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This Rivalry Hasn't Started

Hockey: Despite proximity, teams lack playoff-like passion for each other.

February 07, 1998|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Go to a King game and you'll probably hear more cheers for a fight than a goal. Go to a Mighty Duck game and you'll probably hear more cheers for the Wild Wing mascot than Teemu Selanne.

People who make movies go to King games.

People who rent movies go to Duck games.

Hockey in Southern California might seem like nothing but palm trees and golden sunsets to outsiders, but after four-plus seasons with the Kings and Ducks together in the NHL, it's become clear our teams are radically different.

You would see it in the rinkside seats at the Great Western Forum and the luxury suites at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, but also on the ice and in the Pacific Division standings.

When the Kings were strong, the Ducks were just starting out. While the Kings fought through financial difficulties, the Ducks passed them. Until now, the Kings (25-20-9) and Ducks (19-27-9) haven't been competitive at the same time.

Now, both teams are fighting for playoff berths for the first time since the Ducks began play in 1993-94. This season, both have legitimate shots at postseason play. The remaining three games between them--including today's noon matchup at the Pond--will help decide where they finish.

At last, this could be the thing to spark something on the order of, say, the Rangers vs. Islanders or Red Wings vs. Blues or Canadiens vs. Bruins. So far, the Kings and Ducks don't have much of a rivalry.

"I've heard a lot of people say it won't be a really great rivalry until we meet in the playoffs," said Duck winger Warren Rychel, who also played for the Kings. "But it's good for the fans. These are great games to watch."

Sure, Marty McSorley and Stu Grimson fought in the main event during a memorable brawl in the first period of the first exhibition in 1993. Rychel remembers squaring off against Todd Ewen on the undercard.

"That game was just ridiculous," Rychel said, laughing.

And yes, Duck President Tony Tavares once questioned Wayne Gretzky's toughness and Gretzky responded by scoring two goals and adding three assists in a King regular-season victory in 1993-94.

But for the really down and dirty stuff, you must look elsewhere.

The Kings have had bitter playoff series against Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. The Ducks count last season's playoff opponents, Phoenix and Detroit, and this season's frequent fight partner, Chicago, as their biggest rivals.

But the Kings against the Ducks?

"You can't fabricate a rivalry," Duck Coach Pierre Page said. "Real rivalries are born with the playoffs. That's why we have such a good one right now with Phoenix. You won't see one until you see the Ducks and Kings play against each other in the playoffs.

"[But] I think it's going to heat up here soon because we're so close together in the standings."

King Coach Larry Robinson agreed with Page.

"We're getting into the nitty-gritty part of the season, and so you have a rivalry with almost everybody who's close to you [in the standings]," Robinson said. "But as I've said before, I don't think that you can really create a rivalry until you get involved in the playoffs. [Over the years] we've been involved so much with Edmonton and Calgary that we know when we play against them it's a battle.

"But at the same time, every game we play against Anaheim is a battle just because of the proximity. We finally have a team that is really close to us. So, I guess there is some sort of rivalry between teams, players and fans."

So far this season, the Kings can claim Southland bragging rights.

The Kings are second in the Pacific Division, fifth in the Western Conference and a good bet to make the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 1992-93. The Ducks are fifth in the division, 10th in the conference and hoping to move into the top eight that qualify for the playoffs. The Kings also are unbeaten (1-0-1) in two highly charged games against the Ducks.

"There was a lot of emotion in that game two weeks ago," Duck goaltender Guy Hebert said of a 3-3 tie between the teams in their last meeting Jan. 24 at the Pond. "That's helping to build it. But it's always better if both teams are fighting for playoff spots."

Times staff writer Lonnie White contributed to this story.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Today's Game

When: Noon

Where: Pond of Anaheim

TV: Ch. 11

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