Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup Parade
N.H.L. Champions, 2012
June 14, 2012

 

On June 11, 2012, the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup! I grew up in Southern California and had followed the Kings since the late 1970s. Despite having some great players such as Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Butch Goring, Dave Taylor and Luc Robitaille, the Kings rarely had a winning record and if they made the playoffs, were eliminated usually in the first round. Over the 35+ years I have followed the Kings, even after moving to Arizona in 1992, I had learned not to expect much, ever.

The Kings team of 2011-12 were okay but couldn’t score. They had a sound defense and the makings of a good team, so it seemed. They got hot at the end and squeaked into the playoffs as the lowest (eighth) seed in the Western Conference. They were to face the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, the team with the best record overall. In other words, I fully expected the Kings to be cast aside in four or five games, and then I could get on with following baseball, which had just started.

But they won the first game. I even joked in an email to a friend that fifteen more like this, and I’d be the happiest camper in the land. Then they won the second game! And the third! Holy cow, what’s going on here? The Kings were owning the Canucks, and playing surprisingly well. The Canucks won the fourth game, but then the Kings won the fifth game in overtime to take the series, 4 games to 1. The Kings had advanced!

Next up was St. Louis, the best defensive team in the NHL this past year. Never one to get my hopes up, I assumed the Kings would fall quickly. But much to my amazement, they swept St. Louis. The Kings had advanced to the conference finals for just the 2nd time in team history. Not only that, they were dominant, completely stifling the other teams. Even though the Kings didn’t score much, they played amazing defense, and their goaltender, Jonathan Quick, was a wall.

Okay, they’re half-way to the championship. I allowed myself to officially get excited. Their next foe, the Phoenix Coyotes, my “other” team, were up. They played a similar game as the Kings: limited offense but tight defense with an excellent goaltender, Mike Smith, on par with the best of them. However, I told my wife that I have to go with old-time allegiances, and I cast my full support behind the Kings.

The Kings won the first three games of the series, lost the fourth, then won the fifth to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. I was elated, but still guarded. I still could not believe “my” Kings had advanced this far. Who were these guys?

To this point, I had not allowed myself to get excited about the Kings actually winning the Cup. I did not want to let my hopes rise, then get dashed. Had they lost the Phoenix series, I would have been bummed, but not surprised. In their 45 years of existence, that’s what Kings teams usually did. There was a few days’ wait to see who they’d face, and finally, it was decided: their last foe would be the New Jersey Devils. Four more wins to the promised land. In 1993, the only other time the Kings advanced to the Finals, they lost in five games to Montreal, and I was very sad, even though I was a grown-up 26 year old by then.

A little background: I started following sports around 1976 and 1977, age 9 or 10, following all the Los Angeles teams by default because we lived in the L.A. burbs, and for the most part, the L.A. teams were good: The Dodgers and Lakers were past (and future) champs, the Rams were often one of the best teams in the NFL, and the Trojans and Bruins usually dominated college football, basketball and baseball. Even the Angels had some solid teams back then. But the Kings… forget it. None of my friends back then knew who they were. The Kings were an average team at best, but more often, a very rotten team. They traded away draft picks, signed over-age stiffs, and did just about everything wrong. Still, I got hooked and became an avid hockey fan. Being a Kings fan back then was like being in a secret society. Nobody followed them. They got no coverage on the news. They simply were a non-entity in the L.A. sports scene. Even the L.A. Aztecs soccer team got more coverage for a time, it seemed. Had there been an L.A. team in professional ballroom dancing, they would have garnered more coverage than the Kings. I had apparently cast my lot with L.A.’s least-favorite professional team, who never won anyway. Someday my allegiance would be rewarded, I thought. Maybe before I die of old age.

So here they are, in the freaking Stanley Cup Finals. Whereas I had watched all the previous games up to now with a sense of detachment, so that when the inevitable happened I wouldn’t be too upset, I was now “all in”, as they say. For the next two weeks, I was a basket case. My existence was reduced to watching the Kings play the Devils, then waiting two or three days for the next game to come along. Work, eating, other day to day things were mere distractions for the time being.

The first game was close, a 1-1 tie that forced overtime. I literally felt sick: I couldn’t watch, yet I couldn’t not watch! So I had to watch, and when Anze Kopitar scored on a pretty breakaway in the first overtime, I was elated, and unbelievably relieved. Game two went like game one: overtime, and a Kings score and win that was thrilling, but also very relieving. It wasn’t like they were winning 8-0, or losing 8-0. The games were close, and each two-on-one, or outlet pass, or giveaway, was unbelievably exciting – the whole world’s future depended on these games it seemed! There was never any relaxing moment.

Game three happened to be on my birthday, and as a gift to me (I am certain), they played a dominating game and won, 4-0. They were up three games to zero in the series, and were one measly game away from the crown. I was excited, but that old dreaded Kings “curse” started to grow in my gut. No team had ever lost a Stanley Cup final round after being up three games to zero. The Kings, with no winning tradition, would seem to be the perfect team to be the first. I was convinced they’d lose it all.

