Three years ago at pretty much precisely the moment I am writing this, the Los Angeles Kings – my Los Angeles Kings – took home hockey’s ultimate prize: The Stanley Cup.
I was fortunate enough to be in attendance that night with some friends, and just thinking about the Kings’ magical ride to their championship still brings about the goose bumps. I can’t recreate that moment but I thought I’d re-post my thoughts and feelings that I wrote only a few days after that amazing evening.
So here you have it: From June 13, 2012:
Winning the Cup: A Family Thing
Are you kidding me?
My throat is burning from cheering and my eyes are a tad itchy and blurred from the tears. The Los Angeles Kings mugged the New Jersey Devils by a score of 6-1 on Monday night to clinch the franchise’s first Stanley Cup Championship in its 45-year history.
And between wild screams of joy, high fives with all those around us and hugs with the boys who suffered the longest by my side – Mike and Beau – I thought of C-3PO.
I had a spiral notebook in the fourth grade with a nice big photo of R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars on the cover, and I was forever getting comments from a classmate named Bryan Brown, who insisted that 3PO was never “that shiny.” Yes, the C-3PO that was representing on that notebook was remarkably shiny, all polished and tidy for the hero’s celebration at the end of the movie. He was incredibly shiny.
That’s how shiny the Stanley Cup is.
I don’t know how to adequately put into words what it was like to see the Kings turn a certain 4-1 victory into an improbable 6-1 thumping in the final minutes and to suddenly realize that our team was going to possess that shiny Cup. The guy sitting behind me at the game was wearing dark monster-like makeup and he had tears in his eyes. Our buddy John, wearing his oversized Gretzky era jersey just kept shaking his head in disbelief. Grown men were hugging, crying, screaming and euphoric.
And I was there.
Sure, it cost a bunch of money to attend two games during this amazing run to the Stanley Cup, but you simply cannot put a price on loyalty to your team. And this wasn’t just a team anymore.
They had become family.
Jonathan Quick, Rob Scuderi, Drew Doughty, Matt Greene, Slava Voynov, Willie Mitchell, Alec Martinez, Colin Fraser, Jordan Nolan, Dwight King, Jarrett Stoll, Brad Richardson, Mike Richards, Trevor Lewis, Jeff Carter, Dustin Penner, Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown.
Darryl Sutter came and implored these guys to stick with their defensive style but add to it the intensity of a relentless forecheck which would ultimately provide them with more chances to put the puck in the net.
These guys bought in and executed just well enough to sneak into the post season, where “they” say “anything can happen.”
And it did.
Vancouver Canucks? Done in five games.
St. Louis Blues? Swept ’em.
Phoenix Coyotes? Five very loud games and perhaps one of the more satisfying non-Stanley Cup Finals victories I have ever experienced. Just a bunch of thugs in the desert. Don’t like them a bit, and Shane Doan is a brother in Christ!
Bring on the Devils.
Ilya Kovalchuk made the Kings believe that he was interested in coming here a few summers ago, so the irony that he is a “Devil” and was showing his ugly mug in Los Angeles once again was thick. Once the Cup belonged to the Kings we started hearing all the stories about Kovalchuk’s bad back and other injuries, but at the end of the day he and his Devils mates were simply worn down by the Kings relentlessness.
The family of Kings was better than a band of Devils.
Mario Lessard, Jerry Korab, Mark Hardy, Alexei Zhitnik, Steve Duchesne, Jay Wells, Mattias Norstrom, Marcel Dionne, Tiger Williams, John Tonelli, Corey Millen, Rick Chartraw, Garry Galley, Steve Kasper, Chris Kontos, Tony Granato, Kelly Hrudey, Ian Laperriere, Jaroslav Modry, Adam Deadmarsh, Ziggy Palffy, Alex Frolov, Aaron Miller and Jozef Stumpel.
These names are like ghosts from my past, guys who put on the purple and gold, black, silver and white with many logos of crowns, crests, lions and the awful Burger King sweaters.
As time ticked off the clock on Monday night I saw all of those old faces and they seemed to be smiling now. The seemingly endless rebuilding program was finally completed and the Kings had won hockey’s ultimate prize.
I saw old coaches Tom Webster, Robbie Ftorek, Barry Melrose and Andy Murray in the same vision and they too were pleased.
Old, unsmiling Terry Murray was watching too. Likely a tad bummed to not be the guy who delivered the family to the promised land, but content in knowing that he’d been a big part of putting together the foundation.
I started attending games in 1982 – a season that saw them win only 24 of 82 games – and I have seen quite a bit of horrible hockey over 30 years.
In my 30 seasons of watching Los Angeles Kings hockey the team has compiled a record of 998 wins, 1067 losses, 250 ties and 93 overtime losses. They have had 17 different head coaches. They’ve had gaps of four and six seasons between playoff appearances, and with the exception of the magical run to the Finals in 1992-93, the Kings were typically dumped very early in the post season.
But one thing has been a constant when it came to watching the Kings: They have always been entertaining.
From brawl-filled penalty-fests, to high scoring games with spotty goaltending, the Kings always earned every penny they collected from me, especially those years of paying $5.00 for student discount tickets. I think I flashed my high school identification card well into my 20s. Those were the days.
Each year typically ends in disappointment and arguments with Beau about who should be traded, signed or fired. A few years ago in a particularly disappointing moment I submitted a list of teams to Beau saying that I couldn’t take it any longer and I was ready to jump ship. I think I listed the Edmonton Oilers, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres as potential new teams. Thankfully Beau talked me down off the ledge. That’s what you do with your buddies though, you nurse them through the rough patches. Mike has forever been the steady one, reminding us always that the Kings were on the right path and that everything would be okay. He even had the foresight during the more dismal parts of this particular regular season when the Kings were really struggling to score goals and put wins together to note that the Kings were already very much playing a playoff style, so if they qualified for the Big Dance they wouldn’t have to change much.
And he was right.
Quick was stellar in goal each and every night, and was very deserving of the odd-looking Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the Most Valuable Player in the post season.
But Quick didn’t do this by himself. It took tremendous effort from the whole Kings family to make this happen.
Brown, after hearing his name mentioned in trade rumors at the deadline was a force to be reckoned with during the post season, while Kopitar lived up to the flash and promise that we’ve seen in his game at times. Carter, Richards, Doughty and Penner all made key contributions, while guys like Williams, Fraser, Greene, Mitchell and Lewis did a lot of the little things – the dirty work – to set the tone. The kids – and this family collectively is the second youngest in the game – like Nolan, King, Voynov and Martinez played a little nervous at times, but brought a contagious energy to every shift they skated.
Even one of the ghosts from our past played a valuable role for the team during its stretch run and into the post season. Old favorite Bernie Nicholls, a friend of Darryl Sutter, was brought on board as a consultant, and in one of the more memorable moments in a huge montage of memorable moments from the Cup presentation ceremony, Bernie was handed the Stanley Cup and he hoisted it over his head in triumph. Goose bumps…
This was a team that I described to Beau as one that I barely recognized, but one that I loved very much.
I didn’t recognize them because they were simply winning too often and showed on a nightly basis that they were the best team in hockey. I’ve never been able to make that claim, even during the Gretzky heyday.
So yes, the Stanley Cup now resides in Los Angeles. It’s just as shiny as C-3PO on the cover of my notebook.
I think even Bryan Brown would have to admit that the Cup looks good in this town and that the Los Angeles Kings are a truly talented team and perhaps even a team of destiny.
They certainly are family to me.