The next big break in my career—the first being Jerry York giving me an opportunity to play for Clarkson,” he said. “The second one was in January. We were on a long road trip and we weren’t playing very well. The coach [Bob Berry] moved me up on a line with Marcel Dionne.”
“He scored a couple of goals in that game,” he added. “We seemed to have really good chemistry, right from the start. From that point on, I was on the first line and the first power play. I went from the fourth line, thinking that I might be sent to the minors, to playing with Marcel—I finished my first season with 20 goals and 40 points. That was done in about half a season. I ended up sticking with the Kings that first year”
But not all went well for Taylor that season. He suffered an infection that started in his ankle, before spreading.
“I did have an infection in my ankle, forcing me to miss some games,” he noted. “I got an infection right where I tied the knot in my skate laces in the front. I went into the hospital for a few days and missed about one week.”
Taylor had suffered what was commonly known as “Lace Bite,” which, in Taylor’s case, was considered to be life-threatening, initially, according to former Kings head athletic trainer Pete Demers.
“That’s in your ankle, where you lace your skates up,” Demers said in a 2011 interview with Frozen Royalty. “The tongue is there, skates are wet, your laces are tight—there’s a lot of chafing. So he got a little infection there, and it went through his whole body. He had to go in the hospital.”
“They didn’t know what it was,” Taylor noted. “They had me quarantined for a couple of days, but it healed up just fine.”
Taylor went on to play in 64 regular season games in his rookie season, scored two more goals than he recalled earlier— 22 goals and adding 21 assists for 43 points, with a +14 plus/minus rating and 47 penalty minutes. While those numbers weren’t those of a superstar in the making, what was to come in the following season was the start of the best years of his career, not to mention some of the greatest years in Kings franchise history: the birth and the glory days of the Triple Crown Line. More on that coming in the next installment.
LEAD PHOTO: Dave Taylor, circa 1984, in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Bruce Bennett via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images embedded via WordPress.com/Getty Images
Frozen Royalty’s Dave Taylor Coverage
- Former GM Dave Taylor Started LA Kings Down Championship Road: Anze Kopitar
- Former LA Kings Great Dave Taylor On Becoming a Stanley Cup Champion
- LA Kings Legend Dave Taylor Learned About Hard Work with a Pick and a Hockey Stick
- Former LA Kings Great Dave Taylor Took the College Route To Reach the NHL
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