The California Seals, later to become the Oakland Seals and then the California Golden Seals, entered the National Hockey League along with the Los Angeles Kings and four other teams in the expansion of 1967. They played their games in the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, which was located in the Coliseum industrial area.
It is a circular building built with a steel frame with glass surrounding the entire structure. The building was built in 1966 at a cost of $25 million, which would be $179 million in 2012 dollars. It was elevated so that when you entered the building you were about 50 rows up looking down at the ice surface. The building still stands, and the interior was completely rebuilt in 1996-97 at a cost of $121 million, but the external walls, roof and foundation remained intact. It is now known as Oracle Arena.
The Kings first game in the arena was on October 18, 1967, and it ended in a 2-2 tie. What I remember most about playing the Seals is that many of our games would be on a Sunday afternoon around 2 p.m. The Kings would usually have a home game the night before and Western Airlines would hold their midnight flight until the Kings could get to LAX for the short flight to Oakland. The Kings would head right back home after the Sunday game and be back in L.A. by 7 p.m. with a road trip out of the way. Some of you may remember a group that called themselves “The White Hats,” and I believe most of them were Western Airlines employees. They would sit at one end of the Forum, then they would march around the inner concourse, leading cheers for the Kings, while wearing a variety of white hats. Some of them would always join us on the flight to Oakland.
Something else that stood out in Oakland was the Seals mascot called “Crazy George.” He looked a little crazy, and would roam the arena with a small drum that he would incessantly pound on to inspire the crowd and intimidate the opposing players. Many times he would almost hang over the glass and players would be startled if they weren’t aware that he was right over their shoulder.
Hockey was a tough sell in the Bay Area in those years, and in their first season, the Seals won only 15 of 74 games and finished last in the Western Division. They were the lowest scoring team in the NHL with only 153 goals, and the crowds were usually small. In fact, only 3,419 fans showed up for the Kings first game in the arena.
In 1969, the Kings and Seals met in the opening round of the playoffs with the Kings winning the seven-game series, 4-to-3. That was the only time the teams met each other in the playoffs. My first broadcast in the arena was on January 2, 1974, when the Seals beat the Kings, 5-2, in front of a paltry crowd of 2,860.
The Seals had several owners, the most famous of whom was Charles O. Finley, the flamboyant owner of baseball’s Oakland Athletics. One of his marketing gimmicks was to change the team’s colors to Kelly Green and California Gold, and have the team wear white skates, which the players hated. At the end of the 1970 season, the Seals traded their number one pick in the first round of the 1971 draft to Montreal. Due to the Seals finishing last in the NHL in 1970-71, Montreal had the number one pick and took future Hall of Famer, Guy LaFleur, so the deal was one of the most lopsided in NHL history.
After being frustrated by several losing seasons, Finley tried to sell the team but had no takers, so the NHL took over the team in February 1974, purchasing it from Finley for $6.5 million. In July of 1976, the NHL approved a relocation of the team to Cleveland, where they became the Barons. Thus, the Kings had lost their closest opponent geographically. Attendance was worse in Cleveland than it had been in Oakland, and after two years of losses, the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars.
The last Seals player to be active in any league was former King Charlie Simmer, who played with the San Diego Gulls of the International Hockey League until 1992.
The arena in Oakland still stands and is the current home of the Golden State Warriors of the NBA.