L. A. Kings newcomer comes on strong
Los Angeles — It was a streak fit for a King, by a guy who wasn't that well known, representing a city where ice generally appears only as cubes. The man we're talking about is left-winger Charlie Simmer, who between Nov. 23 and Dec. 27, 1979, scored at least one goal in 13 consecutive games for the much-improved Los Angeles Kings.
That's three goals better than the modern National Hockey League record of 10 shared by Andy Bathgate, Bobby Hull, and Mike Bossy, and three short of the all- time mark by Punch Broadbent in 1921-22.
Before this season, Simmer was about as recognizable to the general public as the steward who groomed Lady Godiva's horse. He was a journeyman with none of the skating and stick-handling finesse you expect in a pro hockey player, and with the speed of wet cement.
Back in 1974, the California Golden Seals had made Charlie a fourth-round draft pick (he was the 39th player taken overall), and then they were never quite sure what to do with him. Mostly they kept him in the minors at Salt Lake City, where he scored 12 goals and excited nobody.
When you're 6 ft. 3 in. and 200 pounds, don't have a lot of clever moves, and play hockey, they usually either make you a defenseman or automatically assume you belong on a checking line.
If you get to see the puck at all, it's because you're willing to go into the corner andexchange some physical punishment to acquire it. Then sometimes the only option you have left is to pass it back to a teammate who has a better angle on the opposing goalie.
In the 80 widely separated games Simmer played with California in the next three years, he scored 11 goals and showed a lot of toughness. But because championships don't come with forwards who keep finding the goalie's glove when they shoot, the Seals gave Charlie his unconditional release.
Nevertheless, Simmer's intangibles had an admirer in L. A. General Manager George Maguire, who liked the fact that Charlie would do anything to help his team. Maguire got on the telephone and offered him a Kings contract.
The Kings took Charlie to Training camp in 1977-78, but sent him to their Springfield (Mass.) farm team after only three regular season games because he was trying so hard he couldn't do anything right.
With the chance to play regularly, Simmer responded with some of the most robust forechecking in the American Hockey League, suddenly discovered an offensive blueprint that fit him, and scored 42 goals. But it wasn't until the Kings got hit with a series of injury problems midway through last season that they gave Simmer (who actually was playing poorly at the time) antoher shot.
When the newcomer was placed on a line with high- scoring Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor, nobody knew what kind of chemistry would result. But by the fourth game he had his first goal, along with an instinctive feeling for what his teammates were trying to do. By the end of the season he had rifled another 20 pucks into the net.
When Simmer contnued to play well this year, people began to ask if maybe he hadn't been a pretty good player right along, failing only because his talents had been misused or because he had been given the wrong linemates.
"Mostly I think I'm just playing better than I used to," Charlie told reporters. "I'm more aware of myself, and what I'm doing, and what the game is all about. The rest, I think, has a lot to do with a big increase in my confidence.
"During my hot streak I had some luck," he continued. "For example, in a game against Buffalo, after shooting and missing and getting knocked down, I looked up and there was the puck sitting on the ice in front of me. I reached out and slammed it into the net and I think maybe that goal felt the best of them all."
Going to hockey's instant-cliche rack, it couldn't have happened to a more deserving workhorse.