Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Daily WiLL - Tuesday, June 17 2014 - Stanley Cup Edition

Me and Melissa and the Stanley Cup
I recall watching Hockey for the first time really in the late 70's and early 80's, mostly on the USA Network and ESPN as their fledgling cable channels started to reach national status.  Back then the New York Islanders were in the midst of winning four straight Stanley Cups, and suddenly names like Dennis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Bob Nystrom and Billy Smith entered my favorite players lists.  Hockey cards started showing up in my bedroom.  After the Oilers supplanted the Isles as the decade's most dominant team other sports were more important, after all, this was the 80's and my hometown San Diego Padres were tearing up their leagues.  This was also the era of Dan Fouts and Air Coryell, so Hockey wasn't really tops on my radar, until the Kings managed to make the greatest trade in NHL history to get Wayne Gretzky in 1988.

More Hockey cards flowed into my bedroom.  The Kings supplanted the Isles as my all-time favorite, and as I'm wont to do, when I latch onto something I go whole-heartedly.  I always maintained that I LIKED the Kings prior to 1988, and that's the truth.  I remember watching the Triple-Crown line, and Rogie Vachon.  I remember the Miracle on Manchester.  And I'd been to a game or two at the Forum.

During the magical 1993 cup-run I was a die-hard fan, attending watch-parties at local bars and dreaming of that elusive Stanley Cup victory.  An intense loathing of the Montreal Canadiens was born the night that Jacques Demers called out Marty McSorley's stick.  Was it illegal?  That's not the point, the point was Demers pulled a classless, desperation move and it paid off.  Enough ink has been spilled about that night, so I'll move on, but I'll never forget or forgive the Canadiens.  IN fact, I think that they've been cursed by the Hockey Gods for that bad sportsmanship, I mean they haven't even come close to Lord Stanley's Mug since.

Then it was the Dark Times, the post-final appearance honeymoon didn't last.   Instead of being able to build momentum from their playoff run, the Kings were locked-out by owners, and there wasn't an 1994-1995 NHL season until January of that year and it was only 48 games long.  The Kings missed the playoffs for the first time in 8 seasons, and would continue to miss the post-season for another four seasons.  By the time the Kings would have another multiple year run in the playoffs they'd be in a new building and Gretzky would be long gone.

So sure, they made the post-season with core players like Ziggy Palffy, Luc Robitaille (on his second of three stints with the Kings), Adam Deadmarsh and goalies-by-committee Stephane Fiset, Felix Potvin and Jaime Storr.  But they only made it out of the first round once in three years.  The Kings drafted Dustin Brown with the #13 pick in the 2003 draft, and he was the first stepping stone on the road to the Stanley Cup.

Despite adding proven vets like Jeremy Roenick, Jason Allison and budding young stars like Mike Cammaller and Alexander Frolov the Kings would continue to falter through the 2000's, but bad seasons gave the Kings great draft picks.  In the '05 draft the Kings grabbed Anze Kopitar with the 11th pick and Jonathan Quick with the 72nd pick.

In 2006 the Kings drafted Trevor Lewis with the 17th pick after Jonathan Bernier with the #11 pick.  '07 brought Alex Martinez and Dwight King in the fourth round.  In '08 the Kings used the 2nd pick in the draft to take Drew Doughty, and with this core of young players and some key trades including Jarrett Stoll in 08 and Justin Williams in 09 they finally broke through and made the playoffs again in 09-10 and 10-11 but lost in the first round both times, winning a total of 4 post-season games over two seasons.

Of course the playoff run in 2012 would be unprecedented on so many levels.  A team firing a coach midseason has won the cup before, that's not so rare actually.  What was rare is that the Kings were the #8 seed ending the season with 95 points, 5 points more than the #9 seed.  Up to that point #8 seeds had rarely beaten the #1 seed, but it had happened, and the Kings would do just that to the poor Canuckleheads by taking a 3-0 lead in the series with a +5 goal differential.  3-0 would be a theme for the Kings.  They took 3-0 leads on ALL of their post-season opponents in 2012, including the #2 seed St. Louis Blues and the #3 seed Phoenix Coyotes.  Those 2012 Kings were magic in the post-season.  That gaudy 16-4 record in the playoffs won't be seen again any time soon.  Jonathan Quick earned his Conn Smythe with a 1.41 GAA and a .946 Save percentage.  He gave up only 29 goals in 20 games.

Once again the NHL wouldn't play right away after a Kings Stanley Cup Final appearance.  Just like in 1994, there was a lockout in 2012 and the season was shorted to 48 games, just as before.  At least they didn't lose the entire season and playoffs as in 2004-2005.  The Kings still had a great season, coming in second in the Pacific and making it to the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season and third time in history before losing to the eventual SC Champion Blackhawks.

Enjoy the rest of the pics from the 2002 All Star Fan Fest

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