Howie Menard was part of the National Hockey League's first California experiment and loved every minute. In two years with the expansion Los Angeles Kings and a half season with the Oakland Seals in their white skate craze, the Timmins native crammed a career of memories into his West Coast stint.
"The first time the Canadiens came to L.A., Serge Savard and Henri Richard asked 'how the hell can you play in this weather?' " Menard said. "I told them the truth, that every day after practice, we sat by the pool and had a few beers. It wasn't hard to take at all."
Menard recalled that Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke first wanted to play out of the old L.A. Auditorium.
"But there was a disagreement and he said, 'to hell with it, I'll build my own rink.' That was the Forum and they put it up in eight months. It was beautiful."
Menard said Cooke was quick to establish a tradition of movie stars coming up to his private box and the Kings dressing room.
"Glenn Ford, a Canadian, was a regular and so were George Kennedy, Jack Lemmon and Doris Day," Menard said. "We had a good team that first year with Terry Sawchuk, Bill White and Dale Rolfe. Dale was from Timmins and we'd be thinking of how cold it was back there when we were drinking by the pool."
But Oakland was a lot harder place to play for the 5-foot-8 forward.
"The Coliseum was in a tough area and there were only about 10,000 hard-core fans," Menard recalled. "But the year I was there (owner) Charlie Finley came up with the white skates. (Canadiens coach) Claude Ruel called me over before the game to take a look and he couldn't believe it."
Menard didn't win a Stanley Cup, but played for the Toronto Marlboros and was captain of the Hamilton Red Wings' 1962 Memorial Cup champions. The team was run by CHCH-TV owner Ken Soble and included future national hero Paul Henderson. Hamilton defeated another Detroit Red Wings-sponsored team, the Edmonton Oil Kings, in the final in Kitchener.
Menard spent most of the 1970s in the minors and in senior hockey in Whitby. He now lives in nearby Courtice, in semi-retirement after more than 20 years working for Corby's Distillery. He plays for an old-timers team that includes pre-expansion players such as Peter Conacher and Ivan Irwin.