Not Playing Like Kings

Separated by just the 10 freeway, Los Angeles and Phoenix are just 350 miles from each other. Many Angelenos always have argued, in a sports sense, that the teams south from them in Orange County have always been a fierce rivalry. In baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers and “Los Angeles” Angels battle up to six times a year for supremacy. In hockey, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks have always had their fair share of close games. But with many of the players having strong ties since they are local, there really isn’t that much hatred shown on the ice. Fans though can say otherwise.

On the field, on the court, or on the ice, Los Angeles and Phoenix recently developed some personal hatred. Even though fans may not see it, it just seems as if the attitude between the two cities change whenever their sports teams face off. The Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns increased their rivalry in 2010 after the Suns could not recover from then Ron Artest’s Game 5 tip in, and have yet to make the playoffs since. The Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks developed bad blood in 2011 and only made it worse this past season, and it will only continue after the Dodgers rubbed in their division pennant to Phoenicians by jumping into Chase Field’s pool.

With officials regulating retaliation, anger can be expressed perfectly in the sport of hockey. The Phoenix Coyotes always make it known on the ice that Los Angeles is always the team to beat down.
Literally. These teams do not like each other.

Go back to the 2009-2010 season when both teams traded shootout wins that went nearly 10 rounds each. Later, the physicality went up a few notches in 2011 when Dustin Brown laid out on Michael Rozsival along the boards and went uncalled. Shane Doan made sure he did not forget a few weeks later when he and Brown went at it blow for blow.

2012 had it all. In January in Los Angeles, after 60 minutes of hockey, Drew Doughty jams the puck into Mike Smith’s pads, and lifting the goal off from the ice. As it happens, the puck goes through and merely passes through the line to give Los Angeles a 1-0 victory. Phoenix needed a reason to let off steam after a heartbreaking loss, and again in Los Angeles they found a reason. Once again Brown takes down Rusty Klesla and was helped off the ice early in the first period. Seconds after the hit, four fights within a matter of two minutes ensued. A plethora of penalty minutes piled up that shaped up this heated rivalry, and it was Radim Vrbata that scores the only goal and earned a 1-0 victory.

It only gets worse with the 2012 playoffs. The Coyotes did lose 4-1 in the series, but frustration mounted as the series went deep. During a 4-0 loss in game 2, Martin Hanzal’s ensued in a game 3 suspension. The Coyotes tried to salvage the series in game 4, but the Kings made it known in the 5th and final game that their playoff momentum would be too much to handle. At the end of the series during the center ice handshake, many players were not all smiles and instead had a few words exchanged.

We now enter 2013 and two games have already taken place between the two over the last six days. Last Thursday the Kings started the game in brute force, netting four goals in the first period and forced Mike Smith off the ice. Phoenix seemed to be more focused on bruising rather than playing evenly, taking only five shots in the first period. Things cooled down and the tempo rose up a bit for the Coyotes and managed to tie the game. The feel of a comeback though really wasn’t there on the ice. Los Angeles still kept up and played even keel since the first period and exploded in the third thanks to Mike Richards, Matt Frattin and Dwight King. All three wrapped up the game that included a King hat trick on an empty netter. What’s worse, Thomas Griess, who replaced Smith, was credited for the loss since the Coyotes managed to tie the game. Phoenix though had their say on the ice, for them leading in the physical department with 38 hits.

Tuesday made things a little better for Phoenix in a 3-1 win. It was their first win of the year in which they maintained a lead and managed to play fluid hockey. Even being out shot and out hit, it was hard to tell as Phoenix controlled the flow of the game. Derek Morris and Shane Doan scored twice late in the second period, while Kyle Chipchura scored the final goal in the third. There were some nudges on the ice here and there, but all in all the Coyotes looked as if they controlled most of their emotions.

The two teams will not face each other until late January. Even though things were rather calm the first two games, with playoff implications arising as the season gets late, most likely so will the tension between the two teams. It has become one of the most under-the-table rivalries in sports, and both teams always live up to expectations.