As I continue to go through the great questions, I thought I would post Don’s interview with former King Jay Wells, as part of catching up with some of the most popular Kings of the recent past. Don got some great stories out of Jay, which makes this a really good read…
Number 24 was mean and nasty and could clear out a crease with the best of them.
Jay Wells patrolled the blue line for nine seasons as a Los Angeles King and did so with grit, muscle, determination and a passion for the sport and the city. And he did this for some fairly horrible Kings teams that sadly could not collectively match the intensity and dedication of the 6-1, 205-lb stay-at-home defenseman.
Still, Wells recalls Los Angeles fondly and admits that when he thinks of hockey, he thinks of L.A. This despite the fact that he ultimately took home hockey’s grandest prize, the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1993-94.
Wells now resides in the town he was born, Paris, Ontario, where he owns a farm and a saw mill business. His passion for the game of hockey, however remains, and he is pondering his next step into coaching or scouting.
Jay Wells spent a few minutes reliving his memories as a member of the Los Angeles Kings from 1979-80 to 1987-88.
Catching Up With……Jay Wells
Question: So you were the number 16 pick overall in the 1979 draft, you had a few months in the AHL with Binghamton and then the Kings came calling. What was it like to get thrown to the wolves so quickly?
Wells: Well the first season was a funny one actually. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I went down to Los Angeles and I was hoping that I could make it. You know there were only six rounds that year and I think four of us ended up sticking around there, J.P. Kelly, Dean Hopkins, Mark Hardy and myself. John Gibson was another guy who was drafted, but he was sent down to the minors in Binghamton right away. We all stuck there for a while, and then about after a month or so, they had a lot of older defenseman there, Randy Manery, Randy Holt, Barry Gibbs, Dave Hutchinson was there. So I got sent down to Binghamton for two months and it was probably the worst time of my life. The team was owned by Boston so we were just affiliated with them and there were only three or four of us there, Mark Hardy ended up joining me there, and it was just a struggle. The Boston organization mostly just wanted to play their guys leaving out the L.A. boys. We were young kids looking to learn and we were getting no direction. We had a coach named Pat Kelly who got fired about a month after us getting there and then Dave Forbes took over and he was a player assistant at the time and hadn’t really coached before, so I found myself just sitting on the bench and not really even playing. Thank goodness L.A. came down and finally saw us play a little. They saw us sitting on the bench and pretty much rotting, so they decided to pull us up, both Mark Hardy and myself. We never looked back after that. We had to pay our dues, as we made a lot of mistakes which we had to live with and so did they. I feel we grew into fairly solid defensemen for the eight or nine years that we were there.
Question: Do you have any lasting memories of those first few games in the NHL?
Wells: The very first training camp there were quite a few memories. Randy Holt was on our team and he was a very physical guy who loved to fight. I remember we were playing the Edmonton Oilers one time and Randy decided to fight Dave Semenko. And Randy Holt just got trashed by Dave Semenko, just beat up terribly. So it’s my first year and my eyes are as big as saucers when I saw the fight and the way Semenko handled Holt and I thought Randy was a pretty good fighter. So I remember we went into the dressing room and Randy walks in and he is just kind of rocking back and forth and he looks over to Randy Manery and he goes, “Should I do him again? Should I do him again?” And I’m just scared to death. And Manery says, “Yeah, whatever you think.” So we go out for the next period and he Holt fights Semenko again and just gets trashed again. He comes back to the dressing room, he got a five and a ten and I come in after the period and he’s just got bumps and bruises all over his face and body, and he’s rocking back and forth again and asks Manery the same question, “Should I do him again?” I’m just petrified, I mean this guy is just psycho. Manery says, “You know Holty, I think you proved your point.” But he still went out and took him on a third time and got kicked out of the game. He lost that fight too. I’m thinking, my goodness, if this is the NHL, just what have I gotten myself in to? I came from junior hockey as a fighter. I was a defensive defenseman and I had never lost a fight. So when I came in I thought I was going to rule the roost, but after watching those bouts I figured I’d better readjust.
