Gone are the fanatical kids who wore World War II German Army helmets and proudly called themselves Schultz' Army. Gone are the days when his appearance on the ice enraged road crowds. Gone are the fears of imminent court appearances and investigations by D.A.s and legal bills. And gone, long gone, is his name from the list of the NHL's leading badmen. "Here I am in California now," says Dave Schultz, "trying to prove that I can play hockey."
Having had just seven goals and eight assists in 50 games for the Los Angeles Kings, Schultz, it would seem, has proved he cannot play hockey and would be better off becoming the Hammer again. But L.A. Coach Bob Pulford is of another mind. "I think Schultz will be a player," he says, "and I couldn't have said that when he joined us in October. At that time I thought of him the way I had always thought of him when he was a Philadelphia Flyer. As, well, kind of a jerk. But it turns out he's a fine, sincere person who works as hard as anyone we have. Now that he has learned what we want him to do, he has been playing well. I think Dave Schultz may prove that he can play hockey—not just fight."
For four years Schultz' hammering fists were the symbol of Philadelphia's brawling rise from mediocrity to two successive Stanley Cup championships. Then last summer the NHL reacted to outside pressure and passed a number of antiviolence rules designed to curb the broadsided attacks of players such as Schultz. So the Flyers decided to switch rather than fight and traded Schultz to the Kings. "We wanted to play five-on-five for a couple of periods a game," says Marcel Pelletier, Philadelphia's director of player personnel.
Schultz scoffs at such talk. "I never left the Flyers shorthanded too often," he says. "They just decided to change their image. They dumped me, and a couple of weeks ago they dumped Jack McIlhargey. At first I was upset, sure, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I'm getting a chance to prove something here in Los Angeles, and I never would have got the chance with the Flyers."
February 14, 1977
While Schultz has received more publicity than any King except his roommate Marcel Dionne, who is battling Montreal's Guy Lafleur for the NHL scoring title, almost all of his ink has been devoted to tales of a soft-spoken, friendly, misunderstood guy who once lived at a Mennonite Bible camp, who likes to build models and who is a walking Big Brother. In fact, until last week's battle royal against Washington when he picked up two fighting penalties, Schultz had been involved in only one real brawl.
Not coincidentally, that occurred the first time he came to Philadelphia with the Kings. In all, Schultz, Pulford and four other players were ejected from the game after a first-period melee. "I was too keyed up," Schultz says. Since then he has received only one game misconduct penalty—and he earned that for being the third man, not the first, into a fight.
One night in New York, Schultz stunned the crowd by refusing to let the Rangers' Greg Polis goad him into battle. He put his arms by his sides, passively absorbed Polis' punches, then watched the Ranger go to the penalty box by himself for five minutes, during which time the Kings scored the game-winning goal.
At his present rate, the reformed Schultz will spend some 250 minutes in penalty boxes this season. While that will not qualify him for the Lady Byng trophy as the NHL's most gentlemanly player, it will be hours less than his record 472 minutes in 1974-75 as well as his career average of 347 minutes per season. And so far Schultz has been involved in only 12 fights; one year in Philadelphia he had 26.
"I really haven't changed that much," Schultz insists. "The difference is partly the new rules, but the biggest thing is that the Flyers always hit and the Kings don't ever hit. I did some crazy things in Philadelphia. I can't believe some of the things I did. I'm not saying what I did was right, but I wouldn't do it any differently if I had to do it all over again.
"As far as influencing little kids, what I did probably wasn't right. But it would have been impossible for me to make it as young as I did [he was 23 when he joined the Flyers] without fighting the way I did. It would have been nice, sure, if I had the talent to go out there and score 30 goals, period. But I didn't have that talent. And the image thing never hurt me. It made me a lot of money on and off the ice."
Schultz, who commands a $75,000 annual salary, is an occasional policeman for the Kings, but he also takes a regular turn at left wing on a line with Vic Venasky and Don Kozak. "I'm 27 now and midway through my career," Schultz says, "so getting the chance to play full time is very important to me. In Philadelphia, I'd make a mistake and that would be it. I never played that regularly." And those 1,386 minutes he spent in penalty boxes didn't provide Schultz with very much skating room.
Nevertheless, it hardly looks as though Schultz will someday be a goal scorer like Dionne. "I know I'm not going to score 25 or 30 goals each year," he says. "I did score 20 goals for the Flyers in 1973-74, and I proved something then. But hockey games are won in the corners. Look at the Islanders, the Flyers and the Bruins. All their forwards go into the corners and hit. That's what I can do, like Bob Nystrom of the Islanders does or Terry O'Reilly of the Bruins. They've become good players because they've worked hard."
When Schultz arrived in L.A., Pulford placed him on a line with Dionne, obviously hoping Schultz would both protect the little right wing and get the puck to him from the corners. But that never worked out, and Pulford quickly separated them. "I came here so late," Schultz says, "that I never knew what they expected me to do. How much did they want me to fight, for instance? Now I'm starting to get the feel of things."
While Schultz now fits well with the Kings, Pulford was not ecstatic when owner Jack Kent Cooke acquired the Hammer in an attempt to boost sagging ticket sales. "No comment, he's on the team, that's all I know," Pulford said at the time.
Cooke, who has established residence in Las Vegas, has not seen his team play all season, but, to Pulford's displeasure, he phones in daily orders. This modus operandi has prompted rumors that Pulford will be coaching elsewhere next season—probably in Chicago or Toronto. Schultz, though, never wants to leave California. "People don't recognize me out here," he says, "but I had enough of that in Philadelphia. I'll take the weather of California and the chance to prove that Dave Schultz is really a hockey player, any day."