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Like many folks in the greater Los Angeles area, I grew up a Los Angeles Kings fan. I honestly get it from my dad, who, despite being a preacher’s kid, being raised with two working parents, and spending his formative years bouncing around from place to place to accommodate his father’s work, somehow got into hockey. I think if he’d been, say, a Chicago Blackhawks fan, I would’ve ended up as one myself. But honestly, I’m such a homer, I can’t imagine not rooting for the Kings.
My personal fandom was always more of a casual thing. There were times growing up that I found hockey boring and I didn’t understand why my dad was watching it. Combined with my mother screeching at the TV, “Ew, they’re so ugly!” as the camera panned down a line of big, hairy, toothless, sweaty guys, my interest in the Kings waxed and waned as a child.
In 1996, our family of four moved to Orlando, Florida for a very brief two and a half years. I remember thinking, “Who are we going to root for?” in terms of hockey. The Florida Panthers were in Sunrise, yet we knew little of them as their marketing ploys hadn’t yet spread that far north. So we settled on the Orlando Solar Bears of the IHL. But life got in the way so our fandom was more even more casual than it had been in the suburbs of sunny SoCal. Hockey never really left our family, though. I watched my father coach my older brother’s roller hockey team. It was difficult as there were barely enough kids to fill a team and then it seemed like not a lot of people cared. Of course, I was 9 years old and was not terribly fascinated watching my brother play any sport at all, so perhaps my memory of this time is a bit off.
As I am a huge homer, I was naturally drawn to the Kings as “my” team, but they were completely awful by the time I was old enough to understand what was happening. Wayne Gretzky had retired in 1999 and the team seemed to sputter and lose every winter, usually in January and February. So, without the Kings to cheer for, in 2003, our family attended the quarterfinals at the Arrowhead Pond as the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim took on the Detroit Red Wings. It was my first playoff experience and the atmosphere was nothing like a typical Honda Center game today. I was hooked. I wanted more. I watched the Ducks go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final that year, eventually losing to the New Jersey Devils.
Hockey as a sport never left our family. My brother played both ice and roller hockey throughout his high school years. I wouldn’t say it necessarily piqued my enthusiasm for the sport, but it held my attention long enough that I’d dive back into the excitement of pro hockey head first.
I kept tabs on the Kings while I was in middle and high school. Mattias Norstrom inexplicably became my favorite player. To this day, I cannot tell you why but I loved watching him on the ice. He was so smart, but so underrated. He just seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I can’t remember anyone he was playing with, save for Rob Blake (and mostly because his name was synonymous in my mind with Robert Blake the actor, who was in the news for much worse reasons in 2002).
But then came 2012. Part of me was already a die-hard fan. My family gathered around the TV every night to watch the miracle run. When Dustin Brown smashed Henrik Sedin in front his own bench, it was a highlight moment that enthralled us all, kept us glued to the screen even as we held our collective breaths through overtime. For Game Four of the Western Conference Final, my dad had invited a hockey-loving neighbor to join us watching the game. I recall him joking about a sweep pre-game and I smiled politely, desperately wishing he hadn’t said the “S” word. It didn’t matter. The Kings swept the St. Louis Blues, took down the Phoenix Coyotes, and punched their ticket to the franchise’s second ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
During Game Six, I was a wreck and couldn’t sit still. I’d walk around, pretend to do something else, do anything but look at the TV. I even went to check in on our newly adopted puppies who were hanging out in the garage (so as not to be disturbed by all the screaming and yelling) several times. Naturally, they were fine. I was not. In the last five minutes, up 4-1, I got nervous they’d blow it. I was convinced this team couldn’t do it. Then Trevor Lewis scored on the empty net followed by Matt Greene accidentally scoring with Brodeur back in net. Slowly, that tight knot in my gut began to relax as friends and family gathered around the living room, high-fiving each other over the amazing feat of sport we’d all just witnessed.
While I grew up a Kings fan, it really wasn’t until a magical run to the Stanley Cup, ending in historical records being created anew, that I became obsessed.
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