The teams of the American Hockey League worked over Freddie Glover's face pretty thoroughly. The V scar across his nose, which was smashed many times, has a little Providence in it, some Hershey and some Buffalo. The jagged tissue above the right eyebrow comes from hasty patchwork in Rochester and Springfield. His teeth are off the dentist's shelf. But don't feel sorry for Freddie Glover; he asked for every stitch he got. For 15 years with the Cleveland Barons, Glover played as if he were a 170-pound Gordie Howe. Besides, it is difficult to cry for someone who is going to be Coach of the Year in the National Hockey League this season.
After 20 years in the minors Glover has brought his fire to the big league at last—to the Oakland Seals, the team that needed it most—and the result has been the most remarkable turnabout since Emile Francis kicked life into the New York Rangers four years ago. With a month remaining in the regular season, Glover has the Seals solidly in second place behind uncatchable St. Louis in the West Division, and is terrorizing the established East, whose proud teams have been beaten or tied by the Seals no fewer than 16 times.
Oakland has more victories over the East—13—than any other West team. The Seals have already taken their season series from Montreal (3-2-1) and Chicago (4-1 with one game to go), and they can still tie Detroit and Toronto, with whom they are 2-3 with one game remaining. The Seals are catching on with the fans, too. Oakland has averaged better than 7,000 a game since Feb. 1 and drew more than 10,000 for a 5-2 victory over Chicago the last time the Black Hawks were in town.
Even the ownership and geographical dilemmas of the Seals seem to be solvable in these optimistic days. Last year the whole operation out at 66th Avenue and Nimitz Freeway resembled something out of beautiful downtown Burbank. The team had 52 owners and one "leader," Barry van Gerbig. As the Seals staggered to last place in the West, van Gerbig did much of his leading from a Florida golf course, and the club took a financial bath. Before the season was over the Seals had borrowed $680,000 from a Canadian brewery and rumors of town-switching √† la Charlie Finley and his baseball A's were flying like slap shots.
Meanwhile, the players became resentful of Coach Bert Olmstead, who demanded more from them than they could possibly deliver. When the Seals finished with only 15 wins in 74 games the owners fired Olmstead and made the club's president, Frank Selke Jr., general manager. Selke is a pro whose father long managed the Montreal Canadiens. Selke, in turn, hired Glover as coach.
And just last week the Seals took an important step toward financial dignity. They were purchased by Trans-National Communications, Inc., a New York-based group of which ex-Yankee Whitey Ford and ex-Giants Pat Summerall and Dick Lynch are members. Trans-National took 80% of the stock and the Knox brothers of Buffalo the other 20%. (The Buffalonians, who had supplied money for the Seals' operating expenses the last two months, still basically want a club for their city when the next expansion comes.) The purchase price: better than $4.5 million. Bill Creasy, former producer of CBS' Game of the Week, becomes president and will represent the Seals on the NHL's board of governors. Said Ellis E. Erdman, Trans-National's chairman: "We have no plans for moving the club, because we have entertained no thoughts of attendance failing in Oakland."
"We feel our family is now complete from top to bottom," said Seals Executive Vice-President Bill Torrey. "We've had the bottom—Selke, Glover, the players—since the start of the season. This gives us the top."
Well, if any coach has bottom it's Glover. "Montreal was so impressed by Freddie's work as player-coach at Cleveland," says Selke, "that it even considered him as a replacement for Toe Blake when he retired." In Cleveland Glover set AHL records for goals (520), assists (831) and penalties (he steamed in the penalty box for a total of 2,402 minutes). Glover raised African violets at home and All-America hell on the ice. "The little guy always gets pushed around," he says. "Some guys build themselves up by pushing the little guys around. Well let me tell you, there's no better equalizer out there than a hockey stick. With a stick in your hands you're just as big as the next guy. There's not much a stick session won't settle—and I don't mean taking somebody's head off with it."
"When Freddie was at Cleveland I think I almost hated him," says Torrey, once in the front office of the old Pittsburgh AHL franchise. "You had to admire him, though, because he was such a competitor. Cleveland seemed to get off to a bad start every year—until Freddie sorted things out. By Christmas we'd be 20 points up and pulling away, but in March you'd look up and there would be Freddie parked at your doorstep, itching for the playoffs to start."
"I couldn't offer Freddie a lot of money," says Selke, "because I didn't have it to offer. All I could give him was a one-year contract and a helluva challenge."
Early this season there were times when Glover came close to putting on a uniform again. But, realizing that sooner or later he had to make it behind the bench, he was content merely to take a full shift in full gear in practice. During games he bashed his hand black and blue and his wristwatch silly against the dasher. "Sometimes," he says, "those officials make me so mad I want to take a bite out of a stick, but I'm getting better."
The scrappy, hard-skating game the Seals now play is more a reflection of what Glover used to be than what he is now. He handles the players in a relatively calm, controlled manner and still manages to light their fire. Because they are so young (the average age is 26.8, second lowest in the NHL), the Seals come up with a clinker now and then. They have been beaten 7-0 and 9-0 by St. Louis and Boston and 8-4 by Montreal. But they have a marvelous ability to bounce back. Center Ted Hampson, one of the half-dozen former Red Wings on the team, is the captain and leading scorer (23 goals, 38 assists). Second to St. Louis' Red Berenson in the West scoring race, Hampson is a digger and a hustler reminiscent of Toronto's Norm Ullman, and the job of lifting the club when it is down inevitably falls to him. Billy Hicke, a former Canadien and Ranger, is enjoying his finest year under Glover with 20 goals and 33 assists. Two rookies, Norm Ferguson and Mike Laughton—the latter the senior men's figure skating champion of the Kootenays region of British Columbia—have 43 goals between them, and Ferguson is a strong contender for Rookie of the Year honors. Gary Jarrett has 20 goals, six of them the important first goal of a game.
During the player draft last June, Selke and Glover plucked Carol Vadnais from Montreal's juicy chain, and today Vadnais would be the top young defenseman on any NHL club except Boston. Defenseman Bert Marshall, one of those former Red Wings on the team, is blossoming even while combating injuries. And Doug Roberts, one of the two Americans in the NHL, has benefited from a switch from right wing to defense.
"We figured we'd know by Christmas if we had a hockey player in Roberts," Glover says. "We found out a long time before that." The turning point came, all agree, in a game in St. Louis. Roberts had been playing an improving defense alongside Marshall, who that night suddenly succumbed to the Hong Kong flu. All at once Roberts found himself on the ice with Francois Lacombe, a talented 21-year-old but no Bobby Orr.
"I knew I had to learn faster," says Roberts. "When Freddie put me out there with Frank he might as well have sewed an A [for assistant captain] on my sweater." Roberts is no Orr, either, but since St. Louis he has played as if he deserves his A.
The Seals have been shakiest where they expected to be strongest—in goal. Regulars Gary Smith and Charlie Hodge have been inconsistent, but help has arrived in the rangy, quick-witted person of 21-year-old Chris Worthy. It will take only a little seasoning for Worthy to become an exceptional goalie. He has been at his best against the East, winning three games and tying one. Even in two heavy defeats he kept his head.
Happy over Worthy, mad about Glover and walking with his head up, Bill Torrey left the club's offices last Saturday morning for The Elegant Farmer Restaurant in Jack London Square, where the NHL was to make the official announcement of Trans-National's takeover. "I'll be glad when this year is over," he said, tapping his briefcase. "This ownership thing has been dragging on so long we haven't been able to do a lot of things we've wanted to do. I've been carrying Freddie's new contract around for two weeks now."