Please excuse me, I’m a bit of a mess right now. Monday night, I was standing outside of Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, wearing the same “lucky” outfit I’d worn for 19 of the Kings’ 20 postseason games. Tears of joy were streaming down my unshaven face, taking refuge in a beard that had been growing since April 8th. I had seen a dream come true on this, the 11th of June, 2012; something I’d waited 26 years for, that I never could have predicted to happen now. The Los Angeles Kings had just won the Stanley Cup. I had to re-read that several times just to make sure it was real.
Rewind to October 2011. I liked the Kings’ offseason moves, namely the acquisition of Mike Richards and the signing of Simon Gagne’. I thought the team would win the Pacific Division and was poised to at least compete for the Western Conference title. Then the season began and reality set in: after a fast start, the Kings were having a rough go of it. The team was struggling to score goals and when it won, it was on the strength of Jonathan Quick’s stellar goaltending. By mid December, the team was on the outside of the West playoff picture, and a coaching change was made. New head coach Daryl Sutter had the team playing more inspired hockey, but it still took until the second-to-last regular season game to clinch a playoff spot.
I talked a little about this year’s playoff run in this post, but it’s taken a few days to really gather my memories together to talk about the Cup Final. Everything still seems surreal. I had people over at my place for game 1 of the series, mostly Kings fans with one Devils fan who seemed to have low expectations for the series’ outcome. The Kings’ Colin Fraser scored early to stake the team to a 1-0 lead but NJ goalie Martin Brodeur played very well and kept his team in the game. When Anze Kopitar received a pass from Justin Williams in overtime, the whole world seemed in slow motion for about ten seconds. When Kopitar deked to the forehand and slipped the puck past Brodeur, almost my entire living room sprang from their seats in cheer. I may or may not have gone the extra mile and flopped onto my back for dramatic effect (hahaha). The Kings, just like in 1993, had taken the first game of the final on the road. But much as it wasn’t 1994 again for the NY Rangers in the Conference Finals, this was not 1993 for the Kings, and I had confidence, win or lose, that this would not be the team’s sole victory in the series.
I joined some friends at a local bar for game 2, a sports establishment where most of the crowd seemed focused on the NBA’s Western Conference Finals. Still, there were probably between 20-30 Kings’ fans and a table of Devil’s supporters there to watch the game. I will forever have two memories of game 2: Drew Doughty skating through almost the entire Devils’ team and scoring a 200 foot, end to end, Bobby Orr like goal in the first period. The second one I’ll get to later. I was sitting at a table with three other goalie buddies and most of their conversation was about Jonathan Quick’s unreal mechanics and down movement. Having been a fan of Quick’s since he came up for good in 2008, it has been really cool to see him get some recognition. He played great in game two (as he did for the entire series) and it took in essence a double deflection (both off resident rodent Ryan Carter’s stick and the ice) to beat him. Nevertheless, Brodeur was again good and the team’s headed to overtime tied at 1 apiece. In the overtime period there were some close calls on both ends and I was sitting on a barstool nervously with the game’s outcome in doubt. When Jeff Carter picked up a loose puck, circled around and fired a wrist shot past Brodeur to end the game, I exploded off my barstool in celebration and cut my leg on something, likely the table. It was a worthy victory battle scar. The Kings were up 2-0 headed home to Staples, and the level of excitement in me (and I’m sure most Kings’ fans) was nearing needle in the red territory.
Where the journey really starts to get memorable for me is game 3. Being there in person was absolutely an unreal experience. The glow foamsticks and rally towels handed out at the gate, the vibe that permeated the entire building, the spectacular and emotional pregame laser show and video. The roar of the crowd during introductions, so loud you couldn’t even hear PA announcer David Courtney. And then the game began. The first period ended scoreless, surviving a barrage of Devils’ chances early with sterling work by Quick and the Penalty Kill. Kings finally got on the board with an Alec Martinez goal in the second and then doubled the lead on an absolutely beautiful give and go play that resulted in an epic finish by Kopitar. The Kings added 2 Power Play goals in the 3rd, from Jeff Carter and Justin Williams, and New Jersey was unable to solve Quick, Kings won 4-0. I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing! The Kings were ONE WIN AWAY from the Stanley Cup. One win. And I had witnessed it in person! For the first time this postseason, I was almost comfortable enough to call it. It sure felt to everyone leaving like the Devils just didn’t have an answer and people began, prematurely to plan their celebrations. I think it could even be said that perhaps the Kings were thinking about the parade too soon.
New Jersey or course had other ideas, and they won the next two gritty, closely contested games. Game 5 was the Kings first road loss of the entire playoffs. If you’re a Kings fan and you weren’t at least a little bit worried after losing two in a row in regulation for the first time since March. We as Kings fans have seen the other shoe drop enough times to know better than brash overconfidence (although I saw a fair degree of it from some fans). Mc Sorley’s stick in 1993, blowing a 4 goal lead in the first round in 2011 – you can’t ignore the possibility of collapse. However, even with concern, I had seen this team do what it hadn’t done in either of it’s two previous playoff appearances: Finish off an opponent. I was still feeling pretty good about the team’s chances, but realistic enough to know if the series didn’t end Monday night at Staples Center, the Kings were likely in trouble.
