They say there’s no place like home, which may well be true, but I’m of the mindset that there’s no place like Los Angeles. What a place. In a single day, you can swim, hike, invade the privacy of celebrities via guided bus tours of their homes, take a wrong turn off a freeway and fear for your life, and see real, live Mexicans sleeping in the sunshine – all that, and you’ve just barely scratched the surface. It’s an amazing city, and I love it.
I also love Hockey. Fancy my luck, then, that my time there would coincide with the Western Conference finals, a series in which the Kings were playing. I was given a wonderful opportunity to see just how much, if at all, a huge American market like LA cared about the Kings. And there was no time like the present to gauge it. As defending Stanley Cup champs on the doorstep of another Finals apperance, I could think of no better time to see the kind of buzz that Hockey was creating. Would the city care? Could there be buzz? Was it possible for Daryl Sutter mania to exist in LA as it did in Calgary in 2004?
I really wanted to put a picture of him talking to the chair at Republican Convention, but that’s not a free image. So instead you get Clint Eastwood with what appears to be a scientist of some sort and a space shuttle. Deal with it.
So, In honour of Clint Eastwood – whom I don’t much like, but he is a Hollywood icon and this is an LA based story, but most importantly, one his more famous movies fits perfectly the break down of my findings – I present my findings of the good, the bad, and the ugly of LA’s relatoinship with their NHL squad.
- Tickets for Games 3 and 4 were very sold out. As in none available. Now, you could argue that in selling out 18,867 tickets in market with some 16.37 Million people in it as not terribly impressive, but in Vancouver this year, a (sometimes violently) crazed hockey market of 2.3 Million, there were plenty of tickets available in a buidling that holds 18,910. Prices at the Staples Center ranged from $190 to $950+. Sucks they were sold out becuse I totally for real would have bought one of the $950+ ones, I swear.
- I was at pub/bar/restaurant/club/whatever the hell you want to call it, and Game 4 was on the Big Screen TV. It was in a part of the room where not a lot of people were for reasons too long and dull to explain here. As I stood watching it, so did a handful others, a few quite intently. One of them, noticing my mutual game-centric focus, walked up and said "Man, has Slava Voynov ever been amazing this playoffs." Now, I am a Winnipeg raised, borderline obssessive Hockey fanatic – one that also happens to write for a hockey site, at that – and I could not have had any less of an idea of how well Slava Voynov had been playing. I would have been proud to have told a someone I knew who Slava Voynov was, and what position he played. That this random LA dude knew of him, and his brilliance to date – 12 points in 17 gamess to that point, leading the defense in scoring and Drew Doughty by 7 points – was impressive. I knew these numbers because an on-screen graphic showed it, coincidentally, immediatlety following his comment, allowing me to agree and further extoll on his brilliance as any self respecting hockey fan/writer would. There were serious fans out there, I saw.
- The Kings were a frequent topic of discussion on the local Sports radio station. Even the somewhat legendary Pat O’Brien was onboard the Kings train. He interviewed Dustin Penner, and seemed to be a relatively knowledgable hockey observer, which is a good trait in a Sports Radio host. O’Brien made references to other times he had Penner on the show, which pleased me, as it proved Hockey was more than a passing fancy in the Market. O’Brien also made references to the Celebrities at the games, such as Tom Cruise and David Beckham, how you only have to go to one game to fall in love with the game, and how he had a better car than Justin Bieber, whom he demanded, hopefully not jokingly, to get out of his seats. The Kings were mentioned frequently on all programs – they were certanly on the Radar.
- I met the guy in the picture at the top of the page on the Street. Well, ‘met him’ is a stretch. It was 2:00am, he drunkenly walked passed me, and I had to take his photo as proof that people actually wear LA Kings gear in public. Rather than get upset a total stranger for blatantly taking his photo in the wee hours of the morning, he chose to pose, ask for a cigarette, and share his dismay at the series score, at that point 3-1 Chicago. I high-fived him for posing, declined his cigarette request (buy your own damn smokes) and told him to keep his chin up, because "The Series ain’t over yet!". The statement was true for another 48 hours.
- Watching TV late one night, I turned to it the local sports channel and found myself shocked to find a special feature on none other than Daryl Sutter. It profiled the previous season’s events, culminating in the big Stanley Cup party at the Sutter’s ranch in Viking, Alberta. Until you see Daryl Sutter’s unrelenting mug beaming across the TV at you in Los Angeles, you’ve never seen weird. If there’s anything less ‘LA" than Daryl Sutter, I challenge you to name it. To see the stern faced Sutter flipping hamburgers at his Cup celebration at his rural Alberta farm, in Southern California, is truly sight to behold. An amazing contrast. In a town that wholly embraces shallow vapididty, it was a breath of fresh air to see Daryl’s unforgettable scowl on the Television.
The traffic is so bad there, this would be considered a nice quiet Sunday drive.
- The Kings may have been on the LA sports Radio radar, but it was far from the largest blip. The stories that took up the majority of the airtime were the NBA Finals and the stunning debut week of LA Dodger rookie outfielder Yusiel Puig. I mean, they went nuts on Puig. I could only compare it to the love of Sidney Crosby after ‘The Golden Goal’. You’d think Yusiel Puig was bigger than Jesus, mostly because one DJ suggested as much. They were literally singing his praise, improvising songs about Puig (pronounced Pweeg), putting his name in whatever song they could cram it in, singing tunes like "Puig Dreams are made of these", "Getting Puig’y with it", and "Sweet Puig o’ Mine". It was nuts. It proved that, as defending Cup Champs, Sutter’s gang could, at a moment’s notice, be considerably less popular than a red-hot Rookie on the Dodgers with a unique, pun’able last name
It’s harder than you think to find approproiate, copyright free images…
- I saw a hat store and figured it would be as good a barometer as any of the NHL’s status in town. I had hoped to find a Jets hat, but realistically figured that might be a stretch, but a Flames or Canucks hat would suffice as evidence of some kind of traction with local hat wearers and bald guys. What was there? Certainly no Jets hat. Nor Flames, nor Canucks, nor even Maple Leafs. No Rangers. No Ducks. In fact, there wasn’t even one Kings hat. Nothing. There were he standard NFL, NBA and MLB hats, but not one NHL hat of any kind. Even worse was the stunning amount of Batman hats. Dozens of them. All diffirent kinds of Batman hats. There were Big Bang Theory Hats, Sons of Anarchy hats. I’m sure they would have had a Price is Right toque in the back, if I asked. But nothing Hockey at all.
A real picture of Staples Center? Wiki Commons to the Rescue!
The Moral of the Story
There is none, really. Don’t snort bath salts? I don’t know what to tell you. But I do know I learned that Los Angeles has a place in its heart for Hockey. There’s a part of the populace that cares deeply about the Kings. There’s knowledgeable fans, crazed, drunken fans, even famous fans. I honestly thought the Kings would be buried somewhere between the LA Galaxy soccer team and Nascar coverage, but I was quite wrong.
It’s just that there’s so much else. Hockey just isn’t an embedded part of the culture there like it is here in Canada. Yes, those who love it, love it a lot. But for every Pat O’Brien and random drunk dude in a Kings Jersey, there’s at least a hundred Puig-iacs, a thousand Batman fans, and a million aggresive, angry drivers.
In short, maybe the moral of the story is that – besides the no bath salts suggestion – while games 3 & 4 of the Western Conference final were completely sold out, it will likely be way easier to get a ticket to catch the Jets play in LA than in Winnipeg. Someone send me tickets to a game at the MTS Center. Please?