WINNIPEG, Canada — Right wing Bryan Erickson of the Kings grew up in Roseau, Minn., a small town just 10 miles from the U.S.-Canadian border.
Erickson, whose family lives within a two-hour drive of snowy Winnipeg, had a lot of friends and relatives in the stands here when the Kings played the Jets Saturday night at the Winnipeg Arena. Someone even hung a banner for him behind the Jet goal: "Eric king son."
Fittingly, it seemed, Erickson, who has been on the team for just three days, scored the winning goal with 2 minutes 16 seconds left in the third period as the Kings snapped a six-game winless streak with a 3-2 victory over the slumping Jets before 13,095 fans.
"I was hoping to play a good game here, because Winnipeg is kind of like my home rink," Erickson said.
The Kings played their best defensive game of the season, much of that due to the return of defenseman Mark Hardy, who had missed the fist 25 games with a wrist injury. Hardy's season debut, which wasn't expected until next week, seemed to give the team a big lift going into a two-game series against the Jets.
However, Hardy had to share the spotlight with Erickson and center Marcel Dionne, who scored his 500th goal as a King.
It was Erickson's first goal as a King. The Washington Capitals traded him to the Kings on Oct. 31 for defenseman Bruce Shoebottom. Erickson was assigned to the Kings' farm team in New Haven, Conn., but was called up from the minors last Wednesday and made his debut Thursday night in a 6-6 tie with Edmonton. He got an assist in the game against the Oilers.
"I felt that the Capitals had written me off," Erickson said. "I didn't think I'd ever have a chance to be a regular, and it was kind of obvious that things weren't working out. So I was hoping for a trade.
"I was in New Haven when I found out that I'd had been called up, and I had to go to New York and catch a late flight to Edmonton.
"I want to get off to a good start with the Kings and establish myself on this team."
Erickson is playing with center Bernie Nicholls and left wing Brian MacLellan on a line that accounted for two of the Kings' goals against the Jets.
Nicholls got the first King goal when, with a little deception, he intercepted a pass from defenseman Randy Carlyle in front of the net and connected on an unassisted effort to tie the score at 1-1 with 1:02 left in the second period. Carlyle had being checked along the right wing boards, and Nicholls tricked him into passing the puck by calling out Carlyle's nickname: Kitty.
"I had no business being where I was," Nicholls said. "But Carlyle was under pressure and he was just trying to get it out of there. He didn't even look when I called him."
Said Winnipeg Coach Barry Long: "It was a smart play by Nicholls. Randy heard him calling his nickname and thought he was one of his teammates."
Nicholls also set up Erickson's goal when he stole the puck from Winnipeg defenseman Bobby Dollas behind the Jet goal and passed to Erickson in the slot. Erickson tapped the puck into the net.
"He (Dollas) went to pick up the puck and he missed it," Nicholls said. "He didn't even know I was there. Bryan came flying in and I hit him with the pass. It was a big game for us."
Dionne gave the Kings a 2-1 lead 5 minutes 33 seconds into the third period when he scored an unassisted goal to reach another milestone in a career that will likely put him in the Hall of Fame.
However, Dionne played down his achievement, saying: "I've been in a slump this season, but I think I'm starting to roll. This was only the 10th goal I've scored this season."
But the Jets tied it at 2-2 when center Dale Hawerchuk scored his 17th goal of the season with 6:04 left in the third period.
However, the Kings, who have allowed more goals than any other team in the National Hockey League this season, didn't let the Jets score again.
"Hardy made the difference tonight," Dionne said. "He's our quarterback on defense. We call him E.F. Hardy, because when he talks, everyone listens."
Hardy, who has worn No. 20 since joining the Kings in 1980, changed to No. 25. His new jersey had to be flown in from Los Angeles Saturday and was delivered to the rink just two hours before game-time by Bob Burgan, a Los Angeles-based Air Canada employee who follows the team on the road.
"I wore 20 since I came to the Kings, but I changed my number because I don't want any more zeros in my life,' Hardy said. "I think 25 looks better than 20. Twenty didn't work out too good for me. Maybe 25 will."
Hardy also has a new deal to go along with his new number.
Hardy, who was in the option year of his old contract, had threatened to play in Europe if the Kings didn't sign him. But he said he has reached agreement with the team on a new contract for five years with a one-year option.
"We came to a verbal agreement," Hardy said. "I haven't signed it yet, but I'll do it when we get back to L.A. I'm happy with it. They showed a lot of confidence in me by giving me that many years."