Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Completely Biased Stanley Cup Finals Preview

Disclaimer here, I'm a Los Angeles Kings fan, so now that we've got that out of the way I can give you an unbiased opinion on the Stanley Cup Finals.... featuring the Kings against the New York Rangers.

Okay, so that's a lie, there will be plenty of bias in this Stanley Cup preview. Kind of like how I only do Major League Baseball reviews of one team, my favorite team, the San Francisco Giants. And I know that sounds really weird- how can a San Francisco native even like any team based in Los Angeles? It's not very normal, but if you've been reading here for any length of time, you know that the only normal anything I have is a 98.6 degree temperature.
What's more impossible: the age or the hair?

When I was a kid I knew about hockey, sure, but it was something that was played other places. Heck, the only ice rink I ever went to on a regular basis was at the Charles Schulz Snoopy Museum in Santa Rosa, more than an hour north of the house. And we'd go up there to ice skate, not to play hockey. In fact, when it was time for hockey practice, that's when we left. It wasn't my idea to go- in fact, the older I got the more I realized that hockey was probably the one sport I could have done well in- I can balance pretty well and I like shouldering people into walls. Of course, I also don't like losing teeth, so it's probably a good thing that never actually happened.

Anyway, the day I first became aware of the Los Angeles Kings was 1988, the day Wayne Gretzky got traded there. I have a very good friend who is a native Los Angeleno and the day he stopped being a Kings fan was that very same day in 1988. Actually, you may know who that LA Native is from this website- it's the one and only Bob of Arabia, who is now an Anaheim Ducks fan (gag). While BOA was in hockey-fan limbo back then (it was five more years before the Ducks and Sharks came into existence), I was intrigued. I even remember the joke after the trade- “I'm shocked that Gretzky was traded to the Kings- I didn't even know Los Angeles had a hockey team!” Which, for me at that point, was true.

As the Kings were the only major league hockey team in California at the time and had the best player to ever take the ice on their side, and since ESPN had the NHL television contract and broadcast seemingly every game they could, I slowly learned about the game. I didn't understand icing for years, though. In college, a friend and I came up with the theory that hockey was invented and originally played by bakers, and when the cake was done and they needed to put the frosting on it, they would just randomly stop the game to do so. And that's how icing was invented. It made the most sense to us. It still does.

Over the years, I came up with certain rules about fandom that were in my mind, not very negotiable. One, no teams from Los Angeles. Two, no teams that wear purple. I can't stand the Baltimore Ravens or Washington Huskies, I only accept the Kansas State Wildcats because they are my university “brothers” (when the Big 12 inevitably dissolves, Kansas and K-State have made a pact that they will go to the same conference), the Minnesota Vikings are a joke, Northwestern University told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn't going to go there, the Colorado Rockies are in my division, the Lakers are the Lakers... I'm sure I'm forgetting somebody else.
Marcel Dionne in atrociously awful purple.

Anyway, I realized that I was breaking my two top rules with the Kings. They used to wear purple a lot, honestly, and they're in Los Angeles. But because it's hockey, and it still feels more like a cult following than a sport (even thought that's what all sports are), the Kings felt acceptable to root for. Breaking arbitrary rules always feels good.... even though they were my own rules. Also, I can't stand teal.

And this hockey playoff season has been an amazing time to follow the Kings. I honestly have counted them out every series, and already they've become the only NHL team to win three game sevens in the same season. I wondered who I was going to root for when they were down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks, and they became the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a oh-three deficit, and they won on the road. Then they were down three games to one to those god-awful Anaheim Ducks (sorry not sorry BOA) and came back to win in seven, also on the road, even though “the road” in this case was across town. Of course Los Angeles is bigger than Maine (at least, it probably is), so “across town” in this case is a lot longer than “across town” is in Topeka or Shreveport. Then, when they were actually up three-one on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals, I thought “this is totally going to game seven” and of course it did, with the Kings winning on the road- in overtime, no less. And they never led in that game until the game-winning goal: they trailed 2-0 within minutes, they came back to tie it at two. They trailed three-two at the end of one period, they tied it at three. They trailed 4-3 in the third, they tied it and forced overtime. Chicago had plenty of chances to win it, but the Kings got it to advance.
By rights, this should be impossible.

Now it's the final piece of the puzzle, the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Kings are coming into this seemingly having exhausted all their energy, having come back from oh-three and three-one deficits, and then winning the conference finals on the road in overtime. By rights, the Rangers should maul them. But this is no ordinary team. Also by rights, the Kings should be well into golf and water-ski season. Instead of being exhausted by what they've gone through, Los Angeles should be looking upon themselves as the team of destiny. So many times they could have rolled over and quit, and they didn't. And here they are, four more wins away from the most memorable Stanley Cup playoff run that any team has had.

They have colorful players, like all hockey guys are. The top three are the Captain, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and of course the goalie Jonathan Quick. But Alec Martinez scored the series winner, Drew Doughty is cool, and Justin Williams has seven goals and seven assists in seven career game sevens, the most by any player in NHL history.

But most of all, they have already accomplished the impossible this playoff season- what's four more wins? And should it go to a game seven, the Kings will have one more thing going for them- that game would be at home. Four game sevens in one playoff season? It's never been done before. The Kings have already done plenty this playoff season that's never been done before. There's no reason to not add to the list. Besides, that's why they're Kings.

"It comes with free Timbits."
photos courtesy: proicehockey.about.com, nhlsnipers.com, ultimatesportstalk.com, cbc.ca