Thursday, September 3, 2009

If you build it, they will come...

In preparation for the new website you can now access the blog at

note: older posts can now be viewed by clicking here. This includes all the articles on Hockey Fest 2009.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

LA Kings HockeyFest 2009: Saving the Best for Last

In the Rick Knickle spot (#1) - Growing Up Kings with Hardy, Nicholls & Robitaille

Come on people, if you don't know about Rick Knickle, you clearly weren't paying attention yesterday during my rant about the goaltending situation during the winter of '92-93.

Which #1 were you expecting me to reference...Mario Lessard?

Jim Fox (the host) started the session talking about how he and Harpo (Mark Hardy) had been out late the night before dancing at the Bullpen in Redondo Beach. Why we were supposed to care, I still don't know. In the 90s Harry O's in Manhattan Beach was where lots of the players used to hang out. Maybe once you retire you move over to the Bullpen. Or...given Dean's love for baseball, perhaps they thought "the Bullpen" would score some bonus points with the boss.

This session was great, although you always felt they were holding back a bit on some of the stories. One guy would be talking and then just look at another guy like "remember what else happened? (wink wink)"

Highlights included:

* Bernie Nicholls discussed his love of the fans, especially kids. One time he tossed a puck into the stands for an elderly gentleman after the pre-skate shoot around. When he came back out for the game the fan was holding a big towel on his head and was acting like he was nursing an injury. A few days later Bernie gets a letter stating he is being sued for $20k for the injury...and ANOTHER $20k because the guy could no longer perform his manly duties. Luc chimed in with the perfect solution. To save the $20k Bernie just offered to do it for him.

* Bernie and those damn pucks. Looks like another time he was fined by a minor league team for giving away all of the practice pucks after a shoot around. Can you imagine a team fining a player for interacting with the fans? I know things run on a shoe sting budget in the minors, yet this takes it to a whole new level.

* The PumperNicholl - there really isn't some great story behind the origin of this legendary move (or moves). Bernie simply says he loves scoring goals - "it's exciting" - and that Bob Miller can claim the naming rights. Apparently it didn't retire with him though. He says he still does it when he plays in charity games and such. Wonder if the opposing teams appreciate that a little less than the fans in the crowd.

* Harpo was reminded that none of his former teammates ever would have selected him as the guy "most likely to end up in coaching." To which he replied, "Why because I showed up to camp drunk one year?" Being traded to New York was a "devastating day in my life" he added, an event that started his awakening into maturity. He "learned how to win" from Mark Messier.
Quick side note - when people in the 90s would talk about the Kings being the Oilers South they were partially right. There were so many former Oilers here it was crazy - Gretzky, Huddy, McSorley, Kurri, Coffey, etc. However, the ONE guy they missed out on was Messier. Sure, the Kings had the best player in the game in #99, just think about what could have been if they had the best leader in all of pro sports!
Harpo also credited Rick Dudley (then of Phoenix, more recently the just appointed assistant GM in Atlanta) for getting him started in coaching when he made him a player/coach. He said he took to it right away.

* Following up on the Luc fighting at his 2nd training camp story I wrote about in the recap from Saturday...Luc says it was Dan Brennan he tried to scrap with. The scuffle ended when Bernie started yelling at Dan "STOP - you're going to kill him!" Yes, that was the end of Luc's fighting career, over before it ever really started.

* Apparently, Bernie liked the puck as much as Marcel. Well that and he says he always preferred the sure thing. Which is probably what led to him telling Ken Baumgartner "If I ever give you the puck, it was a mistake. Give it back!" Somebody call JR and tell him his t-shirt company needs to add that to their line.

* Memory lane - Luc says the hit Harpo laid on Mike Keane in game 3 of the '93 playoffs was the best hit he ever saw on the ice.
File under useless trivia - Mike Keane has the Stanley Cup tattooed on his leg three for each cup he has won. Sorry, no link available.
They lost that game in overtime, but the hit lives on...or at least the story of the hit. Harpo says after the glass was shattered he looked in and saw Michelle Pfeiffer, so he winked at her before skating off. Click here to relive one of Harpo's finest moments via YouTube.

* Bernie sure wasn't shy with his opinions. He claims that Gretzky should have been called for a penalty in the '93 series with Toronto...better yet, he says he should have been ejected from the game! Watch the video and decide for yourself by clicking here.

* An interesting fact was brought up about tough travel schedules. Dallas plays all of their division games two time zones away.

* Bernie went on to say that teams in the West (mainly California teams) claiming "travel" is the reason they haven't won a cup are just making excuses. He then walked off the stage doing the PumperNicholl.
OK, so he didn't walk off the stage doing the PumperNicholl. Fine. He should have. How's that - better?

* All four guys on stage claimed that Patrick Roy was the toughest goalie they ever faced. A few other names were thrown around as tough too - like, Brodeur and Fuhr. However, it was Roy by overwhelming consensus.

* Back to Bernie - he says the Islanders practiced harder than the Kings played in games most nights. Luc added when he was first breaking in with the Kings (or was that Growing up a King to keep with the theme?) he was given more grief for his softball skills than his hockey skills. The Kings were the defending softball champions and they took their title serious...seriously.

