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Mike Downey

The Kings and the Kingpin of L.A.

October 22, 1986|MIKE DOWNEY

There's this 18-year-old boy who has moved in with Marcel Dionne's next-door neighbors, and the boy likes to buddy around with a kid of 20 whom the Dionnes have taken into their home as a lodger, and the two of them are always asking Mr. Dionne if he can come outside and play with them.

Dionne says sure, grabs his ice skates and goes off with them, night after night.

Rodney Dangerfield says if you want to feel thin, hang around with fat people. So if you want to feel young, maybe you have to avoid old people.

Maybe this explains why, so far at least, 35-year-old Dionne is playing and feeling like a kid again. And maybe it explains why, so far at least, the Los Angeles Kings have some zing in them and have not bolted to the back of the pack in the National Hockey League, as they so often do.

With a little help from his house guest, Luc Robitaille, 20, and from the honest-to-goodness boy next door, Jim Carson, 18, Dionne and the Kings have gotten off to a rare good start, even beating--hold on to your helmets, now--the Edmonton Oilers.

Much to the amazement of those few but true fans of theirs, Los Angeles' lonely old hockey club got the best of Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers Sunday night at the Forum, 7-6, scoring four times in the final period and winning on Bryan Erickson's goal with about three minutes to go.

Afterward, the team felt pretty good about itself. When the next morning's standings would come out, who would cohabit the top of the Smythe Division? Why, the Kings, that's who, at 3-3.

Maybe it doesn't sound like such a big deal, 3-3, but you take your morale boosters where you can get them. Don't forget, this is the same team that did not get its third victory last season until the 13th game. And victories on home ice were about as hard to find as Stanley Cups on Jerry Buss' mantle.

The Kings are starting their 20th season, but they have hardly set the ice on fire. They have never won more than 43 games in a season. They have had one winning season since 1981. They continue to play second fiddle to the Forum's other tenants and continue to be ignored by a public that thinks the Vezina Trophy has something to do with deer meat.

Last year's 23-49-8 mess of a team left people around the league wondering if the Hamilton, Ont., Kings might be just across the next blue line. How long would Buss continue to support a team that his town continued not to support?

Yet, more than one Angeleno must be reminded every so often that even the Lakers drew so-so crowds until they started to win big, whereupon they became one of the hottest--and most ridiculously expensive--tickets in town.

So, can the Kings win at last? Do they finally have something to show on the ice other than a brand new Zamboni substitute? Will Jack Nicholson sit at rinkside, getting frost on his sunglasses? Will they ever wear a crown other than the ones on their jerseys?

Well, you never know.

In this, the year of the big tease, we trust no one. The Rams had a chance to reach the Super Bowl. Didn't. The Lakers looked invincible for half a season. Weren't. The Angels were a strike away from the World Series. Gagged. Forgive us if we have come to believe that the purse in the middle of the road has a string attached to it.

So far, so good, though.

Carson, the first-round draft pick, is playing like 18 going on 28. The kid's got moves. For the time being, Coach Pat Quinn has got Carson centering a line with Morris Lukowich and Dave Taylor. Going into a seven-game road stretch that starts tonight against the New York Rangers, all Kid Carson is doing is leading the Kings in scoring and leading all NHL rookies in scoring.

If he keeps that up, Carson will be bigger in this town than Johnny.

Dionne, meanwhile, seems to have forgotten that he is 35 and that he is the second-leading scorer of all-time and that he is supposed to have slapped his last shot by now. Not only does Dionne go around and around and around and around, on and on, but he appears to be playing with a brand new enthusiasm.

He has literally taken the new wings under his wing. Robitaille, the left wing on Dionne's line, has moved into his home. Carson has moved in with the family next door. The kids didn't know many people here, felt a little uneasy in a large town full of strangers, so Dionne volunteered to keep an eye on them, during and after work.

Maybe that explains why he doesn't want older people hanging around anymore.

Dionne asked Rogie Vachon, the general manager, to leave the dressing room after Sunday's big win over Edmonton. Nothing personal, Rogie. It was a celebration only for the younger crowd. Robitaille had scored one of the goals in the final period, and Carson had scored another, so Dionne officially proclaimed it Kings Kids Night, and set down one simple rule for the party.

No adults allowed.

The Los Angeles Kings might actually be worth watching this season. Parental guidance advised.

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