Apparently I’m not a real hockey fan, if you’re to believe the opinions of those who are real hockey fans. According to fans in the Northeast, and Canada, those are the only places where true hockey fans come from. If you’re from LA, Dallas, Phoenix, San Jose, or Tampa Bay, then you must be a band wagon fan. At last the truth has come out. What a relief it is to have that burden off my shoulders. Finally I can go back to being a fan of figure skating, NASCAR, NBA, and women’s badminton. I no longer have to live the lie of pretending that I love my local hockey team so much. This charade all started back when I was a very young kid about 5 or 6 years old. Like all the other kids in my neighborhood I would go out in front of my house to play games such as touch football, wiffle ball, skateboard races etc. My favorite game however was street hockey. Growing up in southern California meant I was never burdened with having to walk to and from school uphill both ways in chest deep snow. The only ice I experienced as a kid was in otter pops, when the ice cream truck showed up. There was only one ice rink in the entire county, and all available ice time was consumed by little girls who wanted to be the next Dorothy Hamill. There might have been a hockey program in the wee hours of the morning but my football loving parents were not going to get up for that when there were any number of other ways for me to burn off my youthful energy.
Soccer, football, and baseball were my organized sports as a kid, but when it came time to play pick up games, street hockey was king. I spent endless hours trying to slam the puck (ball) into the net. God, how I loved to play hockey. Over time this southern California kid became crazy about hockey, and my team was the LA Kings. The parents of one of my friends had season tickets to the LA Kings. They would constantly tell me about the on ice exploits of Simmer, Taylor, Dionne, and Vachon. I didn’t realize that according to the real hockey world, I was not a true hockey fan. How could I be?, I didn’t grow up with a frozen pond in my backyard and I didn’t know how to ice skate. Clearly I didn’t measure up to the standard of true hockey fans.
I wasn’t a real fan when I was the only person in my family who followed hockey, so I was forced to listen to the games on radio, or on a small black and white TV.
I wasn’t a real fan when Butch Goring was traded to the Islanders, so they could become a dynasty, and the Kings could sink into mediocrity.
I wasn’t a real fan when Rogie Vachon got shelled every night playing behind a bad team.
I wasn’t a real fan……..
When we always met the unstoppable Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs, and sometimes we stopped them!
When good player, after good player was traded away, or bought by other teams with bigger budgets.
When Rollie Melonnsen made the most acrobatic save I’ve ever seen.
When Kings goalie Jamie Storr would skate out to the blue line to disrupt a breakaway.
When I shook my fists at the heavens after the refs measured Marty McSorley’s stick blade.
When I had to decline a friends offer of free game tickets, because it was the night of my mothers funeral.
When the slightest mistake meant a certain goal for or against my team during the nerve fraying minutes of the 93 conference final against the Maple Leafs.
When Rob Blake took the money and ran to the Avalanche, thus leaving the fans feeling so very betrayed by the player who was the heart, and soul of our team.
Staring in disbelief that Wayne Gretsky would be a King, and finally put our team on the winning side of a blockbuster trade.
When the lowly Kings defeated the mighty Oilers in an epic 10-8 playoff game.
When Los Angeles fell in love with Adam Deadmarsh.
When Kings fans felt physically ill watching the Ducks hoist the cup before our team did.
Loving the black uniforms, and missing the purple and gold unifoms.
When I experienced the unforgettable ecstasy of the miracle on Manchester.
When our head trainer, Pete Demers, was as famous as any of the players on the bench.
When the Kings set the all time record for man days lost to injuries.
When the team went nearly a decade without a playoff appearance.
When the Kings gave Dan Cloutier a contract extension without really seeing how bad of a goalie he was.
When we traded a promising young prospect named Patrick O’Sullivan to another non hockey town, for a guy who made me ask “who the hell is Justin Williams?”
When I was happy if the Kings just made the playoffs, only to watch them dominate the playoffs and take their first Stanley Cup.
When I refused to believe that the Kings would win the Stanley cup, until Matt Greene scored the 6th goal, in the 6th game, with mere minutes left in the game.
When I no longer had to ask God for a Stanley Cup before I died.
Like many other fans of the LA Kings, you may think I just hopped on the bandwagon. Perhaps you think that my passion for the team is a recent phenomenon. You would be wrong in both cases. I’ve always been a diehard fan of my team. You didn’t understand how much Kings fans love their team because you were too busy being arrogantly dismissive of fans in non-traditional markets. You didn’t notice because my team started games at your bed time. My team won and lost their games when you were deep asleep. For 40 plus years I stayed true to my team while it was trapped in a quagmire of losing and mediocrity. For decades my team gave me very little to cheer about, and even less to brag about. Finally in 2012 the nightmare ended. I’m no longer a fan praying for wins, I’m a fan expecting wins. If myself and other Kings fan seem unusually loud and boisterous, it’s because all those years of frustration are finally being released.
You don’t need to grow up in a winter wonderland to love the game of hockey. You don’t have to grow up playing hockey to love your local team. There are diehard fans in the desert of Arizona, in the humidity of Florida, and the heat of Texas. We all love this game, we love our teams. If you are unaware of that fact, then you don’t know as much about hockey as you think you do.
My team is playing for the Stanley cup, and all of us real fans will be cheering passionately for them. While we are following our team through the Stanley cup finals, you can polish your golf clubs, and fool yourself into thinking we are not true hockey fans. Good luck next year.