January 25, 2014

Hockey Went Hollywood Back In 1927

The pretty young lady in this photo is Vera Ellen. This Hollywood star was best known for her dancing work in musical movies, starring opposite of the likes of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and the Marx Brothers. Modern audiences may only recognize her for her supporting role in the holiday classic White Christmas. While Bing Crosby is smitten with Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye tries getting Ms. Ellen, playing the role of Judy, under the mistletoe.

The hockey player in the photo is Bill Barilko. Yes, that Bill Barilko. The same Bill Barilko that famously scored the Stanley Cup winning goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1951, only then to disappear in a plane crash weeks later.

Bashin' Bill came out of northern Ontario in 1945 to play for the Leafs minor league team in Hollywood of all places. The Hollywood Wolves, playing out of the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, were a short-lived hockey team in the Pacific Coast Hockey League. They lasted just three seasons, from 1944 through 1947, with Barilko playing most of the final two seasons in LA before being called up to the Leafs. Kevin Shea dedicates a whole chapter on this Hollywood adventure in his biography Barilko: Without A Trace.

The Wolves' California based opponents included the Oakland Oaks, San Diego Skyhawks, Los Angeles Monarchs, Pasadena Panthers and San Francisco Shamrocks. The Vancouver Canucks were also in this league, as well as teams from Seattle, Portland and New Westminster. The PCHL and hockey in California was all introduced by a pair of visionary brothers - Phil and Cliff Henderson.

Other notables to play for the Hollywood Wolves were all veterans near the end of their careers - Ching Johnson, Jack Keating, Eric "Doc" Prentice, Bob Gracie (who also coached) and former Hart Trophy winner Cowboy Tom Anderson. Vera Ellen, by the way, was the team's "mascot."

How the team got the nickname Wolves is a mystery. You'd think the marketing department would have pushed for Dreamers or something.

Professional hockey in "Hollywood" actually dates back to 1927 when a team called the the Millionaires played in the California Hockey League. Over the years teams called the Stars and Bears would also play in various low level leagues.

The California Hockey League iced teams from Los Angeles (Maroons, Richfields, Millionaires and Angels), Oakland (Shieks and Checkers), Richfield (Oilers) and San Francisco (Seals, Blackhawks, Tigers, Rangers). That league would last just 5 years.

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