EL SEGUNDO, CA — After the Los Angeles Kings dropped a game to the Anaheim Ducks, 6-5 in a shootout on November 12 at Honda Center in Anaheim, as one might expect, Ducks fans relished the victory while Kings fans bemoaned the defeat.
On social media, the strong rivalry between fans of the two teams generated more than the usual trash talking—some of it good-natured, some of it crossing the line—that usually happens when National Hockey League teams face one another.
To be sure, the rivalry between Ducks and Kings fans is strong, and loaded with passion. But there are two distinct parts of this rivalry, one far more passionate than the other.
Indeed, while many fans express disdain, even bitter hatred for the other team, contrary to popular belief, the players do not share those sentiments.
“I don’t think it’s going to be anything different, I don’t know if it’s going to be anything extra,” center Anze Kopitar said about facing the Ducks. “We’ve just got to get ready as if its for any other game.”
When asked if games against the Ducks are more fun to play in because they are rivals, Kopitar shrugged and said, “No. It’s a game. I don’t know about ‘more fun,’ but it certainly has a little bit more intensity to it because it is a rivalry, so-called.”
If Kopitar seems less than luke warm to a rivalry existing between the Kings and Ducks, he’s not alone. In fact, goaltender Jonathan Quick didn’t think there was a rivalry at all before the two teams met in the playoffs last season.
“Everybody talks about a rivalry between us, but I haven’t seen it yet,” Quick said in May 2014. “They’re competitive games, but you get that with any team in the Western Conference. I guess that if we did play them [in the post-season], it would be good to actually get a rivalry.”
Quick also denied that the close proximity between the two teams created a natural rivalry.
“Just because we’re less than an hour from each other hasn’t made it a rivalry,” he noted. “I don’t think we’ve played’em [in the playoffs]. If we [do] play them, it’ll be good to start forming a rivalry with them.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter agreed with his goaltender.
“Until you play each other in the playoffs, there’s not a lot of rivalry created, and that’s a big reason why the league wanted to go to the division part of it, to create those rivalries,” Sutter said in May 2014. “If you look at this, it’s exactly what everyone wanted.”
The Kings and Ducks met in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the Kings winning the series in seven games. But it was a series that had very little chippy play, and not a lot of extracurricular activity after whistles.
Conventional wisdom was that the playoff series would finally create a true rivalry between the two teams.
Yours truly thought that would be the case. The Kings thought so, too.
“Playing a team in the playoffs really helps build a rivalry,” center Jarret Stoll said in May 2014. “If you look at who our biggest rivals are now—San Jose, maybe Vancouver, and soon to be Anaheim. It’s going to be exciting.”
“The regular season is one thing, [but] we all know that the playoffs are a totally different ball game, when it comes to physicality, how hard it is, how hard you’re battling,” Stoll added. “If it’s going to go to a six or seven-game series, I think it’s going to help out a lot [in terms of building and intensifying the rivalry].”
But the second round series between the Kings and Ducks last season generated little, in terms of chippy play, extracurricular activities after whistles, and animosity between the teams.
In short, there is a bit of a rivalry between the teams, but it is several orders of magnitude less than what many fans believe it is.
Sutter said it even more bluntly.
“I haven’t seen a rivalry,” he said. “Until we played each other in the playoffs there was none. It’s a rivalry between the fans.”
“I’m not into that rivalry stuff unless they’re two top teams that are battling for a spot,” he added.
Sutter noted that the nature of rivalries in the NHL has changed a lot.
“The rivalry thing has changed in our game so much,” he said. “The rivalry used to be in warm-ups and between whistles, if somebody touched the goalie and if somebody hits you, so the rivalry thing has changed a lot. What was in the dictionary for ‘rivalry’ 15 years ago is not ‘rivalry’ now.”
“I’m oblivious to it,” he added. “Couldn’t care less. It’s about what it takes to win. If you think there’s a rivalry there, fine. The whole game part of it’s changed, in terms of making playoffs and division and all that. It’s changed so much because of the way it’s reset now in terms of how many games you play, and how many games you play in their building. It’s changed so much. It changed starting last year, even, with the new divisions.”
The rivalry between the Kings and Ducks was created by the fans of the two teams back when the Ducks entered the NHL in 1993-94, and remains largely between them, as reported earlier. Nevertheless, they are in the same division and, as the saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt.” As such, there is a little bit of that between the two teams, just not much of it.
“[Games against the Ducks are] definitely more fun,” said Doughty. “A team like the [New York] Islanders comes in, or the [Buffalo] Sabres or something like that, they’re a team that you never see. Sometimes you don’t even know any of the players on their team just because you never play against them. So rivalry games are so much more fun.”
“You get up for the game, get excited before the game even begins,” added Doughty. “You get out there and hopefully beat that team. Getting familiarity with the guys on their team, you know how hard it is to play against some of their players. When you know how hard it’s going to be that night, you step up to the plate and you enjoy that challenge. I think that’s one of the best things.”
Stick tap to LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen who contributed to this story.
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