Thursday, June 21, 2012

Finally, A Crown For L.A.'s Native Team

So it wasn’t the sweep I thought it would be.  Man, it would’ve been sweet if I were able to nail the Los Angeles Kings-in-four-games prediction.  Coach Darryl Sutter should’ve gone all out at the start of Game 4 and scored three goals in the first period to put the series out of reach.

Such as it is, the New Jersey Devils avoided making the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals a complete laughingstock by winning that game June 6, then made it intriguing by giving the Kings their first loss on the road in Game 5 June 9.  Although there have only been four series in the history of American professional sport where a team came back from a three-games-to-one deficit to win, three of them happened in the National Hockey League.  And the Devils had all the momentum to pull victory from such a depth of defeat in the finals.

But it was not to be, and Lord Stanley’s Cup was bequeathed on one play halfway through the first period of Game 6 Monday, June 11.  Jersey’s Steve Bernier plowed L.A.’s Rob Scuderi into the boards, for which he got a five-minute major and a game misconduct.  Down a man on the ice for five whole minutes (as well as on the bench the rest of the game), the Kings took advantage and resumed the role of the tough yet high-flying skaters they were in taking a 3-0 series lead.  Dustin Brown essentially won Game 6 for them by redirecting a shot by Drew Doughty and then going from behind the net to shoot one past Devils legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur.  Add an insurance loose puck goal by Trevor Lewis, and by the time N.J. was back at full strength, they were in a 3-0 hole.

And Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made sure they stayed in that hole.  He turned away 17-of-18 shots in Game 6.  All told, he stopped 125-of-132 New Jersey shot attempts, a .947 save percentage – which is .001 more than his save percentage average throughout the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Rightfully he was given the Conn Smythe Trophy (hockey’s version of the finals Most Valuable Player award).  There’s no telling if Quick is the next Marty Brodeur.  There’s a good chance he will never have such a stellar stretch run of head-standing play ever again.  He could be L.A.’s backup goalie next year.  But at least they can’t take this away from him.

So finally, after 45 years in existence, the Los Angeles Kings hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time:

And we can now finally retire the lament Dan Aykroyd decried while portraying Joe Friday in the 1987 movie remake of Dragnet (it’s between 1:06 and 1:12):

I’m not a fan of hockey teams in places that don’t regularly see snow in the winter, but I can make an exception for the Kings.  First, I have to admit that part of that comes from the fact that while I was out at USC, I went to a Kings game – in fact, it may have been the last home game Wayne Gretzky played in as a King, a 3-3 tie with Boston.  Second, this is the second-largest city and metropolitan area in the country.  You can’t have a viable league without a franchise in L.A.  Well, you have the National Football League, but it’s the NFL, and after the Southland went through the double shock of losing the Raiders and Rams months apart, they seem to be doing fine, endeavors to lure a team back notwithstanding.  And third, remember that they were one of six teams in the Class of 1967, the NHL’s first planned expansion push that included the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the St. Louis Blues, as well as the now-defunct Minnesota North Stars and California Seals.  It’s as historic a team as you can get without reaching for the Original Six.  It may not be a lot, but it ain’t nothing.

But there’s one underappreciated aspect to this achievement that needs to be highlighted.  They are the only Los Angeles professional franchise that wasn’t relocated from some other place.  It’s ironic that in perpetually sunny and warm L.A., it’s the sport that plays on ice that is native to the city.  Meanwhile, the Lakers were stolen from Minneapolis, the Dodgers from Brooklyn, the Clippers from San Diego (which in turn took it from Boston), and, in a very clever sleight of hand, took the Angles from Anaheim even though the baseball club still plays in Anaheim.

Relocation remains an underreported aspect to sports, partly because it’s so messy to keep the history straight.  Franchises claim championships won in other cities, and their fans assume they could say their team has “x” number of titles as if they could predict the future and know that a team thousands of miles away would eventually mosey into their town to stay, banners and rings in tow.

They really shouldn’t.  For Angelenos whom I once called neighbors (and whom I may call neighbors again in the near future), here’s the breakdown of how many championships your team actually “won”:

·         Lakers: 11 (6 NBA/BAA/NBL titles won by the Minneapolis Lakers)

·         Dodgers: 5 (The Brooklyn Dodgers won the 1955 World Series)

·         Clippers: Well, goes without saying…

·         Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Angels of …: 0 (The Anaheim Angels won the 2002 Series)

But you don’t have to worry about all that sorting out with the Kings.  They were born in L.A.  Their past history and glories don’t have to be shared by distant cities, their players and achievements disputed by disgruntled fans.  The Kings don’t have any allegiance to any other constituency beyond hockey fans in L.A. County – a small bunch percentage-wise, but again, because it’s L.A., the raw numbers (mostly transplanted Midwesterners and big-time Hollywood actors from Canada) are huge, as you can see from the throngs that saw the parade last week.

So be proud, Los Angeles.  This is the first championship you can say is 100% homegrown, and you don’t have to share it with anybody.  And considering the fine mix of drafted young talent and productive free-agent pickups, this could be the first of many for the city’s native franchise.

Posted by WilliamSou at 1:27 AM


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