Gone are the fanatical kids who wore World War II German Army helmets and proudly called themselves Schultz' Army. Gone are the days when his appearance on the ice enraged road crowds. Gone are the fears of imminent court appearances and investigations by D.A.s and legal bills. And gone, long gone, is his name from the list of the NHL's leading badmen. "Here I am in California now," says Dave Schultz, "trying to prove that I can play hockey."
Having had just seven goals and eight assists in 50 games for the Los Angeles Kings, Schultz, it would seem, has proved he cannot play hockey and would be better off becoming the Hammer again. But L.A. Coach Bob Pulford is of another mind. "I think Schultz will be a player," he says, "and I couldn't have said that when he joined us in October. At that time I thought of him the way I had always thought of him when he was a Philadelphia Flyer. As, well, kind of a jerk. But it turns out he's a fine, sincere person who works as hard as anyone we have. Now that he has learned what we want him to do, he has been playing well. I think Dave Schultz may prove that he can play hockey—not just fight."
For four years Schultz' hammering fists were the symbol of Philadelphia's brawling rise from mediocrity to two successive Stanley Cup championships. Then last summer the NHL reacted to outside pressure and passed a number of antiviolence rules designed to curb the broadsided attacks of players such as Schultz. So the Flyers decided to switch rather than fight and traded Schultz to the Kings. "We wanted to play five-on-five for a couple of periods a game," says Marcel Pelletier, Philadelphia's director of player personnel.
Schultz scoffs at such talk. "I never left the Flyers shorthanded too often," he says. "They just decided to change their image. They dumped me, and a couple of weeks ago they dumped Jack McIlhargey. At first I was upset, sure, but it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I'm getting a chance to prove something here in Los Angeles, and I never would have got the chance with the Flyers."
While Schultz has received more publicity than any King except his roommate Marcel Dionne, who is battling Montreal's Guy Lafleur for the NHL scoring title, almost all of his ink has been devoted to tales of a soft-spoken, friendly, misunderstood guy who once lived at a Mennonite Bible camp, who likes to build models and who is a walking Big Brother. In fact, until last week's battle royal against Washington when he picked up two fighting penalties, Schultz had been involved in only one real brawl.
Not coincidentally, that occurred the first time he came to Philadelphia with the Kings. In all, Schultz, Pulford and four other players were ejected from the game after a first-period melee. "I was too keyed up," Schultz says. Since then he has received only one game misconduct penalty—and he earned that for being the third man, not the first, into a fight.
One night in New York, Schultz stunned the crowd by refusing to let the Rangers' Greg Polis goad him into battle. He put his arms by his sides, passively absorbed Polis' punches, then watched the Ranger go to the penalty box by himself for five minutes, during which time the Kings scored the game-winning goal.
At his present rate, the reformed Schultz will spend some 250 minutes in penalty boxes this season. While that will not qualify him for the Lady Byng trophy as the NHL's most gentlemanly player, it will be hours less than his record 472 minutes in 1974-75 as well as his career average of 347 minutes per season. And so far Schultz has been involved in only 12 fights; one year in Philadelphia he had 26.
"I really haven't changed that much," Schultz insists. "The difference is partly the new rules, but the biggest thing is that the Flyers always hit and the Kings don't ever hit. I did some crazy things in Philadelphia. I can't believe some of the things I did. I'm not saying what I did was right, but I wouldn't do it any differently if I had to do it all over again.
"As far as influencing little kids, what I did probably wasn't right. But it would have been impossible for me to make it as young as I did [he was 23 when he joined the Flyers] without fighting the way I did. It would have been nice, sure, if I had the talent to go out there and score 30 goals, period. But I didn't have that talent. And the image thing never hurt me. It made me a lot of money on and off the ice."