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"No One Was Killed Outright": L.A.'s Surprising Ice Hockey History

Red Oakley, captain Hollywood Atheltic Club hockey team, 1925
Red Oakley, captain Hollywood Atheltic Club hockey team, 1925
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

This Saturday the Kings and Ducks meet in the first hockey game at Dodger Stadium and the first regular season NHL outdoor game played West of the Mississippi River. A momentous event, but despite the belief the sport is a relative newcomer to our climes, old-time hockey was played in Los Angeles. Yes, there was hockey here long before Kings won the Stanley Cup and even before Wayne Gretzky arrived. Folks, the Zamboni was invented in Paramount.

The first hockey game in Los Angeles was held on February 1, 1917 at the Ice Palace, which was located at 1041 N. Broadway. The contest pitted the Los Angeles Athletic Club vs. The University Club. LAAC's team of ex-pat Canadians won 7-0. In his game report for the Los Angeles Times, Warde Fowler noted: "No one was killed outright."

Amateur and club hockey soon moved to the Palais de Glace, on Melrose near Vermont. College hockey quickly became popular, with USC, UCLA and Loyola fielding teams by the mid-1920s and Occidental soon joining them. April of 1926 saw the first visit by a National Hockey League team when the New York Americans played a series of games against an L.A. all-star squad.

The following year, the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Pirates came west to play games against local teams before meeting each other at the Winter Garden. The game gave Angelenos their first look at an NHL match-up, albeit an exhibition game. The Blackhawks returned for games in 1930, joined by the Boston Bruins. While visits by NHL teams were highlights, the regular attractions at Winter Garden, on Melrose at Van Ness, were college games and the minor league California Hockey League. [This paragraph was changed after publication; see editor's note at the bottom of the piece.]

In 1938, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium hosted its first hockey game and became the regular home ice for top local level match-ups. That same year, the Tropical Ice Gardens opened in Westwood. Initially open air, by 1941 a roof was constructed and, two years later, a series of war relief charity games were held between the Montreal Canadiens and a Canadian Navy team at what was by then called Westwood Ice Bowl.

Bob Hall, Los Angeles Monarchs, 1948
Bob Hall, Los Angeles Monarchs, 1948
Otto Rothschild, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

By 1946, the Pan-Pacific operator was one of three groups that bid to bring an NHL franchise to Los Angeles, but travel costs to the West Coast were considered prohibitive by hockey owners, a view shared with baseball owners. Rebuffed, minor league hockey took up the slack with two Pacific Coast Hockey League teams playing at the Pan, the Los Angeles Monarchs and the Hollywood Wolves. The Monarchs brought the city its first hockey championship when they won the PCHL title in 1947. Hockey drew well in L.A., but the southern division of the league collapsed around the Monarchs in 1950 and the league refused to allow the team to join the northern division, citing travel costs.

The 1950s were a dark period for L.A. hockey above amateur level. By 1956, efforts were made to gain a team in the Western Hockey League, which grew out of the old PCHL. However, the lack of a larger, modern arena proved a hindrance. That changed in July 1959, when the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena opened to give the city a suitable venue. The Sports Arena  soon hosted NHL exhibition games and visiting minor league games.

Willie O'Ree, Los Angeles Blades, 1963
Willie O'Ree, Los Angeles Blades, 1963
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

After  much talk, L.A. finally joined the WHL when the owner of the Victoria Cougars moved his team to the Sports Arena. The newly christened Blades debuted before a crowd of 10,268 on October 13, 1961. Despite only one winning season, the Blades became a popular attraction with players like colorful Howie Young and Willie O'Ree, often called "The Jackie Robinson of Hockey."

When the NHL decided to expand, several L.A. groups bid for a new franchise, among them the Blades owners. In the end, Canadian magnate and Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was selected and the Kings were born. The Kings era began on October 14, 1967 at the Long Beach Arena, with the team playing home games at Long Beach and the Sports Arena until the Forum was ready.

But the Kings weren't the last team to call L.A. home. Formed as a rival to the NHL, the World Hockey Association launched in 1972 with a team in Los Angeles. Beset by financial woes, the Los Angeles Sharks played two seasons at the Sports Arena with three different owners before moving to Detroit, then Baltimore before folding. Another minor league team, also known as the Blades, played a few games in the Sports Arena before folding in 1979.

When Saturday's game is played it will add another page to L.A. hockey history, joining the Monarchs, Wolves, Blades and Sharks ... and the Zamboni.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story gave the incorrect date for the Blackhawks' return to Los Angeles. We regret the error.


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