Game four was a loss. My worst nightmare was coming true. Game five, another loss! Good God, they were now up, just three games to two. While the Kings still had the statistical advantage, the Devils were playing well and the Kings had seemed to lose their magic. I know it sounds so stupid so say this, but I was sick in my gut, like I had swallowed a rock, about this. I couldn’t concentrate. Just win the freaking series, already. Don’t do this to me.

My wife, who heretofore had never followed hockey closely, and who had a long-ago allegiance with Montreal back in her younger days, had come on board to cheer for the Kings to support me at first, but by the New Jersey series, she had transformed herself into a true fan, following every play, cheering when they scored, sickened when the damnable Devils scored. She coped by staying out on the patio for long stretches. She couldn’t watch. Me, I had to watch. It was my curse.

So game six comes along. It’s in L.A., so the Kings have home-ice advantage. We put on the game, then also put on ESPN’s SportsCenter, so that we can flip back and forth between the two channels. In reality, the ESPN show was just a distraction. When the hockey game got too much to bear, we flipped to ESPN just to let our minds rest. So the game starts, and it’s good back-and-forth hockey for the first few minutes. Beth actually falls asleep, while I mute the sound. I’m flipping back and forth between the two channels like every five seconds. I can’t bear to watch but I can’t not watch either. I happen to be watching the Kings when their defenseman, Rob Scuderi, gets plowed from behind into the boards: a five-minute major penalty against the Devils. This is good.

I still have the game on mute. The power play starts and a few moments later, the Kings score! I’m thrilled, but I keep the outward reaction to a minimum. It’s too early to get my hopes up. Then they score again … and a third time! In less than a few minutes they scored three goals and had a 3-0 lead. I’m nearly laughing with giddiness in my seat and I awake Beth. I filled her in on the details. She was excited too, but couldn’t stand to watch, so out to the patio she goes. First period ends, Kings up 3-0. The intermission is interminable. The second period: The Kings score and so do the Devils. It’s 4-1 going into the 3rd period. You’d think I’m sitting there on the couch, all happy, calm, thinking the Kings got this in the bag. No way, man. I was a basket-case. I couldn’t sit still. There was still too much time. The Devils could get a couple quick goals and be right back in the game.

The third period seemed to take forever. Even when there was just 10 minutes to go (half a period), I was still a bundle of nerves. It seemed like they’d play five minutes, then go to a commercial break, and only 30 seconds of game had actually passed.

Finally, the denouement, that moment when the end is inevitable, where for the first time in weeks I could actually believe the Kings were about to win the whole thing. The Devils pulled their goalie with about 5 minutes to go, and the Kings immediately scored an empty-net goal. That was it. They win. Even I couldn’t see the Kings giving up four late goals in the last four minutes to blow this one. I pop my head outside to tell my wife “we’re celebrating”. And wouldn’t you know, in that short moment, they even scored a 6th goal! I missed that, even on replay.

The last couple of minutes were perfunctory. The Kings had won. When the final buzzer sounded, we hollered and cheered, and I picked up Beth and then we both fell to the floor. We were elated, and that’s a huge understatement! My Kings, the team I had dutifully followed through thin and thinner since 1976, had won the Stanley Cup. My Kings. It was unbelievable. The Kings were now in the class of winners. Forty-five years of crappy, haphazard play out the window all at once. It was like they exorcised all the dross and disappointment of their history in one incredible moment. And I felt a sense of closure going back to 1976, when I first started following these long-haired, moustache-wearing guys with sticks chase a black thing on ice, and lose more often than not. No more angst, no more disappointment. The Kings are winners.

I have always felt the Stanley Cup is the most beautiful trophy in professional sports, and the presentation of it to the winning team on the ice, and seeing each player hoist it, as one of the most thrilling things to watch. In other sports, when a team wins the title, they immediately run off into the dressing room, spray one another with champagne, and the trophies, frankly, are lame. In hockey, there’s tradition. The players stay out on the ice for a good 20 minutes. Each gets a few moments with the Cup, raising it high. I have tried to watch each final game of the Stanley Cup Finals now for years, even when it’s two teams I don’t care about. It’s still thrilling to see the winning team and their players celebrate. It’s classy. Beth and I sat and watched the Kings hold the trophy and hoist it, one at a time. I was thrilled for them, and so very happy.

Thus, three days later, we had to go to the victory parade in Los Angeles. There was no choice. I very much wanted to see this in person. We left our home at 4 a.m. and made the 370-mile drive into Pasadena, scoring the last parking spot in the big parking garage for the train/subway that would take us into downtown L.A. I had never ridden the subway in L.A. until now so all this was new, but we made it, cheering with the thousands of others who had lined the road. It was the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to a old-timey church revival. Thousands of Kings fans, some even wearing the old purple-and-yellow jerseys with old names like Vachon, Dionne and Goring on the back. Here was “Kings Nation”. For the first time ever, the Kings owned L.A.

Photos (Click to enlarge)














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(c) 2012 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. Please do not attempt to win the Stanley Cup on your own without expert training, supervision and perseverence. It's best to allow better and more skilled people do the skating, shooting, hip-checking, glove-saving and face-offing than you.