(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kings fan Linda Subuas sports what she can of a traditional Stanley Cup playoffs hockey beard before during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils outside of Staples Center on Monday.
Hockey miracles do happen in Los Angeles.
Al Michaels certified one of them Monday night.
The legendary play-by-play broadcaster, most known for calling the U.S. Olympic team’s “Miracle On Ice” victory over Russia in the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, N.Y., was hardly placid as a Kings’ season-seat holder for the last 20-something years.
His four seats in Staples Center’s Section 111, 14 rows up from the ice, became the perfect place for him, his wife, and two grandsons in their full black-and-white regalia to witness more hockey history — the Kings’ first Stanley Cup Final home game in 19 years.
“I don’t want to corrupt what happened in Lake Placid, but one of the great things about sports is when something is so totally unexpected, it comes out of nowhere, and you’re almost in a dream sequence,” said Michaels, who calls him a “maniacal fan” who also saw the Kings’ “Miracle on Manchester” playoff game 30 years ago.
A screen shot of Al Michaels, left, with wife Linda, right, caught by the NBC cameras during a pan of celebrities at Monday’s game, which included Alyssa Milano, Pat Sajak, David Beckham and LL Cool J.
“You can’t believe you’re coming to a hockey game in June. We’ve always been done in early April. There’s been tremendous anticipation. I think I’ve only missed four minutes of one game this playoff run.”
The momentum from this miracle-like playoff run from the Kings, coming back to L.A. needing two wins to clinch their first Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils standing the way, brought a surge of sight-seeing from long-time fans who wondered which members of the “Hockeywood” community would join them for this momentous occasion.
Like Michaels, some long-time Kings fans such as Matthew Perry, Will Ferrell, Tom Arnold, Mary Hart, Bert Sugarman or Alan Thicke have been through thick and thin. They arrived in plenty of time, not wanting to chance a late-afternoon traffic tie up with a 5 p.m. faceoff.
A newer-wave of L.A. celebrity that included James Gandolfini, Channing Tatum, Ellen Page, Alyssa Milano, Ron Pearlman and LL Cool J also made it cool again to be at Staples Center on Monday.
Add to that former a Kings legend like Wayne Gretzky dropping the opening puck, another Hockey Hall of Famer in Mark Messier joining NHL poster boy Sidney Crosby in attendance, and former Kings owner Bruce McNall making his way through the concourse and getting some high-fives from Kings fans, this somewhat surreal experience was frozen in time.
“It’s a lot like dj vu,” said McNall, the Kings’ once-maligned owner who brought Gretzky to L.A. in 1988 and oversaw the last Kings’ Stanley Cup aborted run in 1993 that ended in five games against Montreal. McNall was heading for his seats in Section 102, provided by Luc Robitaille, the former Kings’ star and current team president of business.
“I hope we finally find that ring at the end of it this time,” added McNall.
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kings fans Justin Bran, left, and Amelia Cline pose for a photo outside the Staples Center before Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday.
For many Kings’ fans, a simple patch was good enough for now.
A serpentine line formed at the jersey kiosk on the plaza level, people who’d already paid $22.95 for a Stanley Cup Final patch to be iron pressed onto their Kings’ jerseys. The 45-minute wait was nothing compared to 19 years.
“This doesn’t even feel real yet,” said Kevin Perovano of Laguna Hills, inspecting the logo on the shoulder of his Anze Kopitar jersey that had just been attached. “In ’93, I was 7. This means a lot more.”
Terri Brown of Hermosa Beach, in her Section 118 spot nearly an hour before the game with daughter Rachel, has called herself a Kings fan for as long as she’s been married to her husband, Derek. That’s 29 years.
Then why wasn’t he there with her?
“He’s taking a class at Loyola Marymount on Mondays and Wednesdays, and he is beside himself,” said Brown. “I’ve been waiting all day to be here. Our two boys will be here Wednesday (for Game 4). That’s when we want to see it end.”
Tina and Ed Ennis of Moreno Valley have also been wedded for 29 years. She made that pretty obvious by wearing a Kings T-shirt with the message on the back: “It’s my 29th anniversary and all I got were these pucky tickets!”
That’s because Ed bought two tickets in Section 320 off eBay.com. He’s been taking Tina to Kings games since their days at the Forum when they went together to Neff High School in La Mirada in the late ’70s.
“This is on my bucket list,” said Ed.
“I’m on board,” said Tina.
Tickets for Game 3 on StubHub.com could be had for as inexpensive as some $500 in the upper reaches of Staples Center (where most of the die-hard fans congregate during the regular season), but as pricy as a couple thousand to be on the glass. The Ticketmaster Exchange site even had a pair in Section 311 for $11,500. Obviously looking for someone desperate enough to pay the freight for their season seats come 2012-13.
In the sea of Kings’ jerseys, however, a red tide of Devils fans congregated before warmups behind the New Jersey bench, feeling secure enough in numbers not to bothered with.
“Devil Dan” Daly of Perth Amboy, N.J., and Brian Miller, aka “Mr. Intensity” from Moonachie, N.J., would not have been mistaken for fictional Devils’ fan Puddy, the Patrick Warburton character from the “Seinfeld” series. Their faces were buried in thick playoff beards with just a little red coloring, but they avoided the scary face paint and were considerably mellow just taking in the scene.
“It’s cool to be here in a place that’s been known as a basketball town since the days of Jerry West,” said Miller, whose only previous Southern California visit was when he went to the Devils’ 2003 Stanley Cup Final run in Anaheim against the Kings’ rival Ducks.
“Hopefully this can transform the city and make L.A. be known for hockey.”
The Devils won that Stanley Cup in ’03, their second in four seasons. But they haven’t had a parade with it since.
Kings’ fans have a tougher time feeling sorry for them.
“I’d love to get the Cup for a day, at one of my kids’ house, just so the grandkids can look at it, maybe take a drink out of it,” said Michaels, who has started a fourth-generation of hockey fans in his family, having had his dad introduce him and brother, David, to the game growing up as N.Y. Rangers fans before moving to L.A. in 1958.
“So much of my career has been as an impartial observer on national television. This is the first time in a long time I’ve reconnected. I’ve always loved the Kings, but the Kings have never given me much to latch onto. We’d walk into the building after they’d lose to
Detroit or Pittsburgh and go, ‘Why can’t we ever be them?’
“Now we’ve morphed into the 1958 Montreal Canadiens. I told my wife as we were driving up here, the wonderful thing about this now is how short the offseason is going to be. Summer may be over soon, but we could have a banner up on that wall.”
Do you believe in that?
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Fans at Staples Center rise to cheer at the start of the second period of Monday’s game.