Here’s To A Great King: Mattias Norstrom

FEATURE STORY: Former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Mattias Norstrom talks about his time with the Dallas Stars and the difference between playing with Dallas and with the Kings; also features Kings goaltending prospect Daniel Taylor.

LOS ANGELES — In what has been a disastrous year for the Los Angeles Kings with, mercifully, just one game left in their season, here at Frozen Royalty, we thought a change of pace was in order. As such, here is a different kind of story related to the Kings, a story about a Kings fan favorite who will be returning to post-season play after a long drought with the Kings.

That player is none other than Dallas Stars veteran defenseman Mattias Norstrom, who toiled for ten years on the Kings’ blue line before he was traded to the Stars at the trade deadline last season.

Norstrom, 36, served as team captain in his final four seasons with the Kings, is easily one of the best players ever to patrol the Kings’ blue line.

For Norstrom and the Stars, things started off very well this season, but they hit a major snag a few weeks ago and started losing games in bunches, including an embarrassing 4-2 loss to the Kings on March 22 in Dallas.

In that game, the Stars gave up three goals in the final 3:01 of the game, gift-wrapping a win for the lowly Kings.

“For us especially, we’ve been struggling for awhile and all of a sudden, we’re looking a little bit behind us at the teams who can actually catch us,” said Norstrom after the Stars got a bit of revenge in a 7-2 bombing of the Kings on March 29 at Staples Center. “But two nights ago and today were two big games for us and we got three out of four points, so we feel a little bit better about ourselves now.”

“You want to go into the playoffs playing good hockey and establish a lot of positive things,” added Norstrom. “We still have time to do that. But looking around, you have a few teams playing real well right now, especially San Jose. For us, it was a real good test two nights ago [at San Jose] and today, it was good that we got a big win and little confidence going.”

So what was the problem?

“It is that same old boring thing that you guys hear over and over again,” he explained. “We tried to take shortcuts to get things done and it was back to finding our game again. If we can match or outwork the other team we have some real skilled guys who can put the game away.”

“We have to bring that work ethic every single night,” he elaborated. “We can’t just rely on skill. We can do that one or two games, but then it turns around in a hurry. For us, the challenge has been to find our game again and you don’t do that overnight.”

Thirteen months after he was traded to the Stars, Norstrom finds himself in somewhat unfamiliar territory—preparing for the playoffs.

“We find ourselves in the playoffs,” said Norstrom with a grin. “I haven’t done that in a few years. The team, pretty much from October on, has been above .500. We’ve been in the top four or five the entire year. I know how these guys feel in [the Kings’] locker room when you’re not.”

Norstrom highlighted the wide gulf between playing for a contender as opposed to a team that is merely trying to keep its collective head above water.

“Things are easier,” said Norstrom. “It’s fun. You build that confidence in the team when you’re winning more than you’re losing. There’s no way to teach that by a single play. You can only learn winning by doing it.”

“That’s what’s been fun this year,” added Norstrom. “We had a group here that, no matter what building we go into, we know if we play a good game, we’re going to come out on top. Not that we had to play phenomenal then maybe, by a miracle, we can come away with two points. If we play a good, strong game, we can beat the Detroits, the Sharks, the Ducks. That’s a fun feeling for a team coming into a building or hosting a team coming in that we know we don’t have to play phenomenal to win.”

“[When he was with the Kings,] in the playoffs you had that feeling, but to get there is so much harder that maybe these guys in Dallas who haven’t experienced missing the playoffs don’t understand how tough it is just to make it into the playoffs. For me, it’s been a great experience to be on the other side of the fence.”

Norstrom, whose contract expires on July 1 when he will become an unrestricted free agent, added that he is totally focused on the post-season.

“For me, right now, I have all doors open,” he said. “But right now, I really want to say it’s here and now for me, not next year. I don’t want to look beyond this playoff run here.”

To be sure, Norstrom is definitely not taking this chance at winning the Stanley Cup for granted, not after being on the outside looking in during his last four seasons with the Kings.

“Right now, I realize too—first year in the league I was not playing a lot, but in New York, they won the Cup,” Norstrom explained. “When I was there, I was in the stands, watching. I thought ‘well, this is great. I get to do this every Spring. Play in the playoffs, maybe have a chance every five or six years to win the Cup.’”

“Thirteen years later, you’re very privileged to be in the playoffs,” Norstrom stressed. “So for me right now, I’m going to enjoy and battle as hard as I can to reach that ultimate goal, and use the Summer for decision-making. That will be, hopefully, early July when I sit down and see what kind of interest there is.”

Speaking of thirteen months, back then, Norstrom said that he believed that the Kings were headed in the right direction with their rebuilding movement.