Question: Well it certainly didn’t keep you from being a physical player, as Kings fans will recall that you were a defensive defenseman with that physical edge. How were you able to overcome those early fears?
Wells: The fear part of it wasn’t the big thing. I can’t recall there every being a time when I was involved in any kind of physical entanglement where I wound up being injured. I’ve always been a physical player and we had this pond out behind our house when I was growing up, and I remember my dad being asked at my retirement party about me being such a physical player with my two brothers being goal scorers, and my dad’s response without missing a beat was that when we started out at the pond and my brothers were three and six years older than me, that the bottom line was that he (Jay) didn’t know what a puck was until he was 15 or 16 years old and he could knock his brothers down. I’d chase them around and knock them down and take the puck and then they would take it back from me and that is what got me into that style of player. I never wanted to be scared of anybody and I wanted to prove that you couldn’t hurt me, and that was the way I played. If someone beat me I learned that you have to go back out and challenge them again. You may not win, but you might end up with some young guys on the bench with those saucer eyes just like me and they will learn something, and it also helped to earn myself some space on the ice.
Question: You played with some interesting coaches out in Los Angeles, Bob Berry, Don Perry, Pat Quinn just to name three of them. Talk about how some of the coaches in L.A. helped to shape or possibly hinder your playing style.
Wells: I had about nine different coaches during the time I was out there, even Rogie Vachon coached us for a few games, Roger Neilson, Ftorek, Parker MacDonald, I mean we had lots of different styles. I have a passion for coaching now and I believe that every single one of those coaches had a gift. Some were great teachers, some studied the game really well, some were great people and not great coaches (laughs). They still had a gift and I think the trick was that not every coach is your style, but most coaches respected my style and my play and they used me, and the more a coach uses you the more confidence you have. I was always treated very well in Los Angeles, but if I had to choose one that really influenced me an awful lot it would be Pat Quinn. When he was there I needed not only a hockey person who knew the game, but also a fatherly image and that year he was there I played a lot and we had a good relationship and I learned a lot of my skills from him. Bob Berry gave me my first chance and every time I see him I always have a smile for him because he gave me my shot.
Question: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you for your memories of the Miracle on Manchester game.
Wells: We get to see that game a little bit around here, for some reason they play it a lot (laughs). The next day someone will come up to me and say that they saw me play hockey last night. And I’ll ask them what game and they’ll say it was the Miracle on Manchester. I’ll ask them if they watched it real close and if they say yes I’ll ask them who scored the first (Kings) goal (laughs). It was just a wild, wild game and we always had such a grudge match with Edmonton. They always would come in and beat us so easily so we had a real hatred for that team and those players. So when we were down 5-0 and they started taunting us a little bit it really did spark all of us a little and we came out in the third period and started pecking away. Honestly, I don’t know if when we came out for the third if we really felt like we could come back, but we weren’t going to put up with the way they were taunting us. Even the coach was laughing at us. So we just pecked away and in those final seconds we tied it, and you go into overtime and you just never know who is going to win, but when Daryl Evans fired that slap shot off the face off to win it – it was all we could do to catch him after – he scored and took off, and if it wasn’t for the long stick that I had I don’t think we would have ever caught him (laughs). The sad thing was that for eight or nine years it was the best memory. We had some really good teams, but we didn’t have good success for some reason, but that was a great feeling that one. It was also an awesome feeling going back and handling them in that fifth game to eliminate them.
Question: What was it like for you to play at The Forum?
Wells: It was a very interesting building and we had a very interesting owner who would bring in lots of interesting people from movies and entertainment. That was all very glitzy to be at the Forum at that time, but to actually play there we really had a great core group of fans. We might not sell out except for New York or Montreal, we might really only have eight or nine thousand fans, say for a game against Minnesota, but we have a real core group of fans of about eight thousand and they followed us loyally. They were good, loyal fans and when you played well they appreciated it and if you played poorly, well, they weren’t like New York where you play bad for one period and they boo you, but you have a bad period in Los Angeles, they kind of understood it. There were times in Los Angeles, and I hate to say it, but we really took some nights off and didn’t play well, but the fans were great and there were some diehards, a really good crowd. It was always interesting before, during and after the games.
