I was 12 or 13, the first time I went to a hockey game. It was the old purple and gold Kings, at the Forum, against (I think) the Flyers. It would have been around 1983 or 1984, and a though I can't recall much about the game, a few things are clear in my memory:
- The Forum was not even half full, but the people who were there were as loud and passionate as the Dodger fans I saw regularly at sold out Dodger games*.
- The Kings were not a good team.
- There were a couple of fights near center ice that were awesome.
- The Kings lost the game.
It took me about half of the first period to understand what was going on, but once I figured it out, I was hooked. Los Angeles isn't a hockey town (despite what the press and celebrities are saying right now), and it never will be. Los Angeles is a Lakers town, and (when they win) a Dodgers town.
I loved (and love) ice hockey -- especially Kings ice hockey -- because it took effort to understand the game, because it wasn't something that many people cared about or even knew about. In the 80s, it was easy to be a Lakers fan; that team was unstoppable and as dominant as any team has ever been... so being a weird nerd and budding contrarian, I rejected basketball entirely and embraced ice hockey and the Kings, because it wasn't easy to be a Kings fan.**
In 1987, I got hired on Star Trek, and I could afford season tickets to the Kings. Later that year, Wayne Gretzky came to town, and suddenly people cared about ice hockey in Los Angeles. For the next six years, I attended nearly every home game and quite a few heartbreaking first round playoff games. I started playing the game myself, and eventually became a fairly decent goalie.
In 1993, I watched the team I'd grown up loving more than anything make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, fighting every step of the way to get there, defeating some of the best teams of that era before an illegally-curved stick put Lord Stanley's Cup out of reach for what would feel like eternity.
Until last night.
Last night, my friends came over and we put on jerseys from three eras of Kings history, hoping against hope that we would finally see our team hoist the Cup.
That's our friend Burns! and our friend Stephanie. I've known Stephanie since we were 17. We went to games together all through the 80s and early 90s. She introduced me to Anne 16 years ago. Burns! and Anne worked together when they were in their early 20s, and Burns! grew up with Scalzi. It's weird how small the world is.
The mood in our house wasn't as celebratory as it was for Game 5. We've been close before, and we've been heartbroken. We've been Kings fans long enough to know that, sometimes, the team just falls apart...
But not this team. Not now. Not this year.
After having a terrible power play all year, this team scored three times on a 5 minute major and never looked back. We were screaming and cheering so much, we scattered my cats and Anne had to put our dogs outside.
When the third period started, we put the champagne in the fridge, and hoped we didn't jynx anything.
Then New Jersey pulled one of the greatest goalies to ever play the game, and the Kings scored an empty-netter to go up 5-1. Then, Matt Greene scored from the blue line to make it 6-1 with 2 minutes left in the game.
And we all realized that a lifetime of waiting for our beloved Los Angeles Kings to win the Stanley Cup was going to end. This was really happening. A team that wasn't even supposed to make it past the first round of the playoffs, a team that was horrible in December and January, a team that I was afraid would never realize its potential...
After nearly 30 years watching the Kings have a few ups and a lot of downs, this feels really, really good. I'm proud of these guys, and I hope the ones who are free agents next season will find a way to stick around, so maybe they can do it again.
Unlike the teams of the early 90s, when Kings ownership and management seemed intent on sacrificing the future for a slim chance to win one Stanley Cup, this is a Kings team that has the potential to repeat. This isn't the end of something... this is the beginning.
Oh, and for the die hard, life long Kings fans out there... how awesome was it to finally see this:
*Dodger baseball is basically religion in my dad's family. I can't remember a time in my life when we didn't go to games, or listen to games, or watch games, or listen to old people in dad's family talk about games.
** [Hipster Kitty]