Los Angeles, CA: Hockey Town! [On The Contrary]
The Stanley Cup Finals are upon us, and beginning tonight the Los Angeles Kings travel to the fetid swamps of New Jersey to take on the Devils in a best of seven series to decide who gets to skate around carrying a gigantic, funny-shaped cup.
It’s a beautiful time for any person with even a passing interest in sports. To a hockey fan, it’s what we live for. No sport has a more grueling playoff season than the NHL, and no sport has a more storied trophy. Every other sport the champion team gets a version of the trophy to forever store in their clubhouse. Not so in hockey—there is only one Stanley Cup, and the team must return it the next year, but the victors leave their mark on the Cup by having their names engraved in it for all times (or at least until it fills up and they have to add more blank space to it).
But what team most deserves it this year? Obviously, the best thing about sports is that they have to play the games to determine that, so unlike, say, the Oscars, there’s not really much room for differing opinions afterward. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the better story this year would be for Los Angeles to bring the Cup to Hollywood.
I do not say this as a resident of L.A., nor because I am a pledged hater of the Devils (who are division rivals to the team I follow—the Pittsburgh Penguins). I say it because people who don’t know what they’re talking about tend to scoff at the idea of hockey in Los Angeles. What business does a city in which ice is not a natural occurrence at any time of year have winning hockey’s most storied prize?
Well, I’ll tell you…
First, the Los Angeles Kings are not some fresh-on-the-scene Sunbelt franchise that popped up in the 90s when people mistakenly thought hockey was going to become a mainstream sport. The Anaheim Ducks are that franchise, founded by Disney and named after a movie for children (though I loved that movie as a child). No, the Kings have been around since 1967. They were part of the first NHL expansion that also brought about the Philadelphia Flyers, the St. Louis Blues, and my own beloved Pittsburgh Penguins. They’ve been around longer than Cup dynasty franchises like the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders.
And in that time they have NEVER won a Cup. In fact, they only came close once, in 1993 when Wayne Gretzky was leading the team and benefiting from some of the most biased referees in professional sports. There is a case to be made that this is one of the longest suffering teams in professional hockey (along with co-1967 team St. Louis).
You might argue that you can’t consider a fan base suffering when its city by and large does not care about the team. Fair enough. L.A. is a town of frontrunners. But so is any city large enough to have other options of things for people to do when their sports teams suck. And also, it’s hard to develop a devoted fan base without a championship. Just looking at Pittsburgh teams, no one cared much for the perennial loser Steelers until their 1970s dynasty, and the Penguins were in danger of folding a number of times before Mario Lemieux almost single-handedly made the Steel City into a hockey town. The Los Angeles Kings lack that signature triumph to capture the imagination of a generation of fans. Wayne Gretzky was supposed to bring it in the 90s, and his presence did spark a hockey wave in Southern California, but ultimately it fizzled. With the Lakers and Clippers out of the NBA playoffs, Los Angeles is poised and primed to become a hockey town—at least for the next two weeks.
One final note that I find odd is not mentioned more often. Los Angeles is a city of transplants. People come here from other places to pursue careers and dreams, or simply for the weather. Likewise, the professional sports teams in L.A. are all transplants. The Dodgers came from Brooklyn, the Lakers from Minneapolis, and the Clippers from San Diego. NFL teams have come and gone, and should football return to L.A. it will be a transplant team abandoning another city. In fact, there is only one truly native team in the City of Angels. The Kings.
So while hockey fans might talk up the dedicated fan base in New Jersey, or their legendary goalie Martin Brodeur, just remember that the older and more loyal franchise (New Jersey was in Kansas City and Colorado before they settled into Newark) makes its home in the Tinseltown. It’s time for them to have a Hollywood ending.
Go Kings Go.