LOS ANGELES KINGS’ FANDOM COMES WITH A PRESCRIPTION
Blake Wordslinger is a new guest writer on lakingsnews.com. Blake writes with the same pride and passion we like to see our hockey team play. We hope to see Blake become a regular contributor to the site. Let us know what you think of his article. Surly and I already know we like the kid.
- Bobby Scribe
Tediously long, it seems, have Kings’ fans waited for something to cheer for. Yet a certain anomaly amongst North American fanbases rests firmly in the Sourthern California hockey market: Kings’ fans. Such a term has long provoked feelings of indifference, helplessness, and pity. Kings’ fans themselves have taken on a certain sardonic, masochistic aura, often humoring other message board posters ’round the Internets with a charming, self-depricating wit. Such has become the life of a Kings’ fan for the better part of a decade. Laughter and amusement do not derive from championships or accolades. Kings’ fans have been forced to find entertainment in Jaroslav Modry’s violent purse swinging, or Raitis Ivanans’s attempts at coordinating a synapse from his pre-frontal cortex to, well, somewhere else. This specific breed of self-destructive fandom builds character, and puts hair on your chest. Just ask Bailey.
Yet I digress.
The point is, after so many years of losing, why does Staples Center still enjoy the occasional sellout? Where certain east coast teams have struggled with attendance at the slightest dip in performance, Kings’ fans have remained faithful through seven years of golf filled Junes and black hole drafts. When General Manager Dean Lombardi outright told his season ticket holders at the beginning of the 2008/2009 season that the Kings likely wouldn’t even compete for the playoffs, one would think that Staples would be as barren as the Mojave Desert. Yet the Kings averaged 89% capacity – not the best in the league, but certainly not the worst . The year before? 92% The year before that? 91% Over the last seven years, the Kings haven’t played a single playoff game, yet they have consistently ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack in attendance. Surely, the massive Los Angeles market should account for some of this attendance inflation? Possibly, but I wouldn’t be so quick to jump on the, “well, it’s just LA” excuse. In a sports market packed with two NBA franchises, two massive college football teams, and another hockey team only 45 minutes up the freeway, one would think the perpetually losing Kings would see significant attendance drops almost instantaneously. Yet Kings’ fans have endured.
This writer comes from, arguably, the freshest generation of Kings’ fandom. Raised on the late night escapades of Wayne Gretzky and Luc Robataille, my generation, now firmly in their mid twenties, has only endured a brief history of mediocrity. We never had to witness Marcel Dionne’s playoff slumps, and our only knowledge of the Miracle on Manchester are blurry, pixelated Youtube clips. However, the recent 20 year history of the Kings hasn’t gotten much better than the frustrating days of forum blue and gold. 16 years have the Kings gone without a second round playoff win. No other team in the NHL can lay claim to such a feat. The only positive punctuation throughout this time period has been a 2001 first round upset of the Detroit Red Wings (dubbed the “Stunner at Staples” – my generation’s “Miracle” moment). Such heroics, stretched thin over a four decade history, have kept the fans returning to their seats, every year, hoping, praying, that maybe this year will be different.
It have been these moments, the Stunner, the Miracle, the ’93 Cup Finals, which have been forever burned into Kings’ fans memories, for better or for worse. These moments, like the torturous yet beautiful siren’s call, beckon us back to Staples, year after year, despite the logical portion of our brain begging us to save the money for something worthwhile. The 2009/2010 season began with high hopes, which were quickly dashed as the Kings stumbled out of the gate against a suprisingly tenacious Pheonix Coyotes squad. Some fans cursed and yelled, some drank a bottle of whiskey, but most just mumbled and grumbled about another year of disappointments. However, the Kings bounced back, winning 8 of their following 13 games, earning the obligatory “loser point” in 2 out of the 5 losses. The turn of October saw the Kings sitting firmly at fourth in the conference, closely behind the San Jose Sharks for the Pacific Division lead. Yet November, historically a cruel month to Kings’ fans, has not changed its ways. Winning only once in their last five games, the old bugaboos have begun to creep back into the demeanor of even the most positive of fans. Yet we continue to come back.
Why? Well, that’s the question I hoped to answer by writing this article, and I truthfully must admit that I still don’t quite know. Maybe it’s the magic of Gretzky, a gift and a curse, that still lingers over we youngins’. Perhaps the old timers stick around for similar reasons. However, there is one thing I know for sure. After all the years of disappointing injuries, upper level mismanagement, and plain bad hockey, the Kings are due. Maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but they’re due. The Hockey Gods, often malevolent and feared entities by the Kings’ faithful, have smiled on the franchise in recent years, bestowing upon us two of their most beautiful creations: Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty. Could this be a change of the times in LA? Time will only tell.
Yet one thing remains true.
Come rain, sleet, snow, or Mayan prophecy, Kings’ fans will continue to show up, bipolar medication in tow. And when the Kings’ time finally does arrive, the roar from Staples will be a thing to behold.