As told to: Perry LefkoI was excited about going to my first training camp after the California Golden Seals drafted me in the second, round, 21st overall in 1975. The team was not that strong, so it gave me an opportunity to crack the roster. Yes, growing up in Toronto you’d want to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs and you’re wondering what is hockey life in California. I knew the team had worn white skates and then green and yellow skates because the former owner, Charlie O. Finley, wanted his players to wear the same colours as his Oakland A’s baseball team. We just had the regular black skates. The new owner was Mel Swig, whose family owned the Fairmont hotel chain.
The training camp started in Portland, Oregon and after two weeks we went to the Salt Lake, which was the home of the Seals’ minor-league franchise. It was fun. At that time, a lot of teams had training camp in different cities, just to be away from everything and have the guys blend in together and get to know one another. It was a challenge, something different, being a 19-year-old at the time.
I was represented by three guys from Montreal and their representative was Hall of Famer Boom Boom Geoffrion. I knew he was a great goal scorer and had played for the Montreal Canadiens, so it was just an honour to be around a person like that.
I didn’t feel I had the ability or the personality to be with the top agent at the time, Alan Eagleson. I thought I was going to be drafted when I was 18 years old because I had some pretty good junior years with London. The Washington Capitals had their training camp in London and we played them in an exhibition game one time and I scored five goals. I thought if I could do that I could play in the NHL and thought I’d be drafted. But it didn’t happen right away, and I think a lot of that had to do with my size. I was five-eight and a sopping 158 pounds.
I was told after I got drafted I’d be going to the minors for a couple years. In training camp, myself and Boom Boom went in to see the team’s general manager, Bill McCreary, and president, Munson Campbell. Boom Boom said: “My Dennis score you lots of goals. He no play no minor. We want a contract now.” I didn’t say much. He did all the talking. Of course I was frustrated and mad. I had put up pretty good numbers in junior and now I had to prove myself again.
He had told me before we went into the meeting to just let him talk and don’t say anything and we’ll go from there. It wasn’t a long meeting, maybe half an hour or 45 minutes, and to me it was an exciting part but also a frustrating part because they weren’t offering me a contract. It wasn’t a really happy time after I left the meeting. I was very mad and Boom Boom knew that. He just said, “just go prove it to them.”
My first exhibition game was against the Los Angeles Kings and I played a lot against Marcel Dionne. He was a small player, very electrifying and a very successful player, one of the top players in the game, and I got to play against him. I was pretty excited. I wanted to show the team I could do it and I did. I scored two goals and was the game’s first star. Everything fell into place. Things worked out right away. I was told afterward I’d be getting a contract. I got $30,000 to sign, and a three-year deal starting at $30,000 for the first year, $40,000 for the second and $50,000 for the third. It was really exciting because I had some money and I was able to give some of it back to my parents. I asked them what they wanted and they said a pool to entertain their friends and they loved it. I bought myself a ’73 Corvette.
Goalie Gilles Meloche took me under his wing. One night at training camp a bunch of us went out for dinner and I asked the waiter if they had any Mateus rose wine and Gilles said, “that’s terrible stuff.” He said, “I’m going to introduce you to the real good stuff. It was California red wine.”
He lived in Hayward and he suggested I rent a condo near his place so he and his wife, Nicole, could bring me over for dinner. I rented a condo with Bob Girard near Gilles.
I lived about 15 miles from the practice rink, and once I got stopped by the cops for driving too fast. I had 21 on my license plate and the cop knew who I was and just told me to slow down. It was kind of cute. I didn’t get a ticket or anything like that.
It was quite an experience, no doubt about it, beginning my NHL career.
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