As of this writing, we’re only about a half-hour away from the first puck drop in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils. As a hockey fan, I’m ecstatic. I’ve got butterflies. As an Anaheim Ducks fan, I feel a little bit sick.
In today’s Orange County Register, Jeff Miller wrote a piece about Ducks fans actively rooting against The Kings in the Final. In it, Miller offers quotes from a handful of self-described ‘die hard’ Ducks fans who just about all agree that the Kings winning the Cup would, on a scale from one-to-‘the worst ever,’ rank in at right under apocalyptic. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration – but it’s not too huge of a leap. One such fan who sent in an email response, went as far as to say, “God help us if the Kings win the Cup.”
Another fan, Brian Clausman, of Newport Beach, opined, “I want to see [The Kings] lose, period. If they win, those fans will come in our building wearing their hats and T-shirts. I just don’t want to hear that crap.” Is this representative of the feelings of the majority of Ducks fans? Should it be?
So, here’s the thing: I get it. I do. I’ve been a Ducks fan since I was about eight-years-old, and in that time, I’ve never even come close to actively rooting for the Kings. By the same token, however, unless the it’s the Ducks playing the Kings, I’ve also never actively rooted against the Kings…unless there was a playoff spot on the line (and let’s face it, there haven’t been too many instances when both teams were good enough to have a legitimate shot at making the same post-season). When the Ducks and Kings play each other, it’s on. Forget about it. I want blood, and the rivalry has, in recent years, developed to the point that that’s often exactly what we, as fans, receive. (Remember this beauty of a scrap?)
As a hockey fan, however, the one thing that I appreciate more than anything else is good hockey. I don’t care if it’s Tampa and Winnipeg on a Tuesday night in December – if it’s a good game, consider me entertained. And the same goes for any game the Kings are involved in. If I’m watching a great hockey game that just so happens to feature L.A. at one end of the ice, I’m not going to change the channel just because I’m a Ducks fan and feel as though I need to hate the Kings with every fiber of my being. That’d be idiotic. And yet, people like this exist.
There’s a woman that I see every day at work who is a big time Ducks fan. Season ticket holder for years, watches every game – she’s a diehard. Naturally, when she saw me wearing a Ducks t-shirt one day, we struck up a dialogue that has carried on through the season. And whenever the topic of the Kings would come up, she’d make a point of vocalizing her abject disgust with the Los Angeles organization. Several times, she’s told me that she refuses to even watch the Kings play because it makes her angry and sick to her stomach. She’s also told me that, if she had her druthers, the Kings would never win another game again. She literally derives glee from the Kings losing. That’s intense. And I don’t really get it.
Look: I’m all for intensity when it comes to fandom, and I obviously get that L.A. is one of the Ducks divisional rivalries – but I just don’t understand the thinking behind that intense of a response. It’s always felt a little like empty posturing and a waste of energy to me. And so, one day, I asked her, “So if the Kings make it to the Final, you won’t watch any of the games?” Her response was, “Only if they’re losing.” I replied, “But they wouldn’t be playing Anaheim.” She answered back, “Doesn’t matter. I don’t want them to have any success.”
And so the conversation circles back, as it must, to The Ducks, The Kings, and The Stanley Cup. Here are some facts:
Fact 1 – The Anaheim Ducks won the Cup in 2007.
Fact 2 – They became the first team in the Pacific timezone to do so since the NHL officially took control of Lord Stanley’s mug a little less than a century ago. This is an awesome accomplishment, and is something that L.A. can’t take away from us.
Fact 3 – The Los Angeles Kings have not won the Cup. They were kinda close in 1993, but you may remember an illegal stick throwing a wrench into their plans.
Fact 4 – It is a mathematical certainty that one day, perhaps soon, perhaps in the distant future, The Los Angeles Kings will win the Stanley Cup. It’s math. It’s going to happen. Get over it.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to appreciate the macro view of things a little bit more, and the simple fact of it is: just like the Ducks winning in ’07, the day that the Kings win the Cup, whenever it is, will be a truly wonderful day for Southern California hockey. Forget, for a second, about team loyalties. We, as hockey fans in the Southland, are part of a small population of folks who “get it.” No matter how difficult we may find it to co-exist, we must do so, even grudgingly. Being a hockey fan in Southern California is like being a part of a special club, and hockey is our secret handshake. That said, and I can only speak for myself here, I really want this club of ours to expand. To blow up, even. You may groan and roll your eyes and say, “but then it won’t be special anymore,” but I disagree. All one need do is take a look up North in Canada. Hockey is religion there, and I’d argue that being part of a huMANGous big, ridiculously passionate group of fans is pretty damn special in its own right. The fans in Winnipeg had a damn parade when they got the Jets 2.0. That’s awesome. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
The bottom line is this: hockey needs to grow down here. It does. And that’s the ultimate goal, right? To grow the sport? (Spoiler alert: the answer is yes.) We may have to temporarily deal with the embarrassing growing pains – the awkward-bordering-on-comically-bad media coverage, for example – but having two competitive and successful NHL franchises in Southern California with two equally competitive and passionate fan bases can only lead to good things, as far as I’m concerned. The Kings are a great story right now, and great stories attract attention, and attention is exactly what hockey needs down here – especially with those pesky Lakers and Clippers having so graciously made early post-season exits (boo hoo!). The time is now, now is the time. In other words, stop worrying and just enjoy the damn games.
So, if you’re a Kings fan, sit back, relax, and take in this moment. It’s been a long time coming. May the best team win. If you’re a Ducks fan, sit back, relax, and try to enjoy what promises to be a helluva hard fought hockey series. And may the best team win, even if they, at one time, wore jerseys with silver, glittery sparkles.
(Full disclosure: Some of my best friends on the various beer league teams I play on are huge Kings fans, and nothing makes me happier than to rub the 1 Cup-0 Cups argument in their faces. But if losing that bullet in the chamber is the sacrifice for hockey growing even more down here in SoCal, that’s fine by me.)