Saturday night marked the start of the heavily anticipated 2012-13 National Hockey League season. It seemed only fitting that the 2011-12 Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings would open against the Chicago Blackhawks at STAPLES Center in front of a crowd of 18,545. And although Kings fans had to wait an extra four months to see the Stanley Cup banner raised, the electricity in the arena confirmed how the sport had never faltered, even after another lockout.
The festivities began promptly at noon as fans adorned with glow sticks and Stanley Cup Championship paraphernalia rose in unison to the words of newly appointed public address announcer, David Joseph as he introduced television play-by-play announcer Bob Miller. However, before Miller could proceed with the ceremony, one important thing had to be addressed: a moment of silence in memory of the late and great David Courtney.
For those of you who had the pleasure of meeting Courtney, you already know what an amazing person he was. Yet, he was so much more. He was the iconic voice of STAPLES Center for the Kings and Clippers, as well as the Angels in Anaheim; his involvement with the Kings organization dating back to the days of the Forum in Inglewood, but back then he had been involved with the public relations department.
I had the privilege of speaking with Courtney on several occasions during pregame meals and each time was nothing short of inspirational. His very presence commanded respect, despite his humble and often quiet demeanor. Moreover, he always had something interesting to say or an exciting story to tell, and when he spoke it was always in your best interest to listen.
It’s heartbreaking to think he didn’t see the Championship banner raised or get to say “Ladies and gentleman, the Stanley Cup!” one last time. But during the moment of silence, as thousands of fans stood to honor the legendary Courtney, it was clear that he never really left us, and never will.
Miller proceeded with the ceremony with great eloquence; naming each record the Kings had either broken or tied during their playoff run. He then directed everyone’s attention to the jumbotron to watch one final Stanley Cup video as My Chemical Romance’s “The Black Parade” began to play. Images of Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty as youngsters popped up on screen followed by a montage of pictures from each player’s day with the Stanley Cup. The guys at Kings Vision certainly know how to put together unbelievable videos that evoke emotion and excitement felt even after the screen turns black.
Following the video, Miller introduced Nancy Anschutz, wife of Phil Anschutz, Kings’ Governor Tim Leiweke, President and General Manager Dean Lombardi, Chief Business Officer Luc Robitaille, and the equipment and athletic training staff. To a roar of applause each coach was named, followed by a standing ovation for Head Coach Daryl Sutter.
One by one, each player was handed a black Tiffany’s box with their beloved Stanley Cup rings before skating to their designated spots along the boards. The Stanley Cup then appeared at sections 110/111 and carried down to the outstretched hands of team captain Dustin Brown, before being hoisted one last time by each member of the Kings.
To present the banner, the Marquez-Greene family of Newtown, Connecticut, alongside Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon were ushered onto the ice. Their daughter, Ana, had been killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, and standing before the crowd were her parents and brother who plays hockey in their community. It goes to show that even though hockey is a niche sport, the community is strong and in times of great sorrow everyone pulls together to offer a hand or a prayer.
The banner was then given to assistant captains Matt Greene and Anze Kopitar, with Brown at the center. The rest of the team joined them on the ice as they watched as their crown achievement would be forever installed above the crowds of STAPLES Center, before being moved to its permanent location next to the retired jerseys of Vachon, Dionne, Dave Taylor, Wayne Gretzky, and Robitaille.
As the banner began to unfurl, and the white letters against a black field began to emerge, every memory from the Kings’ Stanley Cup run rushed to my mind. I stood there reminiscing about the excitement and relief of sending Vancouver home during the first round of playoffs and the mixed emotions ignited by the Kings’ twitter feed, “to everyone outside of the B.C. area, you’re welcome”. Or how about sweeping the number two-seed St. Louis Blues and knocking the Pacific Division Champion Phoenix Coyotes out of Cup contention? But lets not forget the sheer joy and excitement every fan and member of the Kings’ organization felt when we realized we would be going to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since the Gretzky era.
By all accounts, the Kings should not have had the success they did after such a long point drought that eventually led to the firing of head coach Terry Murray halfway through the season. But then again the Pittsburgh Penguins had gone through a similar situation when they brought in Dan Bylsma and rallied their way to a Stanley Cup Championship in 2009. That’s what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs so exciting—anything can happen.
The Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils was a slightly different animal from an organizational standpoint. The NHL took control and the halls lining the event level were completely filled with makeshift broadcasting stations as every network imaginable wanted a piece of the action. More media meant more work, and I relished the challenge. In fact, to accommodate everyone we had to expand the press box and include an auxiliary press box in the stands of the arena, to the dismay of ticket holders.
To this day I can still smell the freshly cut ice and the melted stick tape by the New Jersey locker room and my eagerness to see what suit Don Cherry had chosen to wear that day. I can also tell you what songs were played during warm-ups and what we ate for dinner for pregame meals. But some of my favorite Stanley Cup memories were actually conversations with Sutter hours before game time, always followed by his signature peace signs.
I remember walking down the media ramp before game six thinking, “this is my last home game as an intern for the Kings.” It was a bittersweet feeling because I had been blessed to be a part of the organization for the past two seasons, wracking up hundreds of hours of work and over 100 home games in the process.
During down time, the other interns and I joined members of the NHL staff (including their interns) in the auxiliary press box to watch the game. At first we felt the need to preserve our professional demeanor in front of our guests, but truth be told when Kings’ captain Dustin Brown scored that first goal we all cheered and high-fived. After all, we were technically in the stands and after suppressing our excitement all season long in the press box, it was definitely warranted.
The rest of the game went by in a flash, all except, the last minute. The Kings were up 6-1, and it was just a matter of running out the clock. Each time the puck was passed I looked up at the jumbotron and thought, “this is really it. Come on, hurry up!” I know I wasn’t alone in thinking that and with 10 seconds left on the clock the crowd began to count down. Ten! Finally after 45 years we would win a Stanley Cup. Nine! I can’t imagine how excited Miller, Jim Fox, Nick Nickson, and Daryl Evans are at this moment. Eight! Mike Richards was right when he said the Stanley Cup would be coming to Los Angeles. Seven! In seven seconds I would be crying with excitement. Six! Jonathan Quick, that is all. Five! Who could ever doubt the leadership ability of Brown ever again? Four! Kings fans and the organization would immortalize Daryl Sutter for his contributions to winning the Cup. Three! The Kings tied the NHL record for least amount of games needed to advance to the Stanley Cup finals, 12-2. Two! For the first time in NHL history a number eight-seed team would win the Stanley Cup. One! The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup!
At that exact moment in time, every fan and member of the Kings organization were united by that feat. I’ll be the first to admit that I cried, and in front of members of the Kings alumni no less. I ran up to the press box and practically tackled another intern with a bear hug. And while I waited for the final stats sheets to print I watched the ice as each player in turn kissed the Stanley Cup and waived to the fans. Game six was the greatest moment of my life to date—and I was just an intern.
As these moments crossed my mind I was brought back to reality, and just like that, it was over; the culmination of a celebration 45 years in the making; the last of the Tiffany’s boxes safely tucked away and the banner securely tied in the rafters overhead. It took four months of waiting for the season to begin and now it was time for Los Angeles to put the celebrations behind them and focus on defending their title.
Although the Kings lost their home opener 5-2 against the Chicago Blackhawks, there is one important thing to remember: there is still more hockey to be played and more games to be won. The Stanley Cup is once more for the taking and the shortened season only serves to elicit a more desperate style of hockey. The 2012-13 season will be a test of strength, character, and determination as teams that usually make a late-season playoff push will need to fine-tune their strategies and teams that open strong will have to find a way to remain strong. Every game matters.
Until next time.