Saturday, June 09, 2012

My One-Sided Love Affair with the Los Angeles Kings

I watched Game Five of the Stanley Cup finals today.  The Los Angeles Kings are playing in only their second Stanley Cup finals.  They are playing against the New Jersey Devils.  New Jersey won tonight by a score of 2 to 1.  The Kings, who once lead the series three games to none, are up 3 to 2 and are coming back for a game in Los Angeles on Monday.  
I sat and watched the game in my chair set three feet in front of the TV.  I did not leave my seat while the game was being played.  My drinks and snacks were set on the floor around me, largely untouched.  This method didn't work.  I'll have to try something different next time.  
I became a hockey fan and an Kings fan in the fifth grade. A friend of mine brought something to school with him.  He was playing around with it in the school yard at recess.  I asked him what it was.  He said it was a "puck."  
"Yeah.  You play hockey with it."
He described the game with such fervor and passion that I became very curious.  He played in a pee-wee league and had a game that weekend.  He invited me to come see him play.  
His team was dressed all in purple.  The opposing team was in white with blue highlights.  They had "West Covina" written down the length of their arm in white over the wide blue striping.  My friend's team was called the All Stars, though they didn't play as such.  The team from West Covina had a 6 to 1 lead at the end of two periods.  The West Covina team relaxed a bit too much in the third, allowing the All Stars to score three goals late in the game, making it a more respectable 6 to 4 loss.  
There was something about it, though.  The fluidity of the game.  The non-stop action.  It was...  Beautiful.  I was like someone taking their first drink on the way to discovering they were an alcoholic.  I found out that Saturday afternoon that I was a hockey fan.  
Sometimes, if I have something to do, like cleaning the dishes, I'll do it during intermission or stoppages in play.  If I can get all the dishes cleaned, for example, by the end of the game, the Kings win.  That system worked in Game 2 of the series against the Devils.  
After watching my friend play, I went to the library.  I checked them all the books they had on hockey, up to the limit of what I could take from the library at one time.  There was "Hockey's Greatest Rivalries," and "Hockey's Greatest Players."  There were rule books and one book about coaching a hockey team.  There was also a series of yearbooks, "This Year in Hockey: 1971-72."  I took them home and read them through.  Armed with what I'd learned I started watching the games on TV.  
I don't where my Kings tee-shirts when I watch them on television.  Tee-shirts with the team represented on it are only worn for going out in public on game day or seeing them live.  I made the mistake of wearing my silver and black tee-shirt to the gym, where Game 4 was on TV.  I apologize profusely for forgetting this rule.  
I saw my first live Kings game on April 13, 1974.  My dad surprised my brother and me with tickets to see the Kings playoff game against the Chicago Blackhawks.  We got to the Fabulous Forum (later the Great Western Forum) late.  My dad let us out in front of the entrance to get our seats while he drove around to find a place to park.  My brother and I ran through the crowd.  Our seats were twelve rows behind the Kings goal for the opening period.  
They dropped the puck as we were walking down the steps.  A player for the Blackhawks named Germain Gagnon (which I think is French for "gag me with a spoon") scored as we sat down.  Only forty seconds had elapsed since the puck was dropped.  
My dad joined us a couple of minutes later.  He asked us what happened and we told him.  "Oh, well," he said.  "There'll be more scoring."  
The game ended, 1-0.  
The game was thrilling, though.  I later heard my dad tell our family, "I was on my feet cheering, half the time I didn't know what I was cheering for, but it was fun!"  
One other incident worth noting took place.  About halfway between our seats and the glass was a drunk guy, who kept getting up and shouting his opinion about the game and stuff.  He'd stay on his feet for minutes at a time, blocking my view of the play.  
At one point, at the opposite end of the ice, while the drunk was on his feet, the Kings were trying to make a play on goal, but it was disrupted because the ref got in the way.  A beautiful scoring chance was wasted.  I yelled at the ref from the far side of the Forum, "Why don't you get out of the way next time?!"  
The drunk, still on his feet, turned and looked right at me.  
I raised my hands, waving them at the guy.  "Not you, not you!  I meant..."  
Before I could finish, my dad grabbed me by the shoulder and leaned over to whisper in my ear.  "Don't you take back what you told him!"  
Huh?  Did my dad actually expect me, a 13 year old kid, to stand up to a grown-up drunk man?  
I looked back at the drunk, who was staring at me with that bleary way drunks do when they're trying to figure out if they're angry or not.  Then one of his friends said something.  The drunk laughed and said something like, "Yeah...  He might throw something at me if I don't," and sat back down.  He didn't get back up for the remainder of the game.  
