Bay Area's short-lived Seals hockey team recalled in new documentary

It all seems to come back to the white skates, and hockey fans’ fond fascination with a team that had three names — and more owners than names — in its nine-season existence.One of six teams admitted to the NHL in the 1967 expansion, the California...

Bay Area's short-lived Seals hockey team recalled in new documentary

It all seems to come back to the white skates, and hockey fans’ fond fascination with a team that had three names — and more owners than names — in its nine-season existence.

One of six teams admitted to the NHL in the 1967 expansion, the California Seals — later known as the Oakland Seals and California Golden Seals — have achieved cult status. More than 40 years after the team moved to Cleveland and nearly 40 years since the franchise disappeared in a merger with the Minnesota North Stars, the Seals booster club still meets every other month. A tribute to the Seals staged last month by the San Jose Sharks drew throngs of nostalgic fans who soaked up the sight of the team’s old green suitcases and jerseys and reverently greeted former players.

“They were actually mobbed at that game,” said Mark Greczmiel, a freelance TV producer who was an avid Seals fan while he grew up in Alameda. “I was surprised at how many people came that wore Seals jerseys. They were lined up five deep to ask for autographs. It was a pretty emotional night.”

Greczmiel understood their attachment to the team. He took his own emotional involvement a step further by making a 97-minute documentary about the Seals, “The California Golden Seals Story,” using crowdfunding to enhance his “micro” budget and allow him to realize a dream that began when his family moved from Vancouver to the Bay Area and his father took him and his two brothers to Seals games.

The documentary, available for purchase or rental on iTunes, is educational for those who aren’t familiar with the Seals’ history and entertaining for those who remember the colorful green, gold and white uniforms that club owner Charles O. Finley ordered them to wear. Greczmiel interviewed many key players, including Charlie Simmer, Marshall Johnston, Stan Weir, and goaltenders Gary “Cobra” Simmons and Gilles Meloche. He was struck by their frankness, especially the honesty of Rick Hampton, who had been impossibly touted as the next Bobby Orr.

“He was drafted when he was 17, he was like an 18-year-old kid when he joined the team and he had all this pressure on him. So it was really interesting,” Greczmiel said. “He told a story about buying a Mercedes Benz and how all the other players were jealous. And he still has that car. It’s been 40-something years and he still has that car.”

Among Greczmiel’s must-get interviews was Wayne Gretzky, whose first NHL game as a spectator involved the Seals. Greczmiel was told Gretzky could give him only eight minutes. Gretzky stayed much longer and left with a Seals beanie that Greczmiel had given him, promising to wear it at Pebble Beach.

The Seals were laughable, lovable and, above all, memorable. Greczmiel’s documentary hits all the key points and is warmed by the undercurrent of his youthful fandom for a team that couldn’t find long-term success in Northern California.

“For nine seasons we watched the Seals play. Every year was an adventure,” he said in a phone interview. “Every year you thought it was going to be a better team. Some years they were, then something horrible would happen, like Charles Finley or the World Hockey Association (luring players away) or a variety of other things.”

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