The outcome of game 6 was only in doubt for about 5 minutes. The Kings got a 5 minute Power Play when the Devils’ Steve Bernier was assessed a major and game misconduct for boarding Rob Scuderi - and the Devils’ Penalty Kill folded in it’s most desperate moment. The Kings got power play goals from Captain Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis (yes, Trevor Lewis) on the major PP and led 3-0 at the conclusion of the first period. Again, fans around me were calling the Cup and I resisted despite overwhelming evidence to support their claims. I’ve been a King fan too long to believe it was in the bag. Second period started and Jeff Carter gets an early goal to make it 4-0. I started to get goosebumps and I could feel every emotion in my body lining up at the door with a battering ram, ready to smash open the floodgates. People around me were probably annoyed at my “pinch me!” requests, but I think everybody in the room who’d been a loyal fan knew exactly what I was feeling. Jersey got a late goal from Adam Henrique and the air got a bit thin again. It was 20 more minutes to elation. To the ultimate goal. My stomach was in knots. Was it finally going to happen?
That third period saw a frustrated Devils’ team start to fold. Every push they had, the Kings had an answer for. I watched the time tick off the clock. Seconds felt like minutes. Minutes felt like eons. Around the 4 minute mark the Devils pulled Brodeur for an extra attacker. Jarret Stoll chipped the puck to Dwight King, who chipped it from his knees to a wide open Trevor Lewis, who buried the puck in the empty net to make it 5-1 with under 5 minutes left. I lost it and just started crying uncontrollably. I wiped my eyes with the sleeve of my jersey and replaced my glasses just in time to see Matt Greene score a floater from the blueline to make it 6-1. In that moment, I knew it was real because I could feel the tears running down my face. Pure joy, elation, and euphoria were hammering the door and it was giving way. As the seconds ticked off the clock, I had another slow motion moment. Everything stopped in time as Jon Quick threw his arms into the air and Drew Doughty and Colin Fraser dispatched of their gloves and sticks to embrace him, players erupting off the bench, with random pieces of gear suspended in mid air. It’s an image that will forever be suspended in my mind. The handshake line, particularly the two goaltenders engaging in a brief conversation, and the players continuing to scream and hug waiting for the presentation of the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Stanley Cup. Bettman presented Quick with the Smythe – and his reaction was not unexpected. He hurried to the bench to hand the trophy off to one of the members of the equipment staff. It wasn’t the trophy he set out for. Then, the big moment happened. I wrote in this article 20 months ago:
We will all be rewarded soon. I am awaiting the day I am in the crowd at Staples, watching Kings’ captain Dustin Brown take the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Preferably more than once!
It’s been a long time coming for this Kings’ fan. Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need a Kleenex!
And that wish had come to fruition. After 26 years as a die hard fan, I got to see the Cup presented to Captain Dustin Brown and the rest of the team. I blubbered like a baby and hugs were exchanged between everyone around, most of us complete strangers. I couldn’t hold back the emotion any longer. 26 years of frustration and disappointment disappeared at the sound of a horn.
I could’ve lived the rest of my days in that moment, right there. Four days later, the euphoria hasn’t left. I’ve watched game 6 and the Cup Celebration at least a half a dozen times, and not once with a dry eye. I’ve listened to Nick Nickson’s radio call countless times (and I just lost it again looking for that link). I yelled for the Kings, laughed at Jonathan Quick’s drunken antics at the parade/rally (how bout this fuckin’ team!”, and cried all over again watching the team, coaching staff and management raise the Cup again during the parade and rally.
As a fan, this team means EVERYTHING to me. I’ve got countless shirts, jerseys, hats and other various memorabilia and I’ve even tattooed a tribute to the team on my body. I’ve cried many tears of pain over the years, been angry, frustrated, even hopeless at times. I’d suffer all of that again to get here. It’s been, quite simply the best week of my entire life. I’ve cried more happy tears and hugged more complete strangers this week that I ever have before, felt the love, joy and complete jubilation of a group of die hards that’s been waiting many years for this. It was undoubtedly worth the wait.
Now the question is, with most of the team returning next season, can the Kings do it again? I’m not one for making gaudy predictions at the moment, but let’s just say I could get used to seeing this.
Right now, the week of June 11th, 2012 will hold a special place in my heart and in my memory. If I died tomorrow, I’d be doing it as a happy man. I’ve seen something I waited most of my lifetime for, and it was glorious. If I could feel like this for the rest of my life, I would. If they made a drug that would replicate this feeling I’d be an addict. EVERYTHING in my life seems like it’s made of gold right now. This is a week that I really don’t want to end.
Thankfully, I’ll enjoy the euphoria much longer than that.