2012 Stanley Cup Final: For Many LA Kings Faithful, Being On The Verge Of A Championship Is All Too Surreal
June 6, 2012 9 Comments
LOS ANGELES — As the Los Angeles Kings have blown through one opponent after another in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, some of the stories that stand out, outside of those describing what has happened on the ice, have been a bit surprising, and sadly, some have been rather disappointing.
Some of the “roll your eyes” story angles:
- The “discovery” of center Anze Kopitar (see 2012 Stanley Cup Final: Eastern Media’s Ignorance Of All Things LA Kings, Shines Through).
- Trying to find a story in forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter being traded away by the Philadelphia Flyers, bringing up the ancient “Dry Island” story.
Fact is, that’s all really old news that no one cares about anymore. Even the fact that the trades happened this season is ancient history, in terms of why the Flyers traded them away. To be sure, although both are part of Flyers’ history—Richards was their captain—they are now destined to be remembered for their accomplishments with the Kings, not with the Flyers.
- Out of town media still working off the tired premise that Los Angeles is not a hockey town.
This angle has been ongoing since the Kings made the playoffs this season. Come to think of it, this is a story angle that comes up every season, at some point, and will probably never die.
During the first round against the Vancouver Canucks, questions based on this were brought up by Vancouver media. To their credit, we did not hear much of these questions from St. Louis or Phoenix media during the second round or the conference finals, not that they would have any basis to ask such questions, with the teams they cover in the same boat as the Kings, in that regard.
But with the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final facing the New Jersey Devils, a team that has won three Stanley Cups, the assumption from so many (not just the media) is that there is no hockey tradition here, that Southern California hockey fans are not real fans, and could not possibly know anything about the game.
Even one of the questions during the press conference following the Kings 4-0 win in Game 3 on June 4, with Carter, Kopitar, and right wing Justin Williams, was based on those assumptions…
…and was quickly shot down by Williams.
“Ever since I’ve been here, this place has been sold out,” Williams said, with a rather perplexed, maybe even a mildly disgusted look on his face.
Only now are out-of-towners beginning to get a glimpse (yes, just a glimpse) of the truth…that the Los Angeles area is a hockey town, and has been for years and years. The difference is that, unlike most other National Hockey League cities, Kings fans in this metropolitan area are spread out miles and miles away from Staples Center, and in every direction, extending out over many suburban areas, and even across several counties. As such, the Kings will never have a large concentration of fans in close proximity to Staples Center to give it a constant “hockey town” feeling, as so many other teams have.
Former Kings left wing and current President, Business Operations Luc Robitaille also touched on that subject.
“There are [approximately] 16 million people [in the Los Angeles metropolitan area],” said Robitaille. “We know we have 2.5 million hockey fans. We know. We’ve done some research, so we’re very familiar with who likes hockey in Southern California.”
“We know they’re not all LA Kings fans, but we’re trying to reach them all,” added Robitaille. “We hope to grow it to 3 million, and that all of them will be Kings fans. But we know that we’re sharing with the [Anaheim] Ducks, and then, [on a broader scale], we’re sharing with everyone [Angels, Clippers, Dodgers, Lakers, UCLA, USC].”
“Then we have our core fans who have been following us, some of them since 1967, some since the Triple Crown Line. Those people are very, very passionate, and they’ve been following us for years. We didn’t make the playoffs for eight years, and we were still averaging 17,000 a game, which is amazing.”
Maybe after the Kings’ current run, and perhaps, winning the Stanley Cup this season, the hockey world will begin to figure out that Los Angeles really is a hockey town. Just don’t expect more than a relative handful to figure that out, as the stereotypes, evidenced by the never-ending questions raised by out-of-town media, are still way too strong.
Someone Pinch Me!
As the Kings have moved through the playoffs in such dominant fashion, losing just twice in 17 playoff games, they not only became the first NHL team to lead all four playoff series by a 3-0 margin, but they are also nearing something that has not been done since the Edmonton Oilers did it in 1988.
Should the Kings win tonight in Game 4 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final (5:00 PM PDT, NBC Sports Network), not only will they sweep the series against the Devils, but they would also tie the 1988 Stanley Cup Champion Oilers for the best record in a playoff year.
