Los Angeles To The Hockey World: Here’s 250,000 Reasons Why This Is A Hockey Town
June 16, 2012 16 Comments
LOS ANGELES — No matter what direction you looked, if you were on or around Figueroa Street in Downtown Los Angeles on the morning of June 14, from the Financial District on the north, to Staples Center on the south, all one could see was a massive sea of people.
The Los Angeles Police Department estimated that approximately 250,000 people attended the victory parade honoring the Los Angeles Kings, who won the National Hockey League’s 2012 Stanley Cup Championship on June 11, the first Stanley Cup in the 45-year history of the franchise.
Following the parade, a rally was held inside Staples Center, where team officials, players and coaches addressed the capacity crowd of over 18,000 fans.
Between the parade and the rally, one thing was crystal-clear: while the team and Kings staff have been celebrating their victory over the last couple of days, Thursday’s parade and rally were about sharing that celebration with the fans, thanking them for their support, and thrusting them into the forefront of the party.
“On behalf of Phil and Nancy Anschutz, and everybody at AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group, the entertainment and retail conglomerate that owns the Kings), this was always about you, [the fans],” said Tim Leiweke, Kings Governor and Chief Executive Officer of AEG. “This is your game, you deserve this. Thank you so much for your commitment, and your passion [for] the LA Kings. God bless our fans. You are the Stanley Cup Champions.”
“It was awesome,” defenseman Matt Greene said about the parade. “It was fun, exciting, and cool to see. It was rewarding [for the fans], too. They’ve been fans for a long time, and it was fun to reward them with a championship.”
“The one group of people who are most important to everything is [the fans],” said Kings winger and team captain Dustin Brown. “The support has been unbelievable. You’ve been waiting a long, long time for this day. I hope you are all enjoying it as much as we are.”
Walking up and down the parade route, people were everywhere, many wearing Kings T-shirts and jerseys. Some had grabbed prime viewing spots as early as the night before. A mass of humanity that was truly representative of Los Angeles, the most culturally diverse city in the world, lined Figueroa Street, often seven or eight rows deep. They stood in office windows, and many lined the walls of parking structures, pennants and signs in hand, cheering for their team.
The same could be said of the crowd at the rally inside Staples Center, and at both events, that diversity also extended to the wide spectrum of fans in attendance, in terms of their longevity and experience.
“It’s amazing to see all this support,” said Billy Lyttle, 41, of Garden Grove, California. “This is heavy Lakers territory, and that’s usually what we see, and what we’re used to. It’s great to see the community supporting the Los Angeles Kings.”
Lyttle became a Kings fan in the 1990’s, during the time The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, played for the Kings, leading them to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, where the Kings lost to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
“The 90’s is when I came on board,” he noted. “I’ve been a long-time fan, and this means the world to me. It’s been an emotional ride through the years, staying true, as a fan. I’ve loved the Kings since [the days] of Tony Granato, Tomas Sandstrom, Alexei Zhitnik—all those boys.”
Staying true to being a Kings fan has traditionally been very, very difficult, with the team giving fans many more broken hearts than anything else prior to winning the Stanley Cup this season. But for many Kings fans, their loyalties seem to be unshakable.
“Sticking with my team has meant everything to me, and to see them push so hard to make it this year makes it even sweeter for me and my family,” Lyttle stressed.
Lyttle was hooked on hockey after watching it for the first time.
“I’ve never played hockey, but going to the games got me hooked,” he said. “The crowd, the excitement, the pace—once you learn about it, it draws you in like no other sport.”
Carmel Esparrago Tobin, 42, of Duarte, California, also became a Kings fan during the Gretzky Era, after coming to the United States from her native Philippines, and had a similar experience.
“I saw it on TV, and I was fascinated to see guys on skates, with sticks and a puck,” Tobin explained. “I thought, ‘what is that?’ I never had exposure to that. The only ice exposure I had was figure skating.”
“When I saw it, I was so fascinated, so I went to the library and borrowed a book to read up on the rules, because my brother kept telling me to shut up while the game was on,” Tobin elaborated. “It’s so amazing. It’s so fast, and it’s never boring, even without goals.”
The more she watched, the more Tobin’s emotional attachment to the Kings grew.
“I couldn’t afford to go to the games, so I recorded all the games,” she said. “I’d watch the game, and then I’d watch it again. I’d rush home to watch the games, and I cried and cried every time they scored. Whenever they scored, I would try to repeat what I was doing at the time.”
