LOS ANGELES — After the final horn sounded on Monday night, after a 6-1 score lit up the scoreboard at Staples Center in Los Angeles, the dreams became real, the unthinkable became fact…
As Kool and the Gang’s Celebration, and Queen’s We Are The Champions played in a loop over the arena’s PA system, Kings players, coaches and management, along with their families and Kings staff, shook hands, embraced, kissed, laughed—all in rather jubilant fashion, during an on-ice celebration.
“Every single emotion is coming out,” said center Anze Kopitar. “To do it in front of our own fans is unbelievable.”
They were celebrating, not just a Stanley Cup Championship, but also the fact that they had finally exorcised all the demons from their past, and that they will soon be charting a new future, one that now has the strength of having finally won the Stanley Cup behind it.
But no one was thinking about any of those things on the ice.
“As a hockey player, this is what you play for,” said forward Jeff Carter, who scored two goals in the deciding Game 6. “We put it all on the line, every night. This is an unbelievable feeling.”
“I don’t even know what to say, I’m just so happy right now,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “You don’t even believe it’s happened. I’m sure it’s going to settle in tonight or tomorrow. But right now, it’s just an exciting time for all of us. I can’t believe it happened.”
“[Lifting the Stanley Cup] was the best feeling ever,” added Doughty. “To kiss that Cup is something I’ve dreamt of doing my whole life.”
The Kings came out flying higher and faster than they have in any game this season, and maybe in any game in their 45-year history, helped by Devils winger Steve Bernier, who hit Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi from behind early in the first period.
Scuderi was dazed on the play, and suffered facial lacerations. Meanwhile, Bernier received a major penalty and an automatic game misconduct, giving the Kings a five-minute power play, during which they scored three goals, pretty much ending the game almost before it began.
“It was awesome,” said Scuderi. “The series dragged on a little longer than we had hoped, but it’s great to finally win it here in front of all the fans who have been so patient for a long, long time.”
“We had a great start, and everyone was feeling good about our game,” added Scuderi. “Once we were able to capitalize on that [major] power play, I felt we just kept our good start from the first period [throughout the game].”
The long struggle the Kings went through, not just during the playoffs, but just to earn an invitation to the post-season party, was on the players’ minds in a big way during their celebration.
“It was a journey, all right,” said center Mike Richards. “It was an up-and-down year. This is probably one of the most resilient groups I’ve ever been a part of. We lost two games in a row, but we didn’t let it shake us. This is an unbelievable feeling. There were ups and downs, highs and lows, but this is one of the best groups I’ve been a part of.”
Despite the fact that they had to claw and scratch their way into the playoffs over the last two months of the regular season, the Kings never lost faith.
“We got into the playoffs by the skins of our teeth, but once we were in, we knew we could come together,” said left wing Dustin Penner. “We had the guys in the room, the competitive spirit. We may have surprised people outside of our locker room, but no one inside.”
“The biggest thing was the belief inside our locker room,” said Kopitar. “We had 25 guys believing in one thing. We brought it every single night, and I can’t be prouder of the guys.”
That is a sign of a strong team of players who would skate through a wall for one another.
“I’m very proud of the fact that this team is now recognized as a true representative of the City [of Los Angeles],” said Tim Leiweke, Kings Governor and Chief Executive Officer of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, the conglomerate that owns the Kings. “They fought for one another. There was never one guy who was the star. They all worked together, and stood up for one another.”
“They’re a great bunch,” said Kings Vice President/General Manager Dean Lombardi. “They stuck together when everybody had’em down. They just persevered. They’re all a bunch of role models, as far as I’m concerned. I’m so proud of’em.”
As it is often said, a team’s best players must be just that, especially in the playoffs, and that is magnified greatly in the Stanley Cup Final. Despite that, forward and team captain Dustin Brown was rather quiet during the Final, and was being criticized for his play in the series against the Devils.
Brown silenced his critics in Game 6—he was, by far, the best player on the ice, scoring a goal, and adding two assists, while blocking shots, backchecking, and hitting everything in sight.
“Every time we needed a big game, [Brown] stepped up in a big way,” Richards noted. “Our captain led the way tonight. You can’t say enough about him.”
Brown was drafted by former Kings right wing and general manager Dave Taylor, who also selected Kopitar and goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Both Leiweke and Lombardi were quick to give credit to Taylor for his hand in building a championship team.
“[Dave Taylor] deserves a lot of credit for tonight,” Leiweke stressed. “Jonathan Quick, Brown, [Kopitar] were all Dave Taylor [draft picks]. Dean came in, and he knew how to fit the pieces, and get the boxes filled.”
Kopitar ended the playoffs scoring eight goals and tallying twelve assists for twenty points, with a +16 plus/minus rating, leading the NHL in playoff goals, assists, points (tied with Brown in those three categories) and plus/minus, while Quick was named as the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
“Let’s get something straight here,” said Lombardi. “Whenever a team has won, there’s some guys who don’t get appreciated. I have to give a lot of credit to Dave Taylor. I started out with three darned good players in Brown, Kopitar and Quick. Let’s not ever forget what he did.”
Lombardi also had praise for former head coach Terry Murray.
“Let’s not forget Terry Murray,” Lombardi emphasized. “He stabilized this franchise, he gave us credibility. There’s some unsung heroes here who need to be appreciated.”
On the other side of the spectrum from the Kings’ top players were the grinders, the role players, most notably, young rookie wingers Dwight King and Jordan Nolan, who added size, strength and energy on the left side that was sorely lacking before they were recalled from the minors in early February.
