LA Kings Leaning On Strong Team Culture To Push Past Distraction Created By Voynov Incident

ALSO; Defenseman Jake Muzzin likely to return to the lineup against Buffalo Sabres on October 23.

LA Kings defenseman Slava Voynov
Photo courtesy National Hockey League
EL SEGUNDO, CA — One day after defenseman Slava Voynov was arrested by Redondo Beach Police on suspicion of violating California Penal Code section 273.5(a)-Domestic Violence, the Los Angeles Kings held a routine practice.

In fact, the only way one could tell something was amiss was the size of the media contingent present—it was the kind of media presence the Kings only get during the playoffs.

Indeed, reporters and camera crews from most of the local television news outlets joined the usual reporters who cover the team to cover the Voynov story and how his situation would affect the team.

The practice session, which looked no different from any other non-game day full practice for the Kings, was an indication that they are going to go about their business as they always do.

Their words only reinforced that belief.

“We’re just trying to focus on what we need to do on the ice,” said right wing and captain Dustin Brown. “This is an unfortunate situation. It’s about the guys in here and how we handle it. It’s important that we stick together.”

“For us, as players, we’re just trying to not let this distract us from what we need to do,” added Brown. “We all have jobs in here, and that’s we do on the ice. That’s our main focus. We have a group that’s been through a lot, maybe not anything like this, but we can lean on past experiences that we’ve had together. We can trust each other here to re-focus and worry about hockey.”

“This came down pretty quick, yesterday. It’s one of those things—it’s an unfortunate situation. Our job, as players, is to focus on what we do, and let the legal part of it play itself out.”

Center Jarret Stoll expressed disappointment in Voynov, but agreed with Brown regarding letting the situation play itself out.

“I think we’re all disappointed,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we have to deal with this, but we hope everything can get sorted out. It’s a legal matter now. We can’t do much talking about that. That all has to play itself out.”

“Some of us have reached out to him,” he added. “We just hope everything can work out for both of them, but we haven’t talked to him.”

Stoll believes that the Kings’ inner strength will help them withstand whatever might come from the loss of Voynov.

“It’s unfortunate for our team, but we’ll deal with it as a team,” Stoll emphasized. “We feel that we’re a strong enough group to do that. If we were a younger team, a less experienced team, I don’t know if that would be the case. But we talked about it, we’re aware of it. We have to move on, as a team.”

“We’re going to address it today, with the media, but we move on together,” Stoll added. “We have a hockey game to focus on and worry about. A couple of home games, and a very tough, long road trip. We’ve got a lot to focus on within this group. We’re a strong enough group to get through this adversity, and we’ll move on.”

Head coach Darryl Sutter noted that his team was more like a family, and that, along with their leadership group, would get them through this.

“We’re pretty close, as a team,” he noted. “It’s not just ‘team,’ it’s more of a family thing. We deal with distractions all the time. We’ve been able to handle a lot of adversity and pressure for three years now.”

“You know, we have a strong organization,” he added. “It’s not just the leadership group in our room. It’s the organization that takes control of that, and it’s a trickle-down, trickle-up, and we have already.”

When asked if this adversity was different because it was a legal matter, Sutter replied, “I guess, ‘yes,’ because we don’t really have anything to talk about. It’s a legal process, and we’ll let that play out.”

Stoll noted that Voynov’s skates will not be easy to fill, but that they are up to the challenge.

“He’s a great player for our team,” said Stoll. “But we’re a team. We have to be strong together. We’ve got a lot of depth, we have a good team. Guys are going to have to step up, just like any other thing going on.”

“We’re still a strong group,” added Stoll. “We’re still a hockey team. We’re still going to play hockey, we’re still going to win games. Our goal has never changed, our attitude within this room has never changed. It’s adversity for us, but we’re going to come through it.”

Aside from the potential distraction caused by the incident, the players stressed that there is a greater concern.

“It affects everybody, but I think it affects his family the most,” said defenseman Matt Greene. “That’s it. We’re thinking about his family, and everybody involved there. You just feel bad for everybody involved.”

“Hopefully, they can figure out that situation and everything is OK,” added Greene. “We feel for those people, for him and his family.”

As reported in this space on October 20, the National Hockey League moved swiftly and decisively on this matter, suspending Voynov indefinitely, before he had even been released on bail at around 9:00 AM, less than twelve hours after the incident was reported to police.

As the Kings said in their statement, they supported the NHL’s actions.

“Absolutely,” said Sutter. “It’s very appropriate.”

“Our organization supports the decision, we all support the decision,” Stoll noted. “It’s unfortunate, what happened. The NHL did what the NHL did, and us, as an organization, we support their decision.”

In light of the National Football League’s missteps regarding their own domestic violence incidents, when asked if the swift action taken by the NHL was appropriate, Brown said, “Given the current state of the culture and society over the last year, it’s a pretty normal response.”

Sutter was asked if he had ever spoken to the team about issues such as domestic violence.

“Obviously, we have strong feelings about it, and that’s as far as we’ll go,” he said. “That is the best way to put it, and obviously, the league has made a strong stand on it.”

At that point, a reporter interjected, asking Sutter, “But I mean you, as a coach, is that something you talk to your squad about, your men who you impart values to?”

“I would think we’re probably about the same age, and I’m sure you talk to your children about things like that,” said Sutter. “A lot of these players are like children too, to me.”

For the record, as reported in this space on October 20, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has stated that the league and the NHL Players Association provides counseling and education for the players on issues such as domestic violence.

Muzzin Expected To Return Against Buffalo

With Voynov suspended indefinitely, the Kings are left with only five defensemen on their active roster. But the good news for the Kings is that Jake Muzzin, who not played yet this season due to an upper body injury, is likely to be cleared to play in time for their game against the Buffalo Sabres on October 23.

“Feeling good,” said Muzzin. “Getting close, maybe Thursday. I’ve just got to go see the doctor. [If I] get cleared, which I’m pretty sure I will—I feel good. I should be in [the lineup on] Thursday…I hope.”

Muzzin has been skating in full practices for several days now, and was scheduled to see team doctors after Tuesday’s practice.

“I’ve been participating in most of the drills the last couple of days in practice,” he noted. “It’s felt good, so we’ll just get the clearance, and then we’ll go. The skating and the conditioning is fine. It’s a little, fluky injury.”

Brown indicated that having Muzzin back in the lineup would be a big boost.

“Jake’s been a big part of our team [over] the last couple of years, so to get him back, regardless of every other exterior situation—just getting him back in the lineup is positive,” said Brown. “He’s been a big part of our team. It has nothing to do with this other situation. He’s a big boost to our lineup, regardless.”

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