God, loyalty and Kings fans
By Charles Smith
APRIL 13, 2009 — LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings fan. One of the most misunderstood creatures ever to walk the planet. People laugh and point and make strange faces as would a child when first he lays eyes upon a Duck-billed Platypus. “The Los Angeles Kings are nothing but losers,” say the critical masses of humanity. “Why do you waste your time,” they wonder? My all time favorite is “How could anyone be a Kings Fan?” Believe it or not, I actually heard that from a Detroit Lions Fan!
So, are Kings Fans crazy? Disillusioned? Maybe just gluttons for punishment whose self loathing makes them thrive on being scorned by society? No.
Believe it or not, the answer is biblical, yes, biblical. As it is written in the Good Book, Romans Chapter 12 verse 12 “Rejoicing in Hope; Patient in Tribulation” thus is the Mantra of the Kings fan which has now surpassed a generation.
Believe it or not, the answer is biblical…”Rejoicing in Hope; Patient in Tribulation” thus is the Mantra of the Kings fan…
Historically, the making of the modern day Kings fan was a playoff series in April of 1976 when the underdog Kings having eliminated the Atlanta Flames in the first round, then pushed the heavily favored Boston Bruins to a seventh and deciding game before they finally succumbed 3-0 in the decisive game. The series was televised on local TV and featured all the drama and excitement for which one could hope. Stellar goaltending by Rogie Vachon; Boston goalies Gerry Cheevers and Gilles Gilbert combined for three shutouts, there were overtime heroics by Butch Goring, and two goals scored by journeyman Mike Corrigan, which as it turned out were the only goals he would score in his entire postseason career. Marcel Dionne’s first ever postseason hat trick in game three, which the Kings won 6-4.
Though the Kings lost the series, their gusty effort against insurmountable odds cemented their place in the hearts of many who watched, and actually made fans of the casual viewer. Although the Kings had been a team since 1967, many older Kings fans will point to this series as the significant moment when they truly became fans, despite the loss.
This gave hope, but alas it was followed by six long years of tribulation although the Kings fans did get the thrill of seeing the Triple Crown Line (Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor, Charlie Simmer) introduced together to play together as a line in the 1981 NHL All-Star Game, at home in the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles.
Then came April 1982 when The Kings faced a juggernaut called the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the Playoffs.
Wayne Gretzky was coming off a terrific regular season in which he tallied 92 goals and 120 assists in first of his four 200+ point seasons, while leading his team to the second best overall record in the league. Meanwhile the Kings had barely qualified for the playoffs, ranked 15 of the 16 qualifying teams. The series opening proved auspicious as the Kings rallied from a four goal deficit behind a four point effort by rookie Daryl Evans to beat the Oilers, in Edmonton 10-8, yes, 10-8. The Oilers took game 2, 3-2 in OT, and then the stage was set for the greatest comeback in Stanley Cup Playoff history, known since as the “Miracle on Manchester,” April 10th 1982.
Playing in front of their home crowd, the Kings trailed 5-0 going into the final period. The Kings were lifeless, out-gunned, over-matched and humiliated. Not only were they trailing, but they had actually given up two short-handed goals during the same Power Play.
There are many theories of how and why what happened next happened. This is mine.
The turning point came some five minutes into the third period when Jay Wells absolutely buried Oilers Tough Guy Dave Semenko with a bone-jarring, teeth-rattling, spine-tingling open-ice check. It was after this hit the Kings finally showed some signs of life. Their furious third period comeback was completed when rookie Steve Bozek scored with less than a minute to play. Then came the unthinkable. In overtime, rookie Center Doug Smith took the draw at the right face off dot, drew the puck back to fellow rookie Daryl Evans who deftly buried a game-winning shot over the shoulder of Oilers Goaltender Grant Fuhr. the game would be forever referred to as “The Miracle on Manchester”. Although the Kings lost the next game at home, they would go on to win the series 3 games to 2, defeating the Oilers in Edmonton 7-4 in the decisive 5th game.
There was hope abound for the next series against the Vancouver Canucks, but alas the Canucks were making their own history that year as they beat the Kings in four straight games to take the series after a 3-1 loss in the opening game and ultimately advance to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance, where they would fall victim to the reigning dynasty known as The New York Islanders.
The Kings would again face the Oilers in 1985 and 1987, but by then the Oilers were grizzled, battle tested Champions who dropped only one game to the Kings in both playoff years combined and captured the Holy Grail in each season to boot.
Tribulation would again turn to hope after the Kings acquired Wayne Gretzky from the defending Stanley Cup Champion Oilers in August 1988.
During that first season of the Gretzky Era, Kings Star Forward and Fan favorite Bernie Nichols notched 70 goals and 80 assists to nicely compliment the 54 goals and 114 Assists tallied by The Great One. As fate would have it, the Kings would match yet again with their old nemesis (and now Gretzky’s former team), the Edmonton Oilers in the 1st round of the Playoffs. Gretzky was fresh off of having led the Oilers to four Cups in the past 5 seasons. The Kings appeared to be floating belly-up after the Oilers beat them 4-3 in game four to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
What happened next was another of those galvanizing moments in Kings history. The Kings returned home and beat the Oilers 4-3 in game 5 and then took to the road and whacked the Oilers 4-1 in front of a stunned Edmonton Oilers crowd. When interviewed after the win, an ecstatic Wayne Gretzky said “Game seven is in L.A. and L.A. is gonna be rockin’”. The Stage was set for a truly memorable game seven at home in Los Angeles. What Gretzky predicted was an understatement. The Kings came out on fire in front of a raucous sellout crowd, and left the defending champs feeling like road kill after a 6-3 drubbing ended their championship hopes and propelled the Kings into the second round of the Playoffs against the Calgary Flames.
