2014 STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONSHIP WRAP-UP: Final installment (Part 7) of Frozen Royalty’s wrap-up of the Los Angeles Kings winning the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship and the ensuing celebration.
LOS ANGELES — When you walk the concourses at Staples Center during a Los Angeles Kings game, the diversity of the fan base is on display for all to see. To be sure, fans from all walks of life, and all levels of devotion, occupy Staples Center when the Kings are in town, including those who have been around since the first days of the franchise in 1967, to brand new ones who some derisively refer to as bandwagoners. There are fans present who you’d want to embrace and celebrate (or commiserate) with, and those you might look at funny and avoid.
In short, Kings fans run the gamut of just about every descriptive trait that you can think of. That was also apparent, and on a much larger scale, during the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship parade in Downtown Los Angeles on June 16, 2014, celebrating the Kings winning their second Stanley Cup in the last three seasons on June 13, at Staples Center.
Indeed, while standing in the middle of Figueroa Street prior to the start of the parade, all you had to do was scan the crowd of more than 300,000 people to see fans, young and old, from all ethnic backgrounds, men, women and children. Many were wearing Kings shirts, jerseys, hats, and more, and some were sitting or standing quietly while waiting for the festivities to begin, while others displayed varying degrees of excitement and anticipation.
But as I reached the corner of 9th and Figueroa Streets, in front of The Original Pantry Cafe, I spotted one Kings fan who stood out from the rest because of his energy and unbridled enthusiasm, as so many of his fellow Kings fans say of him during games at Staples Center.
That fan is Greg Akahoshi, 54, of La Crescenta, California, who can often be found hanging out with friends on Staples Center’s Upper Concourse, near section 305, during intermissions—he is almost always the most enthusiastic, excited fan within sight and earshot.
Akahoshi has been a Kings fan for 38 years, and because of that, he has a deeper appreciation for what the Kings have accomplished over the past three seasons.
“To me, it (his tenure as a Kings fan) means everything,” he said. “I fell in love with this team immediately.”
Akahoshi became a Kings fan in the 1975-76 season, when the team lost in the first round (a best-of three series back then) to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Kings made the playoffs every year from that point on, except in 1985-86, until they hit a five-year drought from 1993-94 to 1997-98.
But with the exception of the 1992-93 team, led by Wayne Gretzky, that made it to the Stanley Cup Final, the Kings only made it to the second round six times since Akahoshi became a fan, up to the 1992-93 season. Even worse, after qualifying for post-season play from 1999-2000 to 2001-02, the Kings never saw playoff ice again until the 2009-10 season.
That’s a lot of lean, dry years for any hockey fan. But that didn’t matter to Akahoshi.
“Their position in the standings was insignificant to me,” said Akahoshi. “It was just the love of the game and always believing that, at some point, they were going to become a much better team, a much stronger team and being part of that growth was really exciting for me.”
“I remember—my brother-in-law was still alive and we had gone to a game,” added Akahoshi. “I believe it was in 2008. I told him, ‘unbelievably, the Kings aren’t mathematically eliminated,’ and that was in March! That was significant because by that time in the season, they were always eliminated [from playoff contention]. Always!”
“Every game, from that point on, was insignificant. But they weren’t eliminated. I told him that I really liked the make-up of the team and the direction they were going in. I thought that they were going to do really big things from that point on and look what’s happened. It’s huge. It’s breathtaking for me.”
Unlike a significant number of fans who simply couldn’t take it anymore after so many decades of losing, Akahoshi never lost faith.
“I never once thought, ‘forget it,’” he noted. “Never have. I never thought like that because my parents always instilled in me that whatever you believe in, believe in it. Regardless of the outcome, you know you’re doing what’s good for you, character-wise.”
“I always loved this team, regardless of how bad they were,” he added. “It didn’t make any difference because they always brought me a lot of entertainment. I always looked forward to the start of the season.”
In stark contrast to those very lean years, the Kings are now on the opposite end of the spectrum.
“Being a hockey fan [during the 2014 playoff run]—the thrill, the drama—it was exhilarating,” said Akahoshi. “That Chicago series was one of the best playoff series in the history of hockey. In fact, I was talking to my son about it. He had asked me what I thought about it. I said, ‘listen dude. I have never seen a playoff series like this, ever in my life, where you’re literally on the edge of your seat from the very beginning, holding your breath.’”
“Even in the Stanley Cup Final, three overtime games, two went into double overtime—it could’ve gone either way,” added Akahoshi. “If you look at the series, yeah, [the Kings won the series, 4-1]. But that doesn’t really tell the whole story because the New York Rangers battled. That was not an easy series, and that last game? That was breathtaking. I was hyperventilating, I really was!”
By the time of the parade, Akahoshi’s respiratory rate was back to normal, and he explained that now that the Kings have won their second Stanley Cup Championship, he has changed, as far as being a fan is concerned.
“What’s changed for me is that I’ve become a really, really proud fan,” he beamed. “I’m proud to say that I stuck by them. I persevered with them, through thick and thin.”
“I think, when you have your car flag up and you’re driving around the neighborhood, and other people are honking their horns or cheering—that never would’ve happened before,” he added. “It just makes me feel proud because the love I have for this team—it’s immense. Just feeling that pride of being an LA Kings fan, for me, it’s everything.”
At the same time, Akahoshi had a message for those fans who belittle or criticize newer bandwagon fans, and he noted that more of them are coming.
“I know that a lot of people criticize bandwagon fans,” he lamented. “But you know what? Winning breeds new fans. That’s how it begins. I don’t have a problem with that. I was once a new fan. Yeah, [the Kings] weren’t good then, but it didn’t make any difference.”
“People now think the excitement is here,” he added. “After this last playoff run, especially against Chicago? How can you not be a Kings fan? How can you not be a hockey fan, in general?”
Akahoshi’s welcoming attitude towards new fans is just an offshoot of his desire to have his friends share in something that gives him so much happiness.
“I do care about my friends, no question about it,” he said. “My motivation in life has always been to bring happiness. I’m pretty happy-go-lucky. I’m like this at work, everywhere—I’m the same. To see everyone have that smile on their face because of the success of this team means a lot to me.”
“We have that common denominator,” he added. “That’s where a lot of my friendships stem from and to share that experience with them, it’s heartwarming because we all have this in common and it’s not like we’re sharing something other people aren’t experiencing. We’ve all experienced this together. We all have different feelings about what happened, but at the end of the day, it’s jubilation for each and every Kings fan. That’s what it means to me.”
Even though the Kings have now won the Stanley Cup twice in the last three seasons, as a long-time fan, it is all still a bit difficult for Akahoshi to fathom after having to endure so many years of losing.
“It’s still surreal to me, that this all happened, and the way it happened,” he noted. “But I couldn’t be any prouder of this team. It was so exciting to watch them battle from behind [in the 2014 playoffs]. It didn’t matter what the score was. When they were behind, I still felt like, ‘they’ve got this.’”
“It’s really a proud time to be a Kings fan, no question, and look at this,” he said, looking up and down at the huge crowd gathering on Figueroa Street. “This is great!”
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