Question: You sure didn’t take any nights off in 1985-86, which turns out to be the high water mark for you in terms of statistics. Any particular reason why that season was so good for you?
Wells: If you broke it down statistically, every year I would score a goal or two and that would be it. That year I scored 11 goals. For those first few years I never played on the power play and I remember our power play was struggling quite a lot and I remember walking in and it was Pat Quinn, Mike Murphy and Brad Selwood. Like I said, the power play was struggling, but they kept putting out the same lines, whether it was the Marcel Dionne line or the Bernie Nicholls line, but it just wasn’t working. So I walked in after a game one time and I said very calm and cool, “I don’t understand you guys, what you are doing here. Power plays can make or break games and teams and ours is floundering terribly yet you keep putting the same guys on the ice every single time.” So Pat is sitting there and says, “So Jay, what do you suggest we do?’ So I say, “Put me on.” And literally, I had three guys laughing hysterically in the coaches’ room (laughs). I said, “I don’t understand what you are laughing about.” I was starting to get a little hot under the collar. So I said, “The reason why you should put me out there is you just have guys who know they are going to go back out there, they are just wait for things to kind of come. Put me out there with Garry Galley, Jimmy Fox, Tiger Williams, me and I don’t remember the center, but we will have a very simple power play. Just give us a chance and if nothing else, we’ll make the Marcel Dionne line hungrier and they will play better.” So the next day in practice we worked on it very simple, two passes and we shot the puck, Tiger stood in front and caused trouble and Foxy picked up scrap and sure enough we go into Hartford and the first power play comes up, they put us on and wouldn’t you know it, I scored a goal. We come off high-fiving, my first goal of the season. Then we went into Philadelphia and they put us out there on the first power play and sure enough I scored again. That was the same game that Dave Brown took me on and I ended up getting kicked out in the second period. But that was the start of my points. Power play was everything and I scored 10 goals on the power play and I got lots of assists. That’s why there was such a big jump in the stats. That was a year that changed some coaches’ outlook on me. If I could keep it simple I could work the power play, but if I tried to get fancy I wound up back on the bench.
Question: What are you memories of living with your family in Los Angeles?
Wells: When I was going to the draft, there were two places I wanted to go: Los Angeles or Atlanta. The reasons I wanted to go there was the sun and I needed a team where I was going to be able to grow. I wasn’t the best puck-handler. I had a brother get drafted by Montreal who was much better, but he got lost in the shuffle, so I wanted to go to a team that was up-and-coming and willing to grow with me. When I got out there, California was overwhelming and that first year I probably got lost in the glitter and you find yourself doing things you probably shouldn’t, but I realized that if I wanted to stay I had to buckle down on the ice. I really enjoyed playing there, the people and I really enjoyed the town. I lived down on The Stand in Hermosa Beach and then in El Segundo for a while. I always stayed close to the water. It was a very sad moment when I was traded to Philadelphia because I really loved it in Southern California. During my time in Los Angeles I met a wonderful woman who wasn’t a California girl, but she had lived there for 13 years and I ended up marrying her. When people around here (Paris, Ontario) think of me and hockey they think of the New York Rangers since I won the Stanley Cup with them. But when I think of hockey I think of Los Angeles.
Question: So what keeps you busy these days?
Wells: I stayed in hockey as an assistant coach in the AHL for four years and then I came home and ended up coaching Junior B hockey last year and I just try and stay in the game teaching it at the hockey school. I also have a little side business. I have a saw mill. I own a farm here with a saw mill and I cut logs for a living, that is what my main business is when I am not working with hockey. But I’m 50 now and just pondering about getting back in to it. Hockey is my passion still. I still enjoy it, love it and helping kids get to that next level and I am exploring avenues of getting into scouting.