Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi reached the Western Conference semifinals… (Andrew D. Bernstein / NHLI…)
NEWARK, N.J. — — Kings' General Manager Dean Lombardi has gone 36 years since winning his first, and last, Cup.
Lombardi, then a student at Ludlow (Mass.) High School, was a member of the Springfield team that won the New England Junior Hockey League to take home the Wallace Cup.
So Lombardi is Cup savvy as his team heads into Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday.
"The Wallace Cup? Good memory," Lombardi said. "Not the same as this."
Lombardi chuckled and calculated the angle at the same time, often his modus operandi. He is skilled at flanking maneuvers during interviews.
But the bottom line — which every general manager eyeballs — is this is all new to Lombardi.
This is the longest that Lombardi has lasted in the Stanley Cup playoffs. His San Jose Sharks teams reached the Western Conference semifinals in 2000 and 2002. He is in his sixth season with the Kings, who held a 1-0 series lead before Saturday's game.
"I'm not Sam Pollock here," Lombardi said, tapping his hockey history chip to reference the former Montreal Canadiens general manager. "I haven't won a bunch of Stanley Cups."
So when Anze Kopitar scored in overtime to beat the Devils, 2-1, in Game 1, the camera caught Lombardi staring onto the ice, seemingly devoid of emotion.
"This is a new experience for me," Lombardi said. "The emotion is at another level. It might be different if we were the New York Yankees or Detroit Red Wings and had been through this five or 10 times."
On-the-job training does not fit a general manager's personality. That is especially true with Lombardi, who is equipped with a type-triple-A personality when it comes to work.
The job, though, is a little different at the moment. Personnel maneuvers are behind him. The draft, contract haggling and other general manager matters are off in the future.
That leaves time to worry, even after the Kings won 2-1 in overtime in Game 2 Saturday at New Jersey.
The Kings had a 3-1 series lead over the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Final, yet Lombardi had a sky-is-falling scowl before Game 5, fretting, "They have us right where they want us. They have nothing to lose."
The Kings ended up beating Phoenix, 4-3, on Dustin Penner's overtime goal.
"You sit up there kind of helpless," said Ron Hextall, the Kings' assistant general manager. "You build your team and then your team has to respond. Your coaches got to coach."
And your general manager?
"Dean's not bad," Hextall said. "He gets emotional from time to time."
No one in Lombardi's inner circle was willing to put a definition on his version of "emotional."
Lombardi was coy, saying, "How do I get through games? I could do the old-time-hockey-thing and drink a bottle of Scotch. How do I get through games?"
Better than some, hopefully.
San Jose Sharks General Manager Doug Wilson sat with reporters during games, a superstition. It didn't work out so well during a series with Calgary in 2004. Chris Simon went after the Sharks' Mike Rathje after an empty net goal. Wilson went after a chair in the press box.
"Dean's actually pretty quiet," said Hextall, a former goaltender. "He reacts, to play or situation. The thing I always remind him is up here, it's easy. Up here, I'm a Hall of Famer. You get on the ice and everything is a lot quicker."
Lombardi said he sticks to his routine. It helps that he has a go-to coach in Darryl Sutter, who guided Calgary to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.
"It gives me a sense of confidence that he has been there," Lombardi said. "He knows everything from bus schedules to practice schedules to travel. I have leaned on him a lot. I'm not ashamed to admit that."
What Lombardi does fall back on is General Manager 101 lessons.
"I'm still evaluating players," Lombardi said. "This is a whole new theater. I want to see who has poise.
"The only eye candy was when I watched Dustin Penner score in overtime. I watched his reaction, with Kopitar jumping on him. I really loved it. I saw nine months of hard work."