Jim Fox, Daryl Evans Not Surprised By LA Kings 2012 Playoff Success

FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: In part six of a series featuring the long-time broadcasters of the Los Angeles Kings, play-by-play announcers Bob Miller and Nick Nickson shared their thoughts on the Kings and their dominating run through the 2012 playoffs, including their expectations going in, and how they changed as the Kings got past the first round. Interestingly, their color commentator partners, Jim Fox and Daryl Evans, respectively, shared perspectives that differed considerably from those of Miller and Nickson. They shared their thoughts in part seven.

From left: Former LA Kings right wing and general manager Dave Taylor (center), flanked (from left) by LA Kings broadcasters Jim Fox,
Bob Miller, Nick Nickson, and Daryl Evans, shown here during
MIller’s Stanley Cup party in late June.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo courtesy Bob Miller
LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — As most who follow hockey know by now, the Los Angeles Kings barely squeaked into the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference, only to dominate every opponent, earning a 16-4 record on their way to winning the first Stanley Cup Championship in the 45-year history of the franchise.

The Kings finally hoisted the Stanley Cup on June 11, 2012, at Staples Center in Los Angeles, after winning Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, 6-1, over the New Jersey Devils, eliminating them in six games.

As reported in this space on September 28, 2012, going into the playoffs, Kings television play-by-play announcer Bob Miller had rather low expectations going into the playoffs. Even radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson acknowledged that he too had low expectations until early in the second round against the St. Louis Blues.

But those low expectations differed from those of their color commentator partners. Of course, if you ask Miller, that should not be a surprise.

“I’ve said this repeatedly: [television color commentator Jim Fox] and [radio color commentator Daryl] Evans will see things in a game that I’ll never see, because they’ve been there, [as players],” said Miller, who has been behind the microphone with the Kings for 39 seasons.

“[Fox] can see trends in momentum, the body language of players, like, ‘they’re not coming back,’ or, ‘we’re winning it right here,’” added Miller. “He can sense those things.”

Indeed, they saw the Kings in a slightly different light compared to Miller and Nickson.

In fact, at the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Fox, who has been the Kings’ television color commentator for 22 seasons, was among a small group of local media members at one of the Kings’ practice sessions at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California. At that time, he said something that he reminded me of during our interview in early September.

“Before this [past] season, again, I was just analyzing the roster,” said the former Kings right wing, who is eighth on the team’s all-time scoring list. “I said that the Kings don’t have any holes. You always want to upgrade at any position, any time you can. They’re not a favorite, but I would not be surprised if they won the Stanley Cup.”

“In my mind, there was no doubt it was the best roster they had ever assembled, going back even to the Gretzky days,” added Fox. “Compared to the rest of the league, I thought they were pretty good, and then, they made the moves near the end of the season.”

Once the playoffs began, the matchups had a lot to do with expectations.

“I was not surprised [at the Kings’ playoff dominance], and a lot of that had to do with the matchups,” said Evans, a former Kings left wing who has been their radio color commentator for 13 seasons. “Having had the experience of playing against Vancouver a couple of years ago, they were very prepared as to what Vancouver was all about. They knew what they didn’t do a couple of years ago, and I think they were very confident.”

“That’s why the early part of [a playoff] series is so important,” added Evans. “I’m always in favor of starting on the road, even though everybody wants that home ice advantage. I think the best opportunity to win on the road is in the first couple of games. If you can win there, you’ve got home ice [advantage].”

Evans believed that Kings had the advantage over the Blues and the Phoenix Coyotes, going into the second round and the conference finals, respectively.

“St. Louis was a great team that had a great year,” Evans noted. “They were a little challenged, offensively, so I thought that if the Kings could the jump on them, they would be OK.”

“Phoenix is a very similar team [to the Kings],” Evans added. “The difference came down to [the goalies]. [Kings goaltender] Jonathan Quick was a difference maker there.”

The Kings got contributions from everyone in their lineup during the playoffs, which was crucial to their success.

“I remember, before we started the playoffs, NHL.com asked me what the Kings had to do to win the Stanley Cup,” said Evans. “My comment was that they had to get contributions from everybody, and that’s exactly what they did throughout the playoffs.”

“If you look at the series against Vancouver, Jarret Stoll, Dustin Penner, Brad Richardson—all those guys put pucks into the net,” added Evans. “Then, Dwight King, in the series against Phoenix, was dominant. The fourth line, being heavy with Jordan Nolan and Colin Fraser was unbelievable. The experience [Fraser] had in the post-season—those guys were worth their weight in gold. You have to give just as much credit to them.”

“Any time you get into the playoffs, it’s not always your [top] players. It’s getting contributions from everybody, and if you look at the Kings throughout the playoffs, 22 different skaters [played], and 17 of them scored goals. [Left wings] Simon Gagne and Kyle Clifford only played a few games each, so [really], the only guy who didn’t score was [stay-at-home defenseman] Rob Scuderi. We all know what his role was, and, arguably, one of the most important moments was that hit he took [in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final].”