Nolan skated slowly during the on-ice celebration, soaking it all in, but also appeared to be in a bit of a celebratory daze.
Of course, if you won the Stanley Cup as a young, very late-round draft pick who no one expected to be playing in the NHL this season, you would probably be in a daze, too.
“I can’t imagine it,” said Nolan. “I got called up late, I stuck in the lineup, and all through the playoffs. They had to make some tough changes in the lineup, and to have the coach keep me in the lineup was a special feeling.”
“[King and I] were a small piece of the puzzle,” added Nolan. “We know we did a good job. We came up here, provided energy, and King was a big part of the playoffs, and I added a few good things, too.”
They also remembered their families.
“It was kind of surreal,” said defenseman Willie Mitchell. “But then, I just wanted to lift [the Stanley Cup], and look at my friends and family, and have them know that this journey wasn’t [one I made] alone. As anyone who plays [hockey] knows, our families do so much for us.”
Former Kings center Bernie Nicholls, who has worked with the team as an assistant coach of sorts since shortly after head coach Darryl Sutter was hired, without an official title, praised Kings fans.
“We’ve had great fans here forever, ever since I was here in the 80’s, and they’ve waited a long time for this,” he noted. “They deserve it. There’s nothing better than to win it at home. It’s amazing. Being your team, and being here for a long time, to see the fans here—what a great night. It’s unbelievable.”
As an aside, when asked if he would be back next season, Nicholls made it clear that he would love to return.
“I’ll do whatever they want me to do,” he exclaimed. “I was so excited about the opportunity, it was a great ride. Whatever they want—like Darryl says, ‘do what you’re told, and you’ll never get in trouble.’ I’ll do what I’m told.”
But what about an official title, like “assistant coach?”
“Whatever,” said Nicholls. “It [doesn’t] matter to me.”
Both of the Kings’ long-time play-by-play announcers also were quick to acknowledge the fans.
“I’m looking around here, standing at center ice, it’s a hour after the Kings have won, and the fans are still reveling in this moment,” said an emotional Nick Nickson, the Kings’ radio play-by-play announcer, who just completed his 31st season with the team. “I’m so happy for the players and the fans, first and foremost. [The players] make it entertaining, they make it happen on the ice, and the fans have been so great throughout the years.”
Nickson’s call at the end of the game, which will, obviously, sound better than it reads, was: “The long wait is over! After 45 years, the Kings can wear their crown! The Los Angeles Kings have won the Stanley Cup!”
Bob Miller, who has now completed his 39th season with the Kings, recorded a call of the game, despite the fact that NBC has had exclusive television rights since the second round of the playoffs, forcing Miller and color commentator Jim Fox to the sidelines.
Miller shared his call at the end of the game with the media during the on-ice celebration (which you can listen to below): “This is for you, Kings players and Kings fans, whereever you may be. All the frustration and disappointment of the past is gone. The 45-year drought is over. The Los Angeles Kings are indeed, the Kings of the National Hockey League, the 2012 Stanley Cup Champions!”
Miller then shared his own thoughts about what a great moment this was for the fans.
“I’m so happy,” he said. “A lot of people have said, ‘you know Bob, I hope they win it for you,’ [but] I was hoping they would win it for all the loyal fans who have gone through frustration and disappointment for 45 years.”
“For some of them, I’m sure they thought this day would never come, maybe even during this season, we thought this day would never come,” he added. “Yet, what a great playoff run. 16-4, and I’m so happy they won it in front of the home crowd.”
As mentioned earlier, Miller has just completed his 39th season as the “Voice of the Kings.”
Talk about a long, almost interminable wait. But Miller wasn’t looking at it that way.
“Right now, it was worth the wait,” he beamed. “I wouldn’t want to go through it again, and I won’t be here in another 39 years. Again, I’m just so happy that all Kings fans have this chance to celebrate with this team here at Staples Center.”
Oh…and don’t worry about Miller retiring.
“Some people have [asked] me, ‘so are you going to retire now that they’ve won the Cup?’ I said, ‘no, I want to go around the league as the Stanley Cup Champions next year,’” he said.
Back to the celebration…as the players moved around the ice, celebrating with their families and each other, Penner was standing alone for a few seconds, silently looking around the ice, and into the crowd.
What was he feeling at that moment? He was unable to describe it in detail. But he certainly indicated that it was a good feeling.
“It’s a feeling that you’re going to chase for the rest of your career,” he said.
Looks like it’s safe to say that Penner won’t be the only one chasing that feeling.
LEAD PHOTO: The JW Marriott at LA Live, across the street from Staples Center, got into the spirit of things, displaying this message on their gigantic video display immediately after the Kings won the 2012 Stanley Cup on June 11. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Win Stanley Cup, June 11, 2012
(Poor audio quality due to crowd noise. Extraneous material and dead air have been removed):
Drew Doughty (0:45)
Anze Kopitar (1:28)
Tim Leiweke (1:14)
Dean Lombardi (2:58)
Bob Miller (3:21; includes re-enactment of his call at end of the game)
Willie Mitchell (2:03)
Bernie Nicholls (1:50)
Nick Nickson (2:41)
Jordan Nolan (0:45)
Dustin Penner (1:38)
Mike Richards (1:10)
Selected Photos From The On-Ice Celebration
All photos © 2012 Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net. All rights reserved. Duplication, reproduction, re-distribution prohibited without permission.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.