If they have the game on at the gym, then I watch it while working out on the cross-trainers, those machines that have the cross-country skiing motion, where you pull back on the poles while moving your feet.  I have to keep going as long as the Kings are playing.  A thirty minute session on the cross-trainer will cover one twenty minute period of play, with stoppages included.  This worked for Game 3 of the series.  I got to the gym right before the start of the 3rd period.  Game 4, unfortunately, I finished my thirty minute workout before the 3rd period was over.  The Devils won that one.    
For the most part, though, my relationship with the team has been a brutal one.  The 80's were particularly ugly.  I used to tell people that being a L.A. Kings fan was a lot like being a Chicago Cubs fan, except the Cubs fan could point to a championship about a hundred years ago.  Year after year, I'd watch and hope.  Year after year, we finished at the bottom or close to it.  I'd meet other hockey fans from time to time.  When I told them my favorite team, after they asked me, they'd laugh.  It was like being told your wife was the ugliest woman in town.  
The 90's did me in.  They started great.  Wayne Gretzky joined the team for the 88-89 season.  The Kings had their best season and upset the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs.  The defeated another defending Stanley Cup champions in the playoffs for the second year in a row when beat Calgary Flames.  They won their first Smythe Division championship in 1991.  They made it to the finals in '93.  
They didn't win, though.  They lost four games in a row to the Montreal Canadiens after winning the first game.  It was heartbreaking.  The team began trading the players that got them to the finals for older players that Gretzky wanted in a bid to get one more Stanley Cup ring.  Then Gretzky left to St. Louis and the franchise was left in shambles.  Most of its draft picks had been traded away for players about to retire or move on.  
The Schrodinger's Cat method is the hardest.  That's where you don't check the game before leaving work.  This leaves the Kings will be in a state of both winning and losing.  When I get home and check the score on line, the quantum wave front of the game collapses into victory.  I was going to use this method today, but the game was just starting when I turned on the TV.  I had to watch after that.
I didn't completely walk away from the game all those years.  I'd check the stats and the standings.  I would watch the news and see how they did.  It was like being separated.  You couldn't stand living with the person any more, but you couldn't forget them.  They were a part of you.  I started paying more attention these last few years.  They were getting back into the playoffs, though they still didn't advance that far.  I watched the Anaheim Ducks get a Cup before they did.  A team that came into existence because Gretzky came to the Kings.  
I started watching them play again this year during the playoffs.  They were good.  Better than good.  They were dominating.  They were a machine.  They rolled over the 1st place seed in the west, then the 2nd place seed, then the 3rd.  No team had ever done that.  They looked soooo good.  Seeing your ex-girlfriend on the arms of another guy sort of good.  
And now...  I'm scared.  They're playing the Devils.  They're up three games to none, then three games to one, and now three games to two.  The old familiar feeling of being a Kings fan is creeping upon upon me.  The weight of all that bad history is weighing down on my shoulders. 
I'm not a superstitious person.  I know that nothing that I do, not the washing all the dishes in twenty minutes, not the tee-shirt I wear, or doing cardio while they're playing, none of that will help them win.  At least, I don't think it will.  I'm pretty sure it won't.  I mean, it could.  It feels like it could.  It feels like, if the Kings win the Stanley Cup, a lot of the disappointing things in my life might be made up for.  And I need to do something, anything, to help make that happen.  
I think the lesson the Kings have taught me over the years is this: The things and people you love have the power to hurt you the most.  It's part of the love.  The pain comes with it.  The better you can accept that, the better you can handle things.  
So, I'm watching them play again.  Like a drunk that's jumped off the wagon, I'm taking it all in.  I'm hating myself for getting so worked up, but I can't help it.  Maybe it's a cosmic joke where the universe dangles the chance of seeing the team finally win the Cup after forty-five years of waiting only to snatch it away, Lucy-like from Charlie Brown.  I'll keep trying to kick it over.  
I think on Monday, I'll try the Schrodinger's Cat method.  I'll keep the game away from me until I get home.  Then I'll turn on the TV to see they have the lead, and will watch the final few minutes of something I've been waiting to see since that year in fifth grade.  And if it doesn't happen...?  Sigh...  There's always next year.
Go Kings Go!


Post a Comment

<< Home