Downtown? This time, the parade should be done exclusively at the beach. What’s so charming about the culture of the Kings, the Los Angeles hockey team bidding for its second Stanley Cup in three seasons, is that the epicenter of the championship buzz is nowhere near downtown, the Westside, Hollywood, the Valley or any of the other southern California population pockets that seemingly would adore this team.
No, they ought to be called the Manhattan Beach Kings. Because that’s where the Kings live, train, eat, drink, date, hang out — all of them, either there or in neighboring Hermosa Beach — in what is the 73-and-sunny antithesis of where they grew up, from New England and Michigan to little towns in Canada to the wilds of Russia and Slovenia. Want to find the most famous of female sportscasters, Fox’s Erin Andrews? Please don’t follow her, but she spends time in Manhattan Beach with her boyfriend, center Jarret Stoll. When coach Darryl Sutter was asked by the New York Times about how the Cup Finals is generating interest in L.A., he offered a correction.
“I live here in Manhattan Beach,” said Sutter, who grew up with his famous hockey brothers on a farm in Viking, Alberta. “Everybody here knows what’s going on with the Kings.’’
But what about L.A.? I was in Malibu on Saturday afternoon — and felt no sense of Kings pride in the hours before Game 2. I was in Culver City and Venice on Saturday night, and while a whoop did go up in the restaurant bar when the Kings won another overtime game, it lasted about five seconds. I saw two t-shirts Sunday in Santa Monica. Even if the Kings are building a mini-dynasty with such cornerstones as all-world defenseman Drew Doughty and goalie Jonathan Quick, they are still a niche team in a town where the entertainment pecking order is the beach scene first, marijuana second, meth third, Hollywood fourth, Dodgers fifth, the gallery/museum scene sixth, marijuana seventh, mixology bars eighth, the fading Lakers ninth and the Clippers still 10th even with Donald Sterling gone. Cocaine is either 11th or first, depending on one’s disposable income. Farmers markers and swap meets are somewhere in here, as are USC football and Charlie Sheen sightings.
Much like the L.A. myth, the Kings like to live dangerously on the ice. If they win another championship, I’m not sure sports will have seen a title team quite like it. To survive the conference playoffs, they had to overcome an 0-3 series deficit against San Jose and a 2-3 series deficit against freeway rival Anaheim. They blew a 3-1 series lead versus Chicago, then had to overcome a 2-0 crater in Game 7 to win in overtime at the United Center. Here in the Finals, they’ve twice fallen behind the Rangers by multi-goal deficits, only to storm back and win both games in overtime against the sometimes impenetrable Henrik Lundqvist. They haven’t held a lead in their last three games — until winning in overtime.
Are the Kings so good, they slip into deficits subconsciously so they can challenge themselves to climb out of them? Whatever the case, the Hollywood crowds watching them — Jimmy Kimmel, Britney Spears and Gene Simmons were in the Game 2 crowd at Staples Center — love the comebacks, with captain Dustin Brown’s winner 10:26 into the second overtime giving L.A. a 2-0 series lead.
“It’s not the place we want to be, to have to climb out all the time,” defenseman Willie Mitchell said. “Sooner or later, it is going to bite you. I guess that’s the great part about it is we find a way to battle back. We’ve got some work to do again.”
“We’re getting used to it, I guess,” defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “I don’t know. You just battle. You’re in the zone. You’re playing and having fun. That’s what it is about, winning games in the playoffs and battling in overtime. We’ve been lucky to come out on top in three of them here.”
Imagine if they get leads in New York the next two games. Imagine if they clinched the Cup in Manhattan, then returned to party in Manhattan Beach. Believe it or not, they could wander into a bar there and play pool in previous years, and no one would know them as hockey players. “That has changed dramatically,’’ said Doughty, who is pushing his way into the L.A. sports elite with Yasiel Puig, Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the aging Kobe Bryant. “Back in the day, we could pretty much roll in anywhere, and there was no way anybody would know who you were. No possible way. Now, it seems like everywhere we do go now we are getting recognized.’’
I’d ask him if he can shoot a slap shot in the sand, but he’ll probably be too busy facing a 2-0 deficit in the next game.