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The San Jose Sharks and Their Travel To the Stanley Cup Through Oakland, CA

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06/01/2016 — It would be pointless to recreate the route from north of the Bay Area to south of the Bay Area. And I definitely am not trying to name that tune. It was 1967 and the Vietnam War was blazing, anti-war protests were in full swing and being a hippie was the so-to-speak modern trend.

This was also the summer of the NHL doubling in size from 6 to 12 teams. They included the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and the California Golden Seals. Yes, you say who in the Hockey Gods name were the Seals? They were originally a Western Hockey League team (named the San Francisco Seals) purchased by Barry Van Gerbig with the intent of moving into the NHL as he was awarded an expansion team for the Bay area.

Starting in the Cow Palace, he then moved the team to Oakland in the Alameda County Coliseum and changed the name to the California Seals. The team struggled from the start with poor attendance. Fast forward after one new owner in between and then Charles (Charlie) O. Finley purchased the franchise in time for the 1970-1971 season.
Mr. Finley was known for being the owner of the famous Oakland Athletics (you know, with players like Rolle Fingers and Reggie Jackson), who won their share of Championships and quickly changed the name to the California Golden Seals. The team colors were changed to green and gold (matching their MLB counterpart) including skates colored to match and then changed to white.

Thee Seals were an outcast team in a non-hockey State (hockey was far from the popular game that the “Great One” helped to explode into what it is today). They struggled to win and were like a precursor to “Slap Shot.” Filmmaker Mark Grezcmiel, in an interview from 2015 with Josh Cooper of Puck Daddy, spoke about completing his documentary that pointed to some interesting times for the team like putting lobsters on a plane (they did not travel in a private plane), so you can imagine the reaction from the other passengers — which followed, of course, with plenty of debauchery.

The team did have talent, such as the late defenseman Carol Vadnais, goaltender Giles Meloche and forward Denis Maruk. They could have had Guy Lafleur if they had not traded their first round pick in the 1971 draft to the Montreal Canadians. They even had a GM named Bill Torrey who left after not getting along with Charlie O. Who is Mr. Torrey?…he only later guided the New Islanders to 4 Stanley Cups in a row.

So as the team was perfecting how to lose only making the playoffs twice in their existence, they were taken over by the NHL in 1974 after Mr. Finley attempted to sell the team to a group who wanted to move the them to Indianapolis. By 1976, the new owner Melvin Swig, having only owned the team for a year, was granted permission to move them to Cleveland — home of minority owners George and Gordon Gund who named the team the Cleveland Barons. After even worse attendance in 1978 the team merged with another struggling franchise in the Minnesota North Stars.

The Gunds sold their interest in the Stars by 1990 and were awarded an expansion team back in the Bay Area to start playing in the 1991-1992 season. So that is how we get back to San Jose (Sharks). Additionally, the arena where the Sharks played their inaugural season was the Cow Palace former home of the San Francisco Seals.

Things have come a long way for hockey north of Hollywood. Gone is the outcast team whose mascot would be Shark meat. Gone are the Hippies (I think). Now the Seals have been replaced by a team whose mascot a top apex ocean predator — making the playoffs 19 of their first 25 years and getting to the final dance of the playoffs for the first time.

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