What makes that even more remarkable is the fact that the Oilers were a dynasty team back then, having won the Stanley Cup in 1984, 1985, 1987, and 1988. They were absolutely loaded back then, with the likes of Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Kevin Lowe, Marty McSorley…and some guy named Wayne Gretzky, who would be traded, along with McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, to the Kings on August 9, 1988 (Gretzky and McSorley would later be joined by Kurri; they helped lead the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, where they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games).
Fast forward back to the present…in stark contrast to the 1988 Oilers, this year’s edition squeaked into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, making their dominating journey through the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs a surprise, but not for the reasons many might think.
As a hockey writer, I look at the game, and the Kings, objectively, taking my observations, comments from players, coaches, front office types, etc., analyzing them, and presenting them to all of you for your consumption.
But as a very wise, learned hockey writer, whom I admire greatly, wrote last season, “…to cover hockey, you have to love it,” and I would not be covering the Kings and the NHL if I didn’t love this game dearly.
That love for the game began in 1973, when I was a ten-year-old, living in Culver City, California, about six miles from what was then known as the “Fabulous Forum,” in Inglewood, where the Kings played from December 30, 1967 to October 20, 1999.
Coincidentally, back in those days, the Kings practiced in Culver City, at what is now known as the Culver Ice Arena, so, as a kid who played roller hockey in the neighborhood schoolyard every day (long before inline skates existed), it was easier for me than it was for most in the Los Angeles area to become a Kings fan. I even had former Kings defenseman Gary Sargent’s name written on my stick, which I still have, by the way.
For me, the only downside to being a Kings fan back then was that my parents, who had no idea what hockey was, were not about to purchase season tickets, so I had to be satisfied with my father taking me to an occasional game, maybe a couple of times a year, watch the 15 or so games that were televised on KHJ-TV 9 (now KCAL) here in the Los Angeles area, and then listen to Bob Miller and Dan Avey on the radio (KFI AM 640 and later, KRLA AM 1150) for the remainder of the games.
With the Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, and on the verge of winning the whole enchilada for the first time in their 45-year history, I am finding it difficult to keep the journalist and the hockey fan separate. Indeed, although I now look at the Kings and the NHL objectively, when it comes right down to it, I am still a hockey fan, just like everyone else who has devoted a lot of years to covering this great game as a journalist.
As stated earlier, I became a hockey fan and a Kings fan in 1973, some 39 years ago, the same year Miller, the long-time Voice of the Kings, became the Kings’ play-by-play announcer.
Over the course of those 39 seasons, the Kings have played some good hockey, but the vast majority has been either mediocre, or absolutely horrid. Kings fans who have been following the team for that long are conditioned to expect the worst, and as the Kings have moved through the playoffs this season, that conditioning has always been there, keeping these questions in the back of my mind, not to mention that of many other long-time Kings fans:
When is the bottom going to fall out? When is the inevitable collapse going to happen? When is disaster going to strike?
Even Miller acknowledged having similar thoughts as we spoke informally following Game 3 on June 4.
During the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Kings have torn through Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix, and now, New Jersey. Although their work is not yet done, and anything could still happen, the Kings are just one win away from winning their first Stanley Cup Championship.
After the way their season began, after qualifying for an invitation to the post-season party by the skins of their teeth, and after all the ways this team has found to disappoint and break the hearts of their fans throughout their history, what the Kings are doing now, and seem like they are about to do, maybe even tonight, is just all too surreal.
Is this a dream? Will reality smack me in the face with what the Kings have done so often in their history when I wake up?
For the Kings fan that still lives inside of me, the objective, professional journalist side of me says that the Devils are done, and even if they manage to win tonight, they have virtually no chance to win four straight games against a better team.
But even with the journalist within me telling me that, that surreal feeling of dread that has been conditioned into my psyche is something I cannot shake, no matter how hard I try.
All part of growing up as a Kings fan, I guess.
2012 Stanley Cup Final, New Jersey Devils vs. Los Angeles Kings, Game 3 Highlights, June 4, 2012
Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home Stanley Cup Finals games against the New Jersey Devils – June 6, 5:00 PM (Devils vs. Kings: Game 4); June 11, 5:00 PM (Devils vs. Kings: Game 6 – if necessary )are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
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