* Who else, but Bernie - He is working on a 13 week hunting show for Versus. You can see it by ordering DirecTV now...oh, never mind. It's somewhat of an extension of a hunting piece he did for the NHL Network awhile back. Once a sniper, always a sniper.

* Superstitions - Luc used to use sticks with white tape on the blade in the first and third periods, alternating to black tape in the second. Harpo's only superstition was dressing his left side first. FASCINATING! Bernie takes the cake though. On game days he didn't want to be separated from his stick. So, he would take it home with him, to lunch, even to bed. I kept waiting for a series of one liners after that little tidbit, they never came.

Great way to end the day - and the weekend - with such a fun session. Overall, I would say this session tied for "best overall" with Saturday's expert panel.

Now that we know what it's like growing up a King, next year I'll be hosting "Growing Up a Kings Fan!" I'm already gathering my stories, photos and videos.

The Mayor

LA Kings HockeyFest 2009: Sunday's Runner-Up Session

Pick your Z...

In the Alex Zhitnik or Doug Zmolek spot (#2) - Bob Miller's One Man Show

Like yesterday, the session I entered the day most looking forward to didn't end up earning my top billing when all was said and done. Great show. Great speaker (obviously). Just slightly one upped later in the day.

The voice of the Kings - our Vin Scully - brought a myriad of stories and video highlights from the team's 40+ years in LA.

* He opened things with 1967 and a video package entitled "Getting to Know You."

* Talked about driving up to Jack Kent Cooke's house in a rented Plymouth Omega (no link available). Cooke said he liked small cars too - like Maseratis.

* Bob isn't too fond of the way Cooke treated people or his (less than legendary) marketing ideas. For example, he once suggested that Bob say "...and there goes Marcel down the ice like a Datsun" as a way of plugging their automobile sponsor. Bob politely suggested they go a different direction - like mentioning the Datsun Scoreboard when referring to the score of the game.

* In the early days the Kings had several early players worthy of being in GQ magazine Bob claims. One notable exception was Butch Goring - who once spilled pasta sauce on his white turtle neck on the first night of an eight game road trip. He showed up the next day with what some players thought was a clean replacement. No - he simply turned the shirt around backwards and put a jacket on!

* For the trivia buffs...the hardest shot Bob has ever seen belonged to Dennis Hull of the Blackhawks.

* More trivia? He'll never forget the '76 playoffs. The worst call he remembers making was when Mike Corrigan tied the game against Boston in game six, after being down 3-0 that night. Relax Bob. More fans probably remember Goring scoring to win it at 18:28 of overtime - the longest game in Kings history at that point. Or what happened after - something Bob proudly proclaimed he has never seen since (or before) - a hockey player carried off the ice on the shoulders of his celebrating teammates.

* Of course, there were stories about the triple crown line, the trade of '88 that came with new team colors and more. There were also some less feel-good "I don't mind telling you I hated the Oilers (of the early 80's), their arrogance really bugged me."

* What had to be the kick to the gut moment of the whole weekend was watching Montreal celebrate winning the cup in '93. Sure, that playoff run was brought up in nearly every session throughout the weekend. Yet, this wasn't about the great Toronto series leading to the finals or even the stick incident in game two. This was a video featuring a celebration by the team that beat the Kings. The prior night Marcel refused to watch the video clip of Simmer breaking his leg. I felt the same pit in my stomach reliving that dreadful day. OUCH.

Bob's session ran 30 minutes over and easily could have gone another hour. The man is a hockey encyclopedia.

If you don't have his book, get a copy now (details and link below). It's easy reading and full of great memories.

Check out Bob Miller's book at Amazon:

The Mayor

LA Kings HockeyFest 2009: Sunday's 3rd Best Session

Day Three. A glorious day. A sad day. Why? It's the end of Hockey Fest 2009!

Keeping with the theme started yesterday, I've ranked the three sessions today from third to first. Please note - that isn't "from worst to first", as the third place selection was still a beauty. Think of it more like 1A, 1B and 1C.

In the Jack Johnson slot (#3)...or Gary Galley position for you more "seasoned" fans - Hockey Operations with Dean, Hex and the Coach.

Some of the gems at the morning kick-off:

* Dean referring to Doughty as a "Doughboy"...quickly realizing he might have a mini-riot on his hands given the adoration most fans have for the kid, he explained that such a body type was a good thing. You see, Dean likes to draft kids who have an upside. If you draft a kid that is "buffed out" he doesn't have any upside. With Doughty being a Doughboy they knew they could teach him how to attain an athlete's body. Dean later added that Ray Bourque used to be referred to as "Fat Ray" for the same reason his first few years in the league.

* Coach Murray is very impressed with Matt Greene and Kopitar. He admits that it took Kopi time to learn the defensive system he put in place last year and thinks he should have a break out year this season on offense.

