That’s a page from a Kings game program story I did on Al Michaels from Feb. 21, 1994, less than a year after the team made its only previous appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
Michaels talked about how when his family moved from New York to L.A. in 1958, and he was 14, the only hockey to go see were the WHL Blades at the L.A. Sports Arena. Gil Stratton, the Channel 2 sportscaster, used to do an annual segment on Christmas Eve where he’d read letters to Santa, asking for certain gifts. Michaels wrote Stratton a letter, for says for some reason, he didn’t sign his name to it.
“I signed it, ‘George Exmont’,” Michaels said. “I don’t know why I did that or how I came up with that name.”
On the Christmas Even sportscast of 1959, Stratton read the letter from a kid who told Santa he wanted the NHL to come to L.A.
It only took eight years after that to happen — on this date, June 5, 1967, when the Kings were added along with the California Golden Seals (in Oakland), the Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues.
From what we recall, Michaels didn’t need too many takes to get the puck to flip just right so the Kings’ logo was showing. No Photoshop was used — did it even exist then?
More of our conversation from Monday with Michaels, before he appeared on the NBC Sports Network Stanley Cup Final pregame show from an end zone suite at Staples Center and then hightailed it to his season-seats in Section 111:
== On how the Kings’ Stanley Cup run compares to others he’s seen in sports:
“If it happens in football, it’s a very condensed period of time. New York Giants fans probably felt that four years ago, and last season after just getting into the playoffs. Before you know it, you have the Lombardi Trophy. This is a much longer situation — a two month deal. It’s harder to believe, the Stanley Cup will be won almost two months after the playoffs start, and you go through this process. Yet the way the Kings have been going, with one sweep and two five-game wins, there’s been so much time off. You go to a game and want to back the next night, but in this particular case, it’s our first home game in two weeks.
“There’s been so much anticipation. I think I’ve only missed four minutes of one game during this run — I was golfing at Augusta and couldn’t get up from the dinner table to find a TV, not that anyone there cared about the Kings against Vancouver.
“My son (Steve, an L.A. based sports producer) and brother (NBC Sports producer David Michaels) are both huge fans as well, and now I’ve got my two grandsons, 8 and 6, all decked out in their Kings regalia, one of them already playing hockey at the Kings’ rink in El Segundo. My father introduced me to the game (back in New York), so it’s four generations of family here with this massive dose of hockey DNA.
“This is so wonderful. You can’t believe you’re coming to a hockey game in June. We’re usually done in early April.”
== On the prospects of seeing a banner go up on the Kings’ Staples Center wall:
“It might supersede that Smythe Division champion banner from 1991 and the Campbell Conference title (in ’93). In 45 years, the Kings have played in all sorts of divisions, and none of them had more than six teams in it, and they only won their division title once. Think about that. One time in 45 years. There’s so much irony involved here with ’93, where they also finished third (in the division), didn’t have home ice. Same this time.”
== On how L.A. fans get caught up in the moment:
“I remembered people were excited to be getting taught about icing and offsides. Now everyone thinks they’re a forechecking expert. I’m hearing people talking about the Kings’ forchecking and I’m thinking, ‘You didn’t know what forechecking was a week ago!'”
== Any hockey superstitions?
“No, but maybe I should. I’m thinking about growing a beard. If they lose this series, I will be growing a beard — in mourning.”
== How does the “Hockeywood” scene today relate to the celebrity crowds of 20 years ago? Do you recognize any of them coming back?
“The real people I’ve seen coming over years, one was Kurt Russell, who sat very close to us at the Forum over the years. He did the ‘Miracle’ movie and did a fantastic job as Herb Brooks. And Kate Hudson, his step-daughter, was about 10, he’d take her to games. So I’ve known her as a big fan back then. Mary Hart, I saw here tonight. Matthew Perry … I must bridge the whole deal, and I pay for my tickets.”
== As a Kings fan who wants to see them at home, are you OK with them winning so often on the road and having just a few home appearances?
“I’m good with anything. We’re dying in our living room watching the games on television. There’s a part of me that wants another game here. You want to see it in person. You’d optimally want to see them clinch in a sixth game here. But I’ll take it in four because I’m not sure the ticker can take much more of this. And you can’t root for them to lose. No way. Ever.”
== On how much he’s reconnected to being a fan again after having to be a professional, unbiased broadcaster for so much of his adult life:
“When the teams come off the ice, the lights come down, the Zambonis cleans the ice and that ice shimmers just before they turn the lights on again, the officials come out and skate, and people are getting ready, and the visiting team comes out and there are boos, and now, ‘Ladies and gentleman, your Los Angeles Kings …’
“For years, I always thought, ‘You know what, they’re not my Los Angeles Kings. You can have ’em.’ But now they are our Los Angeles Kings. I would have rooted for the Kings no matter what, even if they played the Rangers, the team of my youth. I really wanted to see that. Still, when I’m 6, my dad takes me to a Rangers game and they still have a uniform similar to that now with that diagonal logo, to see that your whole life, holy mackerel. I knew the Devils would be a tougher opponent, too.”