For sisters Nallely and Stephanie Lopez, the emotional attachment is already quite powerful, even though they became Kings fans just four seasons ago.
“My brother brought [my younger sister and I] to a game,” said Nallely, 20, of Los Angeles. “That’s how we started.”
“We could’ve been [San Jose] Sharks fans, because that’s the day [the Kings] played the Sharks and we lost,” said Stephanie, 19, also of Los Angeles. “But you do feel a connection when you go into [Staples Center] and see a game.”
“After that day, we started getting into it,” added Stephanie. “I remember, that weekend, we looked at the roster, and learned all the names [of the players]. From that day on, we started watching all the games. It’s been fun.”
The sisters have become such big Kings fans that they can often be found at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California, watching the team practice.
“We try to go to practice whenever we can to support them,” said Nallely.
They are also working to raise another Kings fan in the family.
“My little niece, she’s a one-year-old,” Stephanie explained. “She always yells, ‘go, go go!’ every time the Kings are on [television]. It’s really cool to see that.”
On the other side of the spectrum are the fans who have been following the Kings since the earliest days of the franchise, such as Ken Erichsen, 51, of Rosamond, California, a small, desert town off of California Highway 14, north of Lancaster, and just west of Edwards Air Force Base, about 83 miles from Downtown Los Angeles.
Despite the long drive, Erichsen, a Kings fan since the beginning in 1967, knew he had to be at the parade.
“There was no doubt that I had to be here,” said Erichsen, who is originally from El Monte, California, a much shorter drive. “More than anything that I can think of, I had to be here. I’ve been there since the beginning. I was six years old. I went to the Forum (in Inglewood, California, where the Kings played from December 30, 1967 to October 20, 1999) when it was still a hole in the ground.”
“This is for every player, and for every fan, who has followed this organization,” added Erichsen. “You can’t not be here.”
His friend, David Molina, 51, of Whittier, California, was also unable to fathom not attending.
“Being here today is the culmination of so many dreams, but there were so many years when the Kings didn’t have good seasons,” he noted. “That was so disappointing. You’d see the other [local] teams win, like the Dodgers, the Lakers, the Angels. Everybody else won, but the Kings never had their time in the sun. But here we are. Now it’s the [Kings] turn to be in the spotlight. It’s been a long time coming.”
Molina has been a Kings fan for 37 years.
“I started going to games when I was 14, in 1975,” he said. “Norman and Edwina Erichsen were nice enough to take me to my first game back then, and from the first face-off, I fell in love with the game.”
“Anybody who’s ever seen a baseball game, a football game, a basketball game—once you go to a hockey game, nothing compares,” he added. “It is absolutely the most exciting spectator sport there is, bar none. Everybody who goes to the games knows that. Baseball fans cheer. Hockey fans rave.”
One couple made the long drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the parade and rally.
“14 hours [on the road],” said Mariano Rojo, 50. “On four hours of sleep. But we wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
“It was very surreal,” said Jennifer Guyer Rojo, 47. “Because we hadn’t been here for any of the games, it didn’t really feel like [the Kings had actually won the Stanley Cup]. We had to come here to see that it actually did happen, and it started sinking in when we were in Staples Center. Not even the parade did it. Being inside, seeing the players hold the Cup, it was like, ‘oh my God…they actually did it!’”
Unlike her husband, who is originally from the Los Angeles area, and has been a Kings fan since the early 1970’s, Jennifer was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“She’s from Minnesota, and she hated the [Dallas] Stars, because [the Minnesota North Stars left for Texas, where they became the Dallas Stars after the 1992-93 season],” Mariano explained. “She decided to be a Kings fan.”
That was in 1995, two seasons after the Kings’ 1993 Cup run.
“I went to my first Kings game [in the 1995-96 season],” she reminisced. “The [Kings lost] the game in overtime, but I was totally hooked. The excitement, the Forum—it was amazing.”
The next season, they had season tickets, and they held onto them until they moved to New Mexico in 2008.
“It was the amazing energy in the building, the speed, and the skill of the players,” she said. “Watching it all, and realizing that they’re on ice skates—this is insane.”
Depending on what “generation” a Kings fan is part of, their expectations heading into the playoffs and the Stanley Cup Final varied, sometimes greatly.