But to win in the post-season, a team’s best players have to be just that, every night, and the Kings got that level of performance from their top players.

“Your top dogs have to be your top dogs, and they were,” said Fox. “Everyone else…Fraser scores a goal in the New Jersey series. Those guys played well, and Dustin [Brown]? Did he have a tail off in the New Jersey series? He might have, in Game 4 and Game 5. You know what? Fatigue. Look at how he plays. [But] then, look at Game 6. Boom. Crazy start.”

“The strength of this team is not individuals,” Evans explained. “They do have potential superstars. I think Jonathan Quick had a superstar type of year [last] year. But everyone else? They have not hit their ceilings yet. There’s still room for growth, and that goes for [center Anze] Kopitar, [forward Dustin] Brown—he had a hell of a year. He did a great job of leading the hockey club. He really emerged right after the trade deadline. He took the bull by the horns.”

Fox pointed to Brown stepping up in a big way.

“He [probably] went through some anxiety at the trade deadline, more so because of teams inquiring, as opposed to the Kings offering him,” said Fox. “But then, he talked the talk, and walked the walk.”

“With Dustin, in the two previous series, I talked to the coaches afterwards,” added Fox. “They always loved his game. Especially in a series, when he gets more than one game to go at you. It’s the wear-down factor. He’s not fun to play against.”

But Brown’s growth as a leader is the biggest reason for him reaching the next level in the playoffs, both on the ice and off.

“The trade deadline, with Dustin Brown, he finally realized that what he had to say, publicly, was important,” Fox emphasized. “I think he finally realized, ‘you know, I am the captain, and when I’m talking, people are listening. Not only the fans and the media, but my teammates, and you know what? I’ve got some good things to say, and I’m going to say’em.’”

“I remember after Dustin Penner had a good game against Vancouver, post-game,” Fox added. “Dustin Brown said, ‘yeah, we need another one tomorrow.’ I think he finally started to realize that he wasn’t above anyone. But, as the captain, his words were important.”

“He’s come so far, from a shy kid to a statesman leader, and then there’s the style of play he brings. It’s physical, it’s in your face, it’s attacking. It’s everything you want from a leader.”

As good as Brown was in the playoffs, Fox stressed that Kopitar was the best forward in the playoffs, bar none.

“Brown’s game went higher—he traveled the most distance,” said Fox. “[But] Kopitar was the best forward in the playoffs, the best skater in the playoffs {throughout the NHL].”

“If I take position into the formula, centers, with all the responsibility [they] have—[Kopitar is] a power play guy, he’s a penalty-kill guy, and Dustin is, too,” added Fox. “But he’s not a center. Anze is pretty high level. I don’t know if he went as far as Brown, because he didn’t have as far to go. But he went the highest, as far as the skaters [go].”

Defenseman Drew Doughty was also a big contributor in the playoffs.

“Doughty, as the playoffs went along, gets more and more credit,” Fox noted. “Doughty kept going and going, and the moments got bigger, and he started playing better. He was consistent.”

“Drew Doughty—his first year was a great year, but I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet,” said Evans. “There’s a lot of good hockey players on this club who have a lot of room to grow. It’s going to be interesting to see what they’ll be able to accomplish in the future.”

Fox also pointed to center Mike Richards, who showed why Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi acquired him.

“Early in the playoffs, when did I think they had a chance, and I’m honest…Game 1 against Vancouver,” said Fox. “After the game, I thought about how Mike Richards played. That was something the Kings have not had since [former Kings right wing Dave Taylor]. They have not had a player like that, who would just will—everyone wants to win, everyone works hard, everyone’s intense. But there’s another level. Then, I said, ‘a one-two punch at center. Kopitar and Richards. That team’s tough to beat.’”

“On some of his penalty-killing [shifts], he reminds me of [Wayne] Gretzky,” added Fox. “From where we get to watch the game, I get to see what he is probably thinking. His anticipation is Gretzky-like.”

In the end, the 2012 playoffs turned out to be a perfect storm for the Kings, and the forecast just might call for more stormy weather.

“Having been involved, first-hand, in the game, as a player, and as a broadcaster, you also have a different understanding of how tough it is to win [the Stanley Cup],” Evans stressed. “It’s not necessarily that you have the best team. A lot of things have to go well for you, and it was the perfect storm for the Kings this year.”

“The team came together when it needed to, even though it took a long time, without a doubt,” Evans added. “But now, having won it, and establishing what they have through the draft, and in the development part of the game, I think they could be a contender for the next handful of years, with the core of the team still under contract.”

Frozen Royalty will have more from the Kings broadcasters on in the next installment, which will look at the role of Lombardi, head coach Darryl Sutter, and how things stack up for the next few seasons.

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