Putnam spoke of building loyalty. "We don't want our players wishing they were somewhere else because somebody offered them an extra $1,000. To be a successful organization you've got to have your people working together, glad to be part of the organization. We've talked to our players about this, concentrating on the young ones, and I think we're developing this spirit. And this year for the first time the players are being called upon to make personal appearances. That's important, because when they get known around town, chances are some of them will settle here in the off season. The team has really caught on lately, and if we get a winner this whole thing could blossom—just like it did in St. Louis."
"The secret is just getting over the hump," said Hillman. "Like tonight, against the best team in hockey we played well enough to win for a period and a half—but we lost. With a few breaks we would have won. What is still lacking here is that real hurt that comes when you lose. It just kills Montreal when they lose, and I hear it's getting that way on the Blues. I think it's coming here, too."
In Oakland, the biggest hurt so far has been at the box office, but that situation is improving. The Seals' attendance has been averaging 5,700—up 2,000 from last year. That is so even though the club has suffered heavy injuries. Already six regulars have been sidelined, and only some gritty goaltending by Gary Smith and Charlie Hodge has kept the Seals—outshot in every game so far—in the race.
The only consistent thing about the Minnesota North Stars has been the fans, a marvelous following that has the club averaging an SRO 14,588 in an arena seating 14,368. Minnesota has been spectacular (4-2-0) against the East, pathetic (2-4-0) against the West—but getting better if Saturday's victory over the Blues is any indicator.
Although Pittsburgh is still moribund at the gate, Coach Red Kelly and a few new faces have perked up the Penguins on the ice. "Sometimes I think we're snakebit, though," moans Jack Riley, the general manager. "Like, three days before our home opener I see this piece of wood protruding along the boards, near a net. I tell the maintenance manager about it, and he says he'll have it beveled down. Well, he doesn't, and wouldn't you know, we play Oakland and we're ahead 2-1 in the second period when one of our guys wheels the puck around the boards. It hits that piece of wood and out it comes on the stick of an Oakland player, alone in front of the goal. We tie 2-2 when we should win the game 2-1; that has been the story of our life."
The story in Los Angeles has been Eddie Shack, the former Boston strong boy. Eddie scored the hat trick in his first game in the Forum—and now Eddie can do no wrong. Whenever he scores or throws a stiff check, the organist hammers out something called Clear the Track, Here Comes Shack. There will have to be a heap of clearing if the Kings are to threaten St. Louis. As Bill Putnam says, "The rest of us just go around cutting each other up."