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THE INSIDE TRACK | SUNDAY SCENE / BILL PLASCHKE

Their Absence of Malice Remains Truly Unrivaled

November 10, 1996|Bill Plaschke

The first of five scheduled neighborhood brawls between our two NHL teams took place Friday night, the Kings clambering over the fence and the Mighty Ducks stomping into the backyard and . . .

A hockey game broke out.

Disgraceful, that's what it was.

In the 7-4 Duck victory at the Pond of Anaheim, there were more goals than fights.

There were more goals than penalties.

There were even more goals than players who loudly questioned each other's manhood (Marty McSorley could have at least have sent a cassette).

In 60 minutes, the only thing that bristled was Ron Wilson's haircut.

The only thing wild was the Wing.

And only one person promised it would get any better.

"As time goes on, we will hate each other," said the Kings' Matt Johnson.

Easy for him to say. Johnson, the best fighter on either team, looks like the sort who will hate anybody if given a few minutes.

In the second period, Johnson pounded former King Warren Rychel onto the ice with eight consecutive rights, absorbing only a fat lip in return.

Earlier, in the game's other fight, the Ducks' J.F. Jomphe brought Craig Johnson to his knees with four quick right hands.

But that was it.

There was one high stick. One slash. One hook.

A whole lot of making nice with your little buddy from down the block.

This game didn't need a referee, it needed a room mother.

Ducks win, Southland hockey loses.

"I didn't see any rivalry at all tonight," said Ray Ferraro, King center. "Not even close to what I've seen other places."

Like with the New York Rangers and New York Islanders.

"I remember my first game in that rivalry--everyone was skating faster than we had skated all year," said Ferraro, who played for both teams. "The players fought. The fans fought. You had to be part of it to really believe it."

Duck fans booed the Kings on Friday, but only briefly, and without feeling.

Not that a hockey game should be judged by its roughhousing. The splendid skating of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne against the strength of Rob Blake was worth the price.

But in this game, in this town, a little passion would be nice.

"I really don't find this to be a rivalry anymore," said Duck defenseman Bobby Dollas, with a shrug.

In the Ducks' four-year history, only occasionally has it been.

February 1994. Duck President Tony Tavares called Wayne Gretzky a crybaby, Duck enforcer Todd Ewen said Gretzky was a whiner.

The next time the teams met, Gretzky had two goals and three assists in the Kings' 5-3 victory.

April 1995. During the final weeks of the season, McSorley ripped the young Ducks by saying they just "think" they're in a playoff race. Wilson, the Ducks' coach, needled back.

Today?

The Kings' management openly competes with the Ducks, from its subtly anti-Disney slogan of "Serious Hockey" to preseason quotes from President Tim Leiweke like this: "We have to be be competitive with the Ducks, it's that simple."

But Duck management avoids speaking of the Kings, claiming that in this town, any winning hockey is good hockey, no matter who plays it.

And the ones who play it?

They flitted around each other Friday like kids at a junior high dance.

"I think right now, both teams are too desperate for a win to have time to worry about the other team," Dollas said, noting that neither has made the playoffs in the previous three seasons. "Until we get in the playoffs, the rivalry has become irrelevant."

"One playoff series," Ferraro concurred. "That's what this rivalry needs, one playoff series between the Kings and Ducks. Then you'll see it heat up."

Until then, we're just wondering, why can't this rivalry extend beyond the ice? Wouldn't it heat up quicker if others were involved?

Forget Matt Johnson vs. Warren Rychel. How about . . .

Coach Larry Robinson vs. Coach Ron Wilson: Wilson would tell a few jokes, then Robinson would dismember him. Edge to Kings.

Forum ushers vs. Pond ushers: We're not betting on those who come to work in cute little green vests with designer name tags. Edge to Kings.

President Leiweke vs. President Tavares: Leiweke would smile and try to negotiate a settlement, at which point Tavares would bite him. Edge to Ducks.

Radio analyst Pat Conacher vs. radio analyst Mike Allison: Both are former players, but neither were fighters. "We would get a delay-of-game penalty because neither of us would throw a punch," Allison said. Draw.

Pond fans vs. Forum fans: Just a hunch, but the scruffy fortysomethings who scream at you for standing up to use the restroom might intimidate teenagers wearing $150 sweaters and dancing badly to rap. Edge to Kings.

Mascot Wild Wing vs. mascots called The X-Team: This being hockey, would it be so hard to send somebody in to knock all of them out?

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