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Dispatches from the Kings' Third Annual Hockey Fest

The scoreboard at STAPLES Center during the Los Angeles Kings' Third Annual Hockey Fest. (LAist/Jimmy Bramlett)
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Hockey fans really are a wonder. They have the first Sunday of the NFL season before them. They have overwrought commemorations of the 9/11 tragedy before them. Instead thousands of Kings’ fans descended upon STAPLES Center early Sunday morning to partake in the third annual Hockey Fest.

That’s not to say that hockey’s offseason is one of celebration. Three non-natural deaths of enforcers, a plane crash that killed off all but one player of an entire Kontinental Hockey League team less than a week ago. And just to muddle the emotional quotient, the Kings did the second-best thing to acquiring free-agent Brad Richards. They acquired Mike Richards and Simon Gagne that instantly vaulted them to Stanley Cup talk despite still not re-signing 21-year old wunderkind defenseman and restricted free agent Drew Doughty.

So there was no telling what to expect at the arena.

Kings’ television announcer Bob Miller opened the proceedings with a succinct two-minute prologue about the plane crash in Russia and the 9/11 attacks that included a tribute to pro scout Ace Bailey and amateur scout Mark Bavis who were in the second plane that hit the World Trade Center.

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“To honor those lost in the 9/11 attacks and in this week’s plane crash, please at this moment observe a moment of silence,” Miller ended.

Mercifully there was no melodramatic presentation. No tears. No self-indulgent this-is-how-I-felt-this-is-where-I-was remembrances. No attempts to compensate for the lives lost by delving into an overdose of patriotism. It was just a statement of fact, a moment of silence and on we went.

Around the grounds there weren’t too many somber words to be heard. The only hint of remembrance was the ubiquitous red lapel ribbons given to fans upon entry to demonstrate that they won’t forget, I guess. But other than that, STAPLES Center had become a shelter from 9/11, the NFL, the Angels, the Dodgers and whatever else. All that was being talked about was hockey, the upcoming Kings season and the anticipation for a potentially very special season.

Unfortunately for me it was a complete losing situation from the very beginning. I suppose that’s what happens when you wake up early Sunday morning to cover an all-day event that begins at 9:00 a.m. When I got myself situated I found that I left my notepad at home and the battery of my voice recorder depleted. I guess that’s what happens when I haven’t covered a live event in more than a week.

But perhaps the most catastrophic of all of this was my body’s detoxification process from caffeine. As my head pounded to the beat of every bump on the Harbor Freeway, it would take a Wrigley Field urinal trough sized contraption to get the requisite amount of caffeine to normalize the system. Thankfully they did have coffee readily available in the Chick Hearn Press Room. Unfortunately they only had these tiny disposable cups with which to inject into our system.

As I made my way to the seats in the lower bowl of the arena, I found there was nothing left in my cup save for a couple of trickles. Just close your eyes and imagine the brewing terror starting to envelop my entire being. The one hour, 45 minute talk hadn’t even started and there I was with everything empty. Thankfully Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times spared me several sheets from her notepad, so at least I wasn’t trying to rely on my ever diminishing mental capacity to bring this dispatch.

Things got going at 9:17 a.m. as the panel was introduced. Apparently the Kings’ head coach is now “Ted Murray.” For the next hour-plus the fans lobbed questions at Murray, General Manager Dean Lombardi, Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall and legal affairs executive Jeff Solomon with moderation from Miller. There was talk about the Doughty contract, Dustin Penner’s rocking bod, a fan thanking Lombardi for his hard work and an interesting exchange about the power-play where Lombardi turned the tables on the fan.

The most disappointing thing about this session was that fans didn’t get to experience the full wonders of talking with Lombardi. Okay, they might have gotten a hint of it when he tried to filibuster his way out of the Doughty question. But he didn’t go on a 30-minute monologue that meandered from Los Angeles and ended up in Aunt Betty’s apple pie. For an event that strives to give the fans as much access as possible, this was a severe letdown.

(The basics of Where We Stand With Doughty: ___. Lombardi spent about five minutes on this question alone and didn’t answer it. Each player almost to a man just said, “It is what it is,” making me further hate these cheap sports clichés.)

Another letdown for the fans was standing in a line that wrapped halfway around the STAPLES Center to get a tour of the Kings’ locker room. Okay so it may be a thrill for fans, and I am just being a cynical writer since I get to be there after every game. But yet again they don’t get the full experience of it, the stench of a postgame locker room filled with skates to trip over and the scum of humanity trying to effort a workable quote for their articles.

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(I didn’t go into the locker room, so I don’t know whether anything was Febreze-ed.)

I think I might have insulted a couple of fans when I pointed out the lack of stench to them. Oops.

Surprisingly the entire event was confined to the insides of the STAPLES Center which did make things a tad claustrophobic especially during the question-and-answer sessions on the main concourse. And there were the typical sessions. The “Meet the New Kings” session. The tiny tiny people hockey match complete with a mom in a wheelchair shouting her encouragement 15 rows from the ice. The kid’s session with the always entertaining Matt Greene whose tongue-in-cheek responses are more for the parent’s benefit. E.g. “What’s your favorite television show?” “The Maury Povich Show.”

Later on in the session, a four-year old wanted to ask a question but was frightfully shy. Goalie Jonathan Quick went into the crowd to give the kid a hug and coax the question out of him. I forget what the question was, but that wasn’t important. But standing there, the poignancy of the moment struck me.

In other sports there is a separation between the fans and the athletes that never gets crossed. But hockey players are different. Whether it’s the way they were brought up, the fact they know their sport is behind the eight-ball when it comes to the big “R”s (revenue and ratings) or the nature of the sport that causes them to have a gentler demeanor off the confines of the game. But hockey players are nice guys. Of course there’s the occasional asshole mixed in, but in general they are nice guys.

The day ended with another rehashing of the “Miracle on Manchester” and a surprisingly well-played charity game between two LAFD teams ended with the Backdraft team beating the Lightbacks 4-3.

After all of this several things were learned.

(1) I need to invest in a pair of earplugs. With the new sound system installed at the STAPLES Center, it is loud. And with the press box on the same level as the speakers, I can imagine many head pounding nights to be had.
(2) This is more of something that is re-learned. It gets very cold at the arena during hockey games. I sometimes hoped for my feet to be amputated to get the chill out.
(3) Never EVER leave the house uncaffeinated or else you wind up writing nearly 1,300 words of utter nonsense.