* This just in - the Coach also said that "Brownie is a pretty damn good player too." He believes "nobody in the NHL cares more about the LA Kings than Dustin Brown." Ah, should a guy playing in Tampa Bay or Atlanta care about the Kings? Relax, I knew what he meant.

* Next up was the period I usually dread most - they opened it up for questions. Don't get me wrong, Kings fans are extremely knowledgeable. And there are always really good questions - some even surprise Dean or Hex with the insight behind them. Yet, I'm always thinking "please, no more questions about parking prices or why the Kings didn't sign (insert player name) to a $300 million contract just because there is cap space available." That said, overall, if you take all the questions asked to all the various panelists this weekend, I would rate the fan questions a strong B+...maybe even A-. I don't even remember one lame question that made me sink in my seat. Maybe it was the cover charge. Kept those people at home. Back to the story... A fan asked Dean about expanding their marketing efforts out to the Inland Empire (you know, the "IE", formerly known as "the 909"). Dean looked around like he wanted to use a lifeline or phone a friend. Thus his initial answer: "Um, not my area." (Can I have your attention please...will McChris please pick up a white courtesy phone...paging McChris to a white courtesy phone).

* Somebody then asked Dean about Brian Boyle and the decision to trade him this past June. In short, he said things similar to what was shared at the last Breakfast with Ops meeting at Health South (for TSC comments, see my earlier blogs), i.e. work ethic, does he get it, does he bring his A game every night. Dean mentioned he wasn't sure that Boyle staying for his senior year at BC was the right decision. Several fans didn't like his "leave school early to turn pro" stance. Either way, Dean said they even talked to Boyle's father earlier this year to try and get some outside help. Experiment over. When he showed up to the draft and only had three teams interested he knew he had to do it now. In fact, he believes he waited too long to trade him and said he should have listened to Hex (who wanted to trade him sooner).

* Coach Murray has been impressed with former college hockey player Davis Drewiske from the day he first met him. He sees lots of upside to his game this year. Says he "might just need to drop the gloves" a few times this year to establish himself. He had 18 penalty minutes in 17 games last season with the Kings. We'll have to wait and see on that one.

* One of the true pleasures of listening to Dean speak is his constant expansion of the hockey vocabulary. You may recall from previous meetings he's taught us all the value of an "asset" (player or pick) or the fact that some guys are brought in to be a "bridge." (Fun little game to play - what's your favorite Deanism? Post a comment below) Well, we have a new one. Prospect Garrett Roe is a "dirtbag." Apparently, it's a term of affection. Which caused Daryl Evans to remark how much fun Dean must be on a date. Rowe is what Dean likes in the 7th round, "no vanilla."

* Many of us have heard Dean espouse his displeasure for slogans and the like. However, he gave us a good one today..."There's no cap on character." It's more than just the cash cost when evaluating who should be a King these days.

As things wrapped up in the morning session Dean acknowledged they may be one or two players light as camp approaches. Rather than fill that void from outside right now - and guess wrong - they'd rather wait and see how things develop during camp. Somebody may come along and surprise them, like Wayne Simmonds last year. For now he doesn't see an "impact move" on the horizon. There could be a "depth move" during or shortly after camp.

I've said it many times since Dean landed in LA. He is consistent. Today he spoke freely when asked a question, was intense about winning and tried to connect with each fan speaking to him. All consistent with past fan forums.

Later I had a chance to follow-up with Dean and Coach Murray on a number of other topics:

* I pressed Dean on the Ivanans situation and Westgarth looming in the background with his new three year contract. Ivanans is on the team "for now." Westgarth's first year of the contract is a two-way deal, so he may be in and out quite a bit. However, he likes the added "chirping" that Westgarth brings, saying that is an element that North American born players bring with them. He explained that "sometimes those one liners hurt as much a a punch."

* Dean jokingly (perhaps) suggested they should play both guys against Anaheim. He says it might be kinda fun after going in there and getting pushed around the last few years. He chuckled pretty good at himself over that one. Murray went on to talk about Richard Clune and his potential to fill a role with the team. Dean agreed, he loves that kid too.

* I mentioned to Dean that I heard they tried to bring back Lappy on a short term contract. He said "absolutely true." They were talking to his agent and Dean feels Lappy was interested. When the longer term was offered by Philly, he didn't want to try and match. No hard feelings. Lappy being interested was somewhat shocking to me. When we spoke at Luc's retirement dinner he was still very bitter with the Kings organization and the way things fell apart. Perhaps time heals all wounds. Perhaps Lappy wasn't holding Dean accountable for things that happened before he started. Either way, it all turned out fine. A great guy got a big money three year deal and the Kings wisely didn't offer him something similar. One year would have been great. Three wouldn't have been the right move for this team.

* Coach wants to see Doughty start to come out of his "cocoon" this year. #8 has leaned heavily on Odie as a mentor (good decision). Those two will be paired again during the pre-season. He also plans on keeping Frolov and Zeus together. Interesting nugget was him not being sure there was room on this year's team for both Moller and Purcell. I got the impression it was Purcell's job to lose.

Whew. All of this info and it wasn't even lunch time yet.

The Mayor