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Kings, and now champs

In a town better known for beaches and basketball courts than ice rinks, L.A.'s hockey team has captivated all while winning its first Stanley Cup.

June 12, 2012
  • Los Angeles Kings celebrate their win and first-ever Stanley Cup after beating the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center.
Los Angeles Kings celebrate their win and first-ever Stanley Cup after… (Los Angeles Times )

In a town better known for beaches and basketball courts than ice rinks, suddenly a hockey team has captivated all. Four and a half decades after arriving in Los Angeles as an expansion team and having to scramble to find a puck for their first practice, the Kings have won the National Hockey League championship and adorned the land of golden Oscar statuettes with a silver trophy -- the Stanley Cup.

The city and its sports franchises have gone through plenty of drama in recent years. There's been the backstage angst of the Dodgers and their former owners. For prestige, we've had the Lakers with their repeat and three-peat NBA championships. If there isn't a Lakers victory parade through the streets of downtown L.A. once a year, we feel robbed and indignant.

But for most people, the Kings have been the team that's just also in town. To be sure, it has earned steadfast fans cheering and screaming in bars down in the South Bay, where team members hang out, and it has had dazzling players -- Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robitaille, to name two -- but the team has never won that big honking cup and achieved folk-hero status. There is no Kings equivalent of a Dodger dog (a King quesadilla?), few can remember the team colors, and not only don't they have a current player as famous as Kobe Bryant, but the Kings get more attention when Bryant just shows up at one of their games.

But all that started to change with the Kings' astonishing winning streak since the early spring, besting three top-seeded teams and making it to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 19 years. People who had never watched hockey before hunkered down to see Game 4, then Game 5, wincing over the unexpected losses and hoping for a Game 6 win. Local morning TV show anchors donned jerseys in the team colors (black, silver and white), and talk around town turned from a star shooter named Kobe to a star goalie nicknamed Quickie.

The Kings' bandwagon is now crowded with new converts, and why shouldn't it be? There's something sweetly unifying about a team "bringing home" the Stanley Cup and showing it off around town like a big new baby. And Los Angeles residents always seem starved for some common event to rally around -- all the better when it's something other than an earthquake or freeway chase.

National Hockey League games don't attract the same fan interest as other major sports. And we can't predict that a Kings game next season will be as hot a ticket as a Lakers or Clippers game already is. But for the moment, we can all exult in the Kings' win.

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