If nothing else, you can say this guy had one of the most bad-ass masks for the times. While it was the start of the era of painted masks and while he didn't need to utilize it much, it still stands out as one of the most memorable masks of the time. He was in every odd expansion place before landing in LA-- which is where the NHL Draft was this past week. Not really a connecting theme, but we'll say it is and assume I planned it out that way. This week, we look at "The Cobra" Gary Simmons.
Simmons started off his career with the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Central Alberta Hockey League. While it seems those stats from the 1960's have long been lost; the ones the stuck around are of a series that he probably wish may have not had happened. Simmons was able to carry the Oil Kings through the CAHL playoffs, taking the Abbott Cup for the Western Canadian Junior title and moved to the Memorial Cup finals against the Niagara Falls Flyers. While he had a solid 8-0 record to capture the Abbott Cup, the Flyers were too much for the Oil Kings, with the Flyers outscoring the Oil Kings 27-11 in the five games, with Simmons taking all of those goals-against. After his career in juniors, Simmons went to the IHL for the 1965-66 season, toiling between the Port Huron Flags, who moved to Des Moines and the Oak Leafs, then heading over to the Toledo Blades before the season was up.
It was a strange turn of events, seeing Simmons going to Newfoundland and playing senior hockey with the Conception Bay Cee Bees. In there, Simmons would be a solid keeper, going 23-14-0 in his first season in 1966-67, while going 9-4 in the 13 playoff games with the Cee Bees. Simmons stuck around again for the 1967-68 season with a little less luck than the previous year, going 20-17-3 in his 40 games and only playing six games and going 4-2 for the playoffs. It was a dismal season in 1968-69, with Simmons going 8-27-5 for the Cee Bees and throw into question his abilities. Simmons moved from Newfoundland back to Alberta, playing for the Calgary Stampeders of the Alberta Senior Hockey League, though he wasn't sure what he was able to do-- but put all the doubters to rest. Simmons bounced back in a big way for the 1969-70 season, going 30-8-0 in his 38 games with a 2.97 GAA. For the 1970-71 season, Simmons was picked up by the Western Hockey League's (non-junior) San Diego Gulls, where he would go 5-6-0 in 14 games for the Gulls; but wouldn't be enough to keep him for the 1971-72 season, where he would go back to the Stampeders for 21 games.
Someone from the WHL saw something in Simmons, as the Phoenix Roadrunners picked up Simmons for the 1972-73 season, where he would 18-15-2 with three shutouts on the season, playing a platoon system with Don Caley. Simmons would be back with the Roadrunners for the 1973-74 season, stepping into the starting role for Caley. He would not disappoint much, going 28-17-2 for the Roadrunners and 8-1 in the playoffs. Phoenix is where Simmons got his nickname, with his coach Bob Barlow saying that Simmons was "like a cobra" after a reporter described Simmons as a snake in the net. That would be the artwork for Simmons' mask after that point. However, that's where the reality started to become interesting and a bit more intense for Simmons.
The Roadrunners were granted WHA expansion after the 1973-74 season and the rights of the players from the WHL days were transferred over. However, in some sort of crazy situation, the NHL and WHA could trade between the leagues-- which is what happened with Simmons being traded to the California Golden Seals of the NHL for cash. Simmons would team up with Gilles Meloche as the tandem, with Simmons seeing 37 games with the Seals and going 10-21-3 for the 1974-75 season. Simmons had a small bounce-back after his subpar season, going 15-19-5 for te 1975-76 season in 40 games, closing the gap with the goalies. The Seals were moved from California to Cleveland and became the Barons, where Simmons would follow, but only get 15 games in the 1976-77 season fort he Barons (2-8-4) before he was on the move again.
The Barons sent Simmons and Jim Moxey to the Los Angeles Kings for Gary Edwards and Juha Widing. Simmons would have very little work behind Rogie Vachon in LA, playing only four games in the 1976-77 season, going 1-2-1 in them. More limited work for Simmons and more struggles with only 14 games in and a 2-7-2 record to show for it. Simmons would not make the Kings roster and would be send to the AHL's Springfield Indians, but would only play five games (2-2-1) before deciding to hang up the pads.
FOHS buddy and trade rumor royalty Lyle Richardson of Spector's Hockey did an interview with Simmons three year's ago and is definitely worth the read. Click the links for Part One and then after that Part Two.
Simmons now lives in Lake Havasu City, Arizona where he and his wife own and run a combination lingerie and adult toy store (not as good as a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell) and it is a fitting retirement plan-- an unusual retirement for a guy with an unusual route to the NHL. One thing you can't say is that Simmons didn't pay his dues. He went all around for a place to play and did all he could to make it. It was a short-lived career, but will always be a memorable one if only for one mask.