Newer fans were often very optimistic and relied on their faith in the team.
“I always believed [that the Kings would win the Stanley Cup this season], right from the first round,” said Nallely Lopez. “Some people said [the Kings] were going to get swept in the first round by Vancouver. I said, ‘no, you have to believe in them,’ so we believed in them.”
For the fans who came in during the Gretzky Era, expectations were often quite guarded, to say the least.
“Even during the last game, being up three goals, I was reminded of the loss to San Jose, when they had a four-goal lead, but the Sharks came back to win it in overtime, [6-5 on April 19, 2011],” said Lyttle. “That was a heartbreaker for me, and up until about ten minutes into the third period [in Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final against New Jersey], [only then did] I finally let all that go.”
“I had that feeling, ‘we’re going to do it. We’re actually going to do it,’ and they did it,” added Lyttle.
But for the old school fans, those dating back to the 1980’s and especially the 1970’s, few could escape the feelings of dread and doom that this team has engendered in its long-term fans since 1967.
“The feeling has always been there,” said Erichsen. “This series was surreal. Then, to have two losses in a row [Games 4 and 5], I thought, ‘oh my God, no. Not again.’”
“I was shocked,” said Mariano Rojo. “I knew it happened, I knew it was convincing. I knew all this. I should have been weeping tears of joy, but I was stunned.”
“I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t jump up and down,” he added. “I thought, ‘they always find a way to ruin it. They’re lying to me.’ The next day, I started reading the stories, and tears just started flowing.”
In the end, all the generations of Kings fans shared in the joy and elation of the moment.
“I started crying,” said Nallely Lopez. “It felt really good. I don’t know how it felt for other fans, who’ve been fans for a long time, but it felt amazing. I’ve seen them in the playoffs for three years, but this year was amazing. I can’t even explain how amazing it was.”
“I was just so elated,” said Lyttle. “People around me were tackling each other. It was euphoric. It was the best sporting experience I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. In forty years, I’ve been to a lot of events, but there’s nothing like the feeling that I shared—being a part of history is a big deal to me.”
“When they won the Stanley Cup, tears rolled down my face,” said Molina. “I called my friend, Ken, I called my Dad, I called everybody. I couldn’t believe that they finally did it after so long. You almost thought this day would never come, but here it is. What a great day for the city and the team.”
Although they shared all the same emotions with more recent fans, long-term fans had some different reasons behind them.
“I started crying when I saw the Cup coming out [onto the ice],” Erichsen said. “It was the release of all the frustration, the disappointment, but also for the dreams being realized. You have to believe that everybody was seeing a dream come true.”
“This is just incredible for me,” Erichsen added, his voice cracking ever so slightly with emotion. “I’m shaking. This is awesome.”
“To go from getting into a Kings game anytime you wanted at the Forum, because nobody went to the games, to see them raise the Stanley Cup is really satisfying and enjoyable,” said Kirk Stephens, 49, also from Whittier. “There were times when we’d reminisce about how bad the Kings were. ‘How can hockey survive in this town?’ But it did, and this team showed it. It means that I can die in peace. It’s been a long time.”
Even with the wisdom that comes from years of experience that the long-term fans expressed in their reactions, it was the younger generation that put the cherry on top of the sundae, so to speak.
Indeed, after looking around, taking in the scene on Chick Hearn Court, the street between Staples Center and LA Live, and seeing the jubilant fans all around, Stephanie Lopez threw some icy cold water on those who contend that Los Angeles is not a hockey town.
“Everyone says LA is not a hockey town,” she lamented. “But there’s people who you know who are die hard hockey fans. It’s kind of good that everyone gets to see that it’s not just going to be basketball anymore. It’s going to be hockey, too.”
Indeed, the Kings’ Stanley Cup win could very well be just the start of something really, really good, here in the Los Angeles area and for the rest of the hockey world, too.
LA Kings Stanley Cup Parade – Video
©2012 Los Angeles Kings. Used with permission. All videos provided by KingsVision at LAKings.com, or NHL.com require Adobe Flash Player. As such, they are not viewable on iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch).
LA Kings Stanley Cup Parade – Ice Crew
©2012 Los Angeles Kings. Used with permission.
LA Kings Stanley Cup Rally At Staples Center
©2012 Los Angeles Kings. Used with permission.
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