You may see the most Lakers flags attached to cars and a sea of Dodger blue at every home game, but L.A. is fiercely loyal to all of its sports teams—including the Los Angeles Kings.
L.A. is a great hockey town. Add a cold sport to a warm-weather city, and you’ve got a nice change of pace. In a place better known for its laid-back attitude and with no professional football team, the roughness of hockey binds its fans together. Plus, people who live in L.A. have come here from all over the country and the world. The ones from up north may have come for the sunshine, but they haven’t given up their love of frosty activities. So you find a lot of true hockey fans in L.A.—and some of them are even natives, like me.
I became a hockey fan in first grade. The year before, when I was in kindergarten, I’d gone to a classmate’s ice-skating birthday party at the Culver City Ice Arena. I fell a lot, but that sensation of gliding on ice was something I’d never experienced before, given that the weather in the winter is usually around 60 degrees. I remember watching some older kids on hockey skates going incredibly fast and wondering if I could be as good as them some day.
The next time I had a day off from school, my mother asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, “Can I go ice skating?” My mother took me back to the arena and found an instructor to give me a private lesson. I instantly fell in love with skating—even thought it took me a while to learn how to skate backward—and I have skated pretty much every week since then. My first instructor was a guy from Minnesota who had played hockey all his life. And, a year later, after I learned to skate better, I transitioned into hockey.
I love arriving at the rink for practice in my shorts, T-shirt, and flip-flops, and putting on all of the gear. This takes some time because I put on 13 pieces of equipment, including shin pads, long stockings, elbow pads, a chest-and-shoulder protector, a neck guard, and a helmet. Then, I hit the ice and take some fast laps to warm up. When practice officially gets underway, we start with some agility skating drills: skating to one line and skating back, skating backward, and falling and popping up. After that, the coaches throw out the pucks, and we run many of the same drills. Then, we work on drills that simulate different parts of game situations. Depending on how we played the previous week, these can include defense, getting open on offense, passing, and shooting. If we’ve had a good practice, the coaches will let us scrimmage at the end. If the coaches deem the practice to have been futile, it will end with laps. Either way, when I get off the ice after 90 minutes, I am drenched in sweat and feel as if I just ran a marathon.
About six times a year (or more, if there are playoff games), I head to Staples Center to see the Kings in action. We usually get four tickets. My dad (the second-biggest hockey fan in the family) and I always go. If my mom and sister don’t want to go, I invite other friends from school who like sports or hockey teammates. The games are very energetic and jam-packed with enthusiastic fans. The difference, however, is that hockey fans are a little more vulgar than your average basketball or baseball fan. For example, hockey fans welcome an opposing team into Staples Center by yelling, “[fill in name of team] sucks!”, and repeat this refrain constantly throughout the game. Hockey fans greet the opposing team’s goalie by chanting his name in a taunting manner whenever a goal is scored against him.
The Kings’ mascot, Bailey—a 6-foot-tall lion—is not the most hospitable of creatures. Bailey has been known to slam his body against the glass to try to get the opposing players to slip up. He also flashes pictures of things that have nothing to do with the game as a distraction. When the Kings played the New Jersey Devils, he put the cast of The Jersey Shore on display; when the opposing goalie’s last name was “Elliott,” he showed the alien from E.T. When the Anaheim Ducks meet the Kings at Staples Center, Bailey will appear as a duck hunter from Duck Dynasty. And the fans love his attempts to trip up the other team. Rowdy behavior rarely spills outside of the arena, though. Everyone involved knows this is just part of the fan experience.
My best L.A. hockey experience was watching the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup in 2012. The Kings had barely made the playoffs. I was so worried about their chances against the heavily favored Devils that I went to game three at Staples Center instead of game four to avoid the possibility of enduring Devil celebrations. I watched the final game at home on TV with my dad, my mom, and my sister. When the Kings won their first Stanley Cup ever, we all did a round of high-fiving. Everyone else drifted away as I kept watching the players skate around with the Cup over their heads and do post-game interviews. I couldn’t peel myself away. Part of being a hockey fan in L.A. is prevailing against the odds, and I wanted to savor it.