LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings and their fans waited 45 years to raise a Stanley Cup banner to the rafters. Then they waited three more months, thanks to the NHL lockout.
After all that waiting around, even the disappointment of the blowout loss that followed Saturday’s ceremony couldn’t completely ruin the Kings’ first championship celebration.
The Kings recognized last June’s Stanley Cup triumph in a joyous ceremony before their season opener, receiving their championship rings and showing off the Stanley Cup before their 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Although the defeat tempered the party, the Kings savored a day to enjoy their unlikely title.
“We enjoyed it, but we’ll try to learn from it as well,” captain Dustin Brown said. “To see our banners going up, and then at the same time not being as sharp as we want to be, it’s a mixed feeling. We didn’t come out and play as well as we wanted.”
With help from the family of a victim of the Sandy Hook massacre, the Kings hung their black-and-white banner in the rafters at Staples Center and received their Tiffany rings. The ceremony was the culmination of Los Angeles’ improbable run through the post-season last year, when the Kings became the first eighth-seeded team to capture the Cup.
“We took a moment to appreciate it, to look back, but now we’ve got to move forward,” said defenceman Rob Scuderi, who matched his entire goal total from last season with the Kings’ first goal against Chicago.
“If we use last season as a focus and a crutch to lean on, we’re going to be out of this season pretty quick. It might seem like a tough switch to flick, and we made some mistakes, but both teams were rusty. They just executed better than us.”
The Kings hadn’t played on the Staples Center ice since June 11, when they completed a six-game victory over the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup finals. With the 6-1 win, the Second Six franchise finally secured its first NHL championship.
Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick got off to a rocky start following off-season back surgery, giving more goals in the first 22 minutes against Chicago than he allowed in any playoff game last summer.
“It felt good to be back out there, but we weren’t able to accomplish what we wanted to do,” said Quick, who allowed five goals in a game only once last season.
“Obviously it’s a long time between games, but it really didn’t seem like that long. It felt great to be playing again and to have that celebration, but we know it’s time to get to work.”
The pregame party began with a lengthy video presentation in the darkened arena while fans waved glowsticks, Nancy Anschutz—the wife of Kings owner Phil Anschutz—handed the ring boxes to the players as they skated to centre ice.
After the Stanley Cup’s handlers brought the trophy through the crowd and onto the ice, the Kings relayed it around the perimeter of the rink, with each player raising it one more time.
Even two injured Kings suited up for the ceremony: Anze Kopitar, the club’s co-scoring leader in the post-season, and defenceman Willie Mitchell, the oldest player on last year’s team. Los Angeles retained every player who skated in the playoffs last season, a remarkable feat in pro sports.
The Kings’ leaders then picked up the banner from the family of Ana Marquez-Greene and Los Angeles hockey stars Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon, skating it across the ice and raising it to the rafters amid thunderous applause.
“I thought the ceremony was awesome,” coach Darryl Sutter said.
Los Angeles’ accomplishments during its 16-4 run through the post-season are well-known to every Kings fan by now: Starting with their upset of Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver, the Kings set NHL records by leading all four of their playoff series 3-0 and winning 10 straight road games. Los Angeles thrashed the Western Conference’s top three seeds, never faced an elimination game, and only trailed for about 184 minutes in the entire post-season.
With plenty of time to plan during the lockout, the Kings also made a few changes to their arena to honour their first championship, notably moving their banners and retired numbers off the Staples Center wall and hanging them in the rafters.
The Kings had followed the tradition of the NBA’s Lakers, their co-tenants in the Forum and Staples, by hanging their banners on the walls of the arenas. But after doubling their number of banners from two to four, the Kings joined every other NHL team and moved their banners into the rafters.
The club also made new banners for the transition, hanging its Western Conference title banner before fans even entered the arena next to a similar new banner celebrating the 1992-93 conference title. The Kings hung new ones for their five retired numbers, including Dionne, Vachon and Wayne Gretzky.
The Kings’ celebration began early Saturday outside the arena, where thousands of black-jerseyed fans gathered for a street fair. General manager Dean Lombardi and Kings ownership executive Tim Leiweke greeted fans at the door and even handed out hot dogs.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was in the building, but didn’t go on the ice.