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Cooke himself knows hockey and takes great interest in the club, although he insists that he never interferes with his manager or Coach Red Kelly. "Of course I stay close to the team," he said. "That's half the fun. I get goose bumps just thinking about some of these guys and how they've come through for us."
Although the Kings have been steady and surprisingly good, they are not yet Cooke's kind of team. They lack a leader as well as a big scorer, and they have remained colorless and virtually faceless in a town that abhors anonymity. The front office, in an attempt to produce instant heroes, even resorted to assigning nicknames to many players—Cowboy Flett and Jet Joyal head the list—but it could not make them colorful. In fact, Brian Kilrea, who was dubbed Killer, proved so docile that he was sent to the minors last week. Even instant heroes, it appears, are born, not made. So the Kings must go on depending on steady, lackluster men with names like Bill White and Brian Smith. And the fans may keep staying away.
"I'd be kidding," said Cooke, "if I claimed we weren't disappointed in our attendance so far." The Kings' performance before their first crowd in the Forum did little to encourage people to rush back for more. They played their positions fairly well and had some good scoring chances, but they checked poorly and failed to come up with big plays. The Flyers came into Los Angeles without three key men, including their top defenseman, Ed Van Impe, and high scorer, Bill Sutherland; but they still hit hard enough to win, with the help of a brilliant goalie who almost left them only a week earlier.
Doug Favell had been playing well, but not too often, in the Philadelphia goal this season, largely because teammate Bernie Parent was having an exceptional year. Recently Favell got fed up with sitting on the bench and, although he is only 22, threatened to retire if he couldn't play. "I didn't want to go to the minors for more work," he said. "I was almost leading the league in goal-tending and still not playing. I figured if I couldn't make it the way I've played, I might as well get out."
Favell even set a date for his departure—December 26—and thereby missed a chance to play one game. Coach Keith Allen had planned to use him on the 25th, but no coach can appear to be playing someone just because of an ultimatum. On the 26th Favell had a four-hour session with General Manager Bud Poile and decided to stay around.
The Kings would just as soon see Favell go away. The shutout Saturday was Doug's second straight over Los Angeles and the victory a typical one for the Flyers. Ed Hoekstra scored the game's first goal—Philadelphia has scored first in 15 of its 16 wins—and then the Flyers settled down to a game of hard checking, good goaltending and very little shooting. The Flyers have taken more shots on goal than their opponents in only five games this year. Saturday they managed 19 shots, while Favell stopped 25. Doug made one unbelievable save on a shot by Brian Smith that would have tied the score in the second period and added several good stops on Joyal. Afterward he did not sound like a man about to quit hockey. "I guess I did jump the gun a little about retiring," he said, "but maybe it was good to remind them I was around."
Lou Angotti, the hustling team captain, was asked if the Flyers were the best expansion team. "I don't know," he said, "but we sure are the toughest. We have a good basic team, and we make fewer mistakes than the others. Like the Green Bay Packers."
The Flyers, who have lost their last five games against the older NHL clubs, are not readily mistaken for the Packers or, indeed, the Chicago Black Hawks. But as they routed the Kings 9-1 Sunday night in Philadelphia to go four points ahead, they were tough enough. The Kings may settle for second, but they are the youngest team, entitled to look ahead. Cooke is looking, first of all, for bigger crowds, then for first place, then for a Stanley Cup. "I think," he said, "that a favorite phrase of Mr. Branch Rickey applies to all those goals: 'It's as inevitable as tomorrow. But perhaps not as imminent.' "