Maybe it’s natural to have a bit of a complex if you’re an LA Kings fan. After all, everywhere you look outside of the LA media, you hear people saying stuff like this: “Nobody likes hockey out there.” Or, “Nobody watches hockey in LA.” And the ratings for the big seventh game of their series with Chicago were low relative to the numbers in the Windy City, a fact much ballyhooed on Twitter.
But on percentage, only a few people have to pay attention to the game in a city the size of Los Angeles (roughly speaking 12 million people in the greater LA area, and close to as many as in all of Canada from Santa Barbara down to the border with Mexico) for a lot of people to be watching. Let’s just, for sake of argument, take the number eight percent. That percentage of the LA population makes a million people.
If everyone in Winnipeg watched a Jets’ game, they’d have about 730,000 sets of eyes. And that includes the babies and everybody who might otherwise be working, driving somewhere, or doing their grocery shopping.
The problem, you see, is that the hockey fan in LA gets lost in a sea of other interests. There’s baseball. There’s soccer. There’s NFL. Oh wait, no there isn’t. There’s USC, UCLA, and even a significant fan base for “Cal,” the nickname for UC Berkeley. You see the flags everywhere during college football season, though that place is six hours north, next to San Francisco.
So whither hockey? Hundreds of thousands of people follow the Kings. They watch on TV. They call in to the post-game show. They turn up to the open practices. They understand the history of the game, at least to a degree.
Like any fans, they can be pretty narrow-minded about their squad. But that’s OK, because if they don’t tell the world how great they are, nobody’s going to do it for them. Case in point: as I write this, on the TV is the NHL Network, which is playing NHL Tonight. Of course, there’s no hockey tonight, so they’re looking around the league and doing other features. In the half hour the TV’s been on, the only thing I’ve heard about the Kings is some chitchat about the goalie situation for the Final, and the two experts picked Lundqvist as having the edge in the series.
Now they’re talking about how much the Rangers want the Cup, how the St. Louis matriarch’s death is somehow relevant to the series. The Dominic Moore story. And those things are important. As Daryl Sutter has said about his own team, of course these things affect them; they human beings, not machines. (What Sutter himself is is to a degree up for question as of yet.)
But the point is this: LA has a hockey team, though even while they’ve recently won a Stanley Cup, more recently a Jennings, All-Star nominations, Olympic medals, and the Western Conference, people outside of this town don’t give this team the credit it deserves. And that includes the NHL’s own TV network.
This makes no sense, because anyone who looked at the team would see that though it plays in California, it is altogether removed from the ethos of the place it comes from.
The players are not Californians, which somehow seems to get obscured. In fact, on percentage, they’re mostly Canadians, from places like Woodstock and London, Port McNeill and Drumheller. Throw in Meadow Lake and Wakaw, Saskatchewan, and you’ve got the key to this team. They’re hockey players. They’re not movie stars. They’re a tiny minority of people in a sea of folks, most of whom would have no idea who they were if they rang the bell at the deli counter at their local supermarket. But those who do know who they are love them and embrace them, and those people, despite having almost no infrastructure to draw on since the papers do so little to cover them (not at this time of year, of course) and there is never a peep about hockey on sports talk radio, do their best to create a community that gives them a place to go for the hockey fix.
Understand my point of view here: I’m not an Angelino for life. I grew up in Montreal. My family now lives in Toronto. Partial or not, fair or not, I will never believe that someone who has not played hockey and had his or her life dominated by hockey from the cradle is as knowledgeable a fan, or an analyst, as someone whose experiences are intimately connected with the game.
But I also can’t believe that those who grew up in sunny SoCal can’t love the game as much as anyone from anywhere else. They can, and they do. More, in fact, since they get so little help.
So before you get all caught up in the New York Story, think about the LA story: great goaltending, great D, amazing scoring power (streaky at times), a coach who has the team under his spell, and, as they will often say to the media, a core group of guys who have been there before and know what to do.
Maybe New York has much of that stuff too, but they don’t have the last of that list. They haven’t won, for a long, long time, and that, in one sentence, is what will make the Kings the better team in this next two weeks, or however long the Final series takes.
Agree or disagree? Hit me up on twitter @growinguphockey