Hopes ran high as the series began, but after the Kings pushed game one to overtime before losing 4-3, the series was hardly even competitive as the Flames dismissed the Kings in a four-game series sweep, outscoring them 22-11 as the Flames marched to their first-ever Stanley Cup title.
The 1990 playoffs again offered high drama as the Kings would again eliminate the defending Stanley Cup Champs, this time defeating the Flames in six games, courtesy of a 4-3 double overtime home victory in game six. The victory came with a high price as the injury depleted Kings would then face the Oilers in the 2nd round. The Kings would ultimately lose the series in four games with an injured Wayne Gretzky sitting out the decisive game four in Los Angeles. Oh, if only the team had been healthy. If only.
Alas, hope was just over the Horizon. After just two more seasons of tribulation both again ending with series losses to the Edmonton Oilers, all the Kings Horses and all the Kings Men were finally rewarded with a trip to the Finals.
The 1992-93 regular season was rather indifferent as the Kings finished only third in their division. In this 75th anniversary of the NHL, the Kings would again be Underdogs and this time would not have Home Ice advantage in any series. After dispatching the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks respectively in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Kings then embarked on a seven-game conference finals confrontation with the Toronto Maple Leafs which is still, to this day, classic. Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark, Dave Andreychuk and former Oiler Glenn Anderson anchored the potent Maple Leafs attack.
The Kings were decided underdogs entering this series. After splitting the first four games, Glenn Anderson scored in Overtime to push the Kings to the brink of elimination. The Kings returned home to L.A. and also returned the favor with a 5-4 Overtime victory of their own to force a decisive game seven in Toronto. During that series, Bob MacKenzie, a very well-respected hockey writer in Canada (now with TSN), had written that Wayne Gretzky was skating as if he had a piano on his back. After a magnificent game seven in which Gretzky tallied a hat trick and led his team to victory, The Great One was crowing “How’s the Piano Man sound now?” Nuff said, on to the Finals.
The Kings looked like world beaters as they took the ice and beat down the Canadiens 4-1 in Montreal in game one. The Kings and their fans could almost taste the bubbly as game two wore down and the smooth skating Kings held a 2-1 lead in the final minute. Then, it happened, just like that, from the apex of hope to the depths of Tribulation, Marty McSorley was caught playing with an illegally curved stick and given a 2 minute penalty. The Canadiens tied the game on the ensuing power play and then scored the game winner in OT. The Canadiens would then travel to L.A. and win the next 2 games in OT before returning to Montreal to close out the series.
Yes, the Kings did lose again, but Kings fans watched their team valiantly outplay the Canadiens in the first four games although there was little to show for it. For Kings fans, this was OUR Cup, but goaltender Patrick Roy (Playoff MVP) stole it from us. We played hard, we deserved it, the only game in which the Kings were truly outplayed as a team was the decisive game five. This gave us more hope than ever before. We now know that it IS indeed possible for a Kings Team to play Cup-winning caliber hockey. We now know the impossible can happen. This was the Apex of the Gretzky Era. We had hope going forward, and the next Generation of Kings fans now had their moment just as the generation before had theirs in 1976 and 1982. Now there would be Tribulation for all as the Kings would not even qualify for the playoffs again until 1998 when they would be swept by the St. Louis Blues in the first round. The Kings then missed the Playoffs in 1999 and were swept by Detroit’s Red Wings in 2000.
As the 2001 Playoffs rolled around, it had been eight years since the Kings had even won a Playoff Game, let alone a series. The Kings were matched up with same Red Wings Team which unceremoniously dumped them one year earlier. Kings fans were hanging their heads after Detroit took the first two games by a combined score of 9-3 after a four-0 game two shutout. Ah, but hope springs eternal. After returning home and winning 2-1, the Kings found themselves down 3-0 in the third period of game four with only Six minutes to play. No problem. In a span of just over 5 minutes, John Thomas, Jozef Stumpel, and Brian Smolinski all scored to tie the game and send it into OT where it took rookie Eric Belanger just 2:36 min to win it. The Kings would go on to win the next two Games and the series 4-2. The elation would end in the next series which although hard fought, the Kings lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche in seven games. The Avalanche goaltender? Patrick Roy.
As another season closes, and the playoffs begin without their beloved underdogs, it has now been six seasons since the Kings have even qualified for postseason play. However, the Kings’ faithful dutifully endure the tribulation and rejoice in hope. Hope that Jonathan Quick and Erik Ersberg are finally the answer in Goal. Hope that Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Alexander Frolov, Drew Doughty, and Jack Johnson are the foundation upon which future glory can and will be built. Hope that GM Dean Lombardi can build this franchise as he built the San Jose franchise. Hope that goaltending coach Bill Ranford, a two-time Stanley Cup champ can instill in Quick and Ersberg the same confidence and iron will he had in net.
1976, 1982, 1989, 1990, 1993, 2001. Kings fans know they are now overdue. Tribulation is tough, but it will just make the moment that much sweeter.
As it is written, Kings fans continue rejoicing in hope while maintaining patience in tribulation. It has only been six seasons.