Fast forward to the present…Norstrom said that he hopes the Kings are making progress towards rebuilding but added that there are no guarantees until the team starts to win.

“It’s so tough for me,” said Norstrom. “I’ve seen them eight times and I can’t judge them. I have to agree that the young talent they have is good. I played with them and played against them. But the tough thing is that they’re sitting last in the NHL, and that is tough, even for the young guys or the experienced guys like [Rob] Blake.”

“Until you start to move in the right direction, there is no recipe saying that if we throw in a [Sidney] Crosby or a top young player—chances are they’re going to get better when you do that, yes. But until you start winning and start to move up in the standings, you’re still searching, you’re still looking, and I think they’re still in that category. You can’t say they have the solution because you can’t say that when you’re sitting last in the league.”

Goaltending Prospect Racking Up Frequent Flyer Miles

On March 27, when goaltender Dan Cloutier went down with a groin strain, the Kings called up goalie prospect Daniel Taylor from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) under emergency conditions.

Little did the 21-year-old native of Plymouth, England know what was to come.

Taylor left Manchester at 6:40 in the morning on March 27, and barely had time to grab his luggage at baggage claim before he was whisked off to Staples Center where the Kings beat the Phoenix Coyotes that night, 4-0.

Two days later, Taylor came on in relief of goaltender Erik Ersberg in that blowout loss to the Stars on March 29. He received quite the rude welcome as the first NHL shot he faced came from Stars forward Jere Lehtinen on a breakaway.

First NHL shot, first goal allowed.

“It was kind of overwhelming,” said Taylor. “I kind of wanted a nice, easy one right in the belly to start off with and then have the breakaways or whatever. It was a tough one. We’ll take it in stride, and hopefully, we’ll rebound from this. I know it’s the first game, but it’s kind of bittersweet how we lost. It’s an experience I’ll never forget for sure.”

Taylor was not expecting to see any action against Dallas, but was pressed into service to give the beleaguered Ersberg a rest.

“I didn’t find out until about four or five minutes before the period started that I’d be going in, so I didn’t have time to get nervous,” he said. “I had to get all my gear ready and everything like that.”

And boy, did he want to have his first shot faced in the NHL to be a save.

“Definitely, that first shot, I would’ve liked to have stopped. That was pretty good shot, too. He put it right up under the bar.”

Welcome to the NHL, Daniel Taylor.

The Kings tied a record when Taylor entered the game, becoming the seventh goalie to appear in a game for the Kings this season. The 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques and the 2002-03 St. Louis Blues share the record with the Kings, who have had Jean-Sebastien Aubin, Jonathan Bernier, Dan Cloutier, Erik Ersberg, Jason LaBarbera, Jonathan Quick, and now, Daniel Taylor, see action in goal this season.

And here’s where Taylor’s story takes an odd twist.

On March 30, Taylor found himself back with the Royals, playing a total of 36 seconds in the 3-2 loss to Cincinnati.

The very next day, Taylor was back on a plane heading for Los Angeles, having been recalled to backup Ersberg when the Kings skated against the San Jose Sharks on April 1 in San Jose (a 5-2 San Jose win).

After that, it was right back on a plane for Taylor, heading back to the Royals, who hosted the Johnstown Chiefs on April 2.

Taylor played the final second of the game. Yes, you read that correctly. He got just one second of ice time.

So what’s the deal here? Simply put, Taylor needed to play in two more games for the Royals to be eligible for post-season play.

“Just racking up the air miles,” Taylor said with a smile. “I still can’t complain, as much as there’s a lot of flying, I’m still playing and getting called up to the NHL, so it’s kind of bittersweet.”

Regardless of the situation, playing just one second in a game is very, very odd, to say the least.

“The way the period went, they iced the puck with about one second left,” Taylor explained. “So coach [Royals head coach Karl Taylor] looked at me and said, ‘Taylor…It’s your turn.’ The puck was actually in our zone, but it’s one second and you can’t do much in one second and then it counts as a game.”

“Strangely enough, it’ll be a good story to tell in the long-run, that’s for sure.”

As tiring as his recent journey has been, it has not been all bad.

“I think I’ve learned a lot,” said Taylor. “As much as I’m moving about, It’s good to see all the leagues and notice the difference. You can really tell what separates a good player and a bad player, jumping from league to league. As a young guy, it’s really good to see that, and take it all in and work on what the guys here do.”

But “tired” was certainly the key word for Taylor after the Kings beat the San Jose Sharks, 4-2 on April 3.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he said. “I’ve been up for awhile. It’s a lot of traveling. I try to sleep as much as I can and I try to eat right to help the fatigue.”

More On Mattias Norstrom

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