Saturday, June 16, 2012

In This Very Moment I'm King

Apparently the stats (and the Gamemakers, if you think these playoffs were the Hunger Games) dictated that the Los Angeles Kings would win this Stanley Cup. I like the Kings, but I had no idea it would happen. If I did, I would have bought an old-school LA Kings fitted cap like the ones worn by gangsta teenagers I saw on the bus.

When I started watching hockey just a few short seasons ago, the Kings were a joke. I know this because at the time, I looked up their season stats on Wikipedia(!) and saw that they had won less than half of their games, and even I knew that that was bad. I joked that if I ever moved to LA, I would keep my allegiance to the Canadiens and just pretend to be a Kings fan by saying things like "Did you see the game last night? It's too bad, huh?" without actually having seen last night's Kings game. (At the time, I didn't know that not everyone in LA watches hockey.)

Then something weird happened. I went to a game at Staples Center, and (like a good guest) respected everything about the Kings, even the super-mean old guy who kept screaming "Choke, Habs, choke!" at nothing in particular. I think it was because I had such great seats. And because Drew Doughty had just won a gold medal. And because my friend was right about Anze Kopitar: it was hockey love at first sight. I couldn't stop staring at him, because there was something about the way he played that was just amazing. I guess I was a little pre-emptive in laughing at this team whose website included a guide to the basics of hockey, and sent me an email to warn me that the game might sell out and there would be a lot of people there. (Like, thanks, Staples Center, but I'm from Montreal, and we're used to that sort of thing.)

Then I maybe watched the Kings when I got the chance, because they were on Hockey Night In Canada or because they were playing the Flames. Or maybe, as Czechtacular says, it was the purple on their jerseys and the fact that Kopitar was from Slovenia, which I had seen from across the water in Italy (and it's probably the closest I've come to a European hockey player's hometown.) And then I somehow started caring. I got to see them play the Habs two seasons in a row and was disappointed that I couldn't magically be in LA this season for a third consecutive game. I grumbled every time they made a move that I disagreed with.

I still remember how disappointed I was when I found out the black-and-purple jerseys were being replaced by jerseys with no purple on them. I still remember having no idea why the Kings would give up so much for Dustin Penner. I still remember the exact wine I drank to console myself the day I found out that Simmonds and Schenn were traded for Mike Richards. I remember sticking my face in my hands when I found out that Jeff Carter was a King. And don't even get me started on what happened when I heard the name "Sutter." I was losing faith in the favourite West Coast team that I couldn't admit I had. I was half-heartedly happy when they snuck into the playoffs, because at least I had one of my top two teams to cheer for during what I expected to be a short playoff run. I watched as many Kings games as I could, expecting each one to take them closer to elimination. But they never got that close.

So I got a little superstitious. I started wearing black and purple (again, with the purple!) on gamedays. I accessorized to match, because of my bizarre luck with sports team coloured bracelets. I hadn't picked them to win the first round in my playoff pool, so I continued to choose the team playing against them. (I may have sacrificed the Phoenix Coyotes in the process.) I couldn't even let myself utter the words "Kings," "win," and "Cup" in the same sentence. During a busy period at work I did everything I could to leave on time for puck drop, which isn't as easy as it sounds, but I'd hurry home, breathless, like a fool in love, because what if something happens? And despite everything I've said, I really like the Kings, okay?

And then it happened. All of the build-up, and the hockey fights, and the spectacle turned into a Stanley Cup win. The underdog story with the happy ending that all the sportswriters and Sunday night movies wanted. Dustin Brown, the captain that I had grown to love, and that everyone suddenly fell for during the playoffs, won a Stanley Cup. So did Jonathan Quick, the goalie that I cheered through a 50-something save shutout against the Detroit frigging Red Wings, and would not shut up about for days afterward. So did Anze Kopitar, whose play is just so amazing to watch and I don't even know how to explain why. So did Drew Doughty, the reason why I started loving this team in the first place (other than purple and Slovenia.)

Oh, and so did some guys that I don't really care about, but who didn't turn out to be so bad after all.

This year's playoffs ended so much more favourably than last year's did. It feels good to win. It must feel even better for the people who've given their undivided attention to the Kings for much, much longer than I have.

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