Saturday, April 9, 2011

Believing - For Love of the Game and Your Kids

When a father has a son, it's usually one of the best days of his life.

When your child is diagnosed with a chronic disease before their first birthday, it's one of the worst moments you'll ever experience.

On the path to better days, parents often find distractions. For Steve Raboin, hockey is his distraction.

He began attending games at the old Forum in the mid-80's and slowly found his passion increasing with each passing season. However, after his wife gave birth to their son Tanner, Steve didn't push his interests on his young boy. Instead, he waited for Tanner to develop a desire to know more about the sport all on his own.

Now 19 years old, he has the same interests as many teenage boys. Yet, long before Tanner was thinking of girls, he found his first love - hockey.

Around the time he was eight years old he asked his dad if he could go with him. Steve agreed only after Tanner promised to be a 'good fan' and watch the game, not go play in the aisles while the game was going on.

Tanner promised to behave and has been attending games with his father ever since. It was their special time together, enjoyed by both father and son. "We're hockey buds," says Steve. "We bond during our time together in Section 305."

On the ice, Tanner was at first more interested in the team aspect. He didn't have a favorite player, he liked them all.

Coach Terry Murray Selects His Kings Rookie of the Year

Moving right along here in our weekend series focusing on the best Kings newcomer this season...

The four leading candidates for the title - Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Alec Martinez - have all weighed in with their opinions on each other and made their selection for who should win.

Essentially, we had two ties, one vote for Lewis and one vote for Clifford.

To bring things to a decisive finish, we have two more people to check in with today. First up, here is what coach Terry Murray had to say when asked who he would pick as the Kings Rookie of the Year...

"I really like what Bernier has done in the second half. His game has been quality and he won some huge games for us. I think Clifford, as a young guy coming in, not having any pro experience at all - out of juniors, surprising us, making the team, making a difference in games, trying to get energy into a team, maybe, on a tough night, tough game, by going out and fighting somebody - that's a hard job. He deals with it, he handles it, he does it just on his own, he figures that part of it out. Now he's playing an important role on this hockey club. So, you'd probably have to look at him."

Later today we'll see what Dustin Brown has to say. After all, he's the captain - it is his team.
[update: Brown's analysis of the rookies and his vote are available here]

To read the comments from all four candidates posted earlier in the series, simply click the name of the player here: Bernier, CliffordLewis or Martinez.  Each article has them talking about the other rookies and trying to identify who was the best.

The Mayor

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Alec Martinez Helps Evaluate the Kings' Rookies

When the season began, a number of rookies had earned key roles on the Kings roster.

As things wind to a conclusion this weekend we've been looking at which newcomer was the best-of-the-best. And who better to ask than the four leading candidates?

In a series of articles that began here, Jonathan Bernier said he'd go with Trevor Lewis. Kyle Clifford couldn't decide and went the safe route with a three-way tie. Lewis ultimately chose to select Clifford the winner. So, we don't have a consensus yet.

Additionally, the group of rookies offered comments on each other, as well as fellow rookie, defenseman Alec Martinez. So, what about the young blueliner - what did he have to say about all of this? Take a look...

On Bernier - "He's a really good goalie. He's done a great job when he gets the call and he's had a great year. I think that the team is really confident in him too. So, he's a great asset to have."

On Clifford - "Obviously, Cliffy's a huge part of this team. He works really hard. He does a lot of things, he works in the corners, he grinds, he makes plays and as we saw the other night, he can score goals too. He's a good force, toughness-wise, as well. If we need a kick in the rear during the game, he's not afraid to step up and get a scrap or something, get the team going. So, he's really important to our team."

Evaluating the Rookies with Trevor Lewis

Continuing with our exclusive multi-part series, several Kings will be stopping by to discuss their personal selections for the team's top rookie.

We've already heard from Jonathan Bernier and Kyle Clifford. Now let's see what Trevor Lewis is thinking...

On Bernier - "Bernie - he's confident, quiet confident.  And he's so calm in the net, he's been huge for us in there when Quicky needs a break:"

On Clifford - "What else can you say about the guy?  He's 20 years old and he's one of the toughest guys I know.  He'll do anything for the team - he'll block shots, he'll fight, he scores, pitches in every now and then.  I can't say anything more about him."

Kyle Clifford Helps Evaluate the Kings' Rookies

Late yesterday we heard from Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier, as he first weighed in on the other three rookie's vying for the team's best newcomer title...and then actually shared who he'd select from the group.

Now, in the second part of an exclusive MayorsManor multi-part series, Kings rookie - and fan favorite - Kyle Clifford offers up his opinions on the field of entrants and who should win...

On Jonathan Bernier - "First full season in the NHL and he's done a great job. When he gets in, he's stellar out there and he makes big saves for us."

On Trevor Lewis - "He's our hidden weapon, really. He's one of our best penalty killers, a really hard worker and I think he's definitely deserving (of the award)."

On Alec Martinez. - "He came in in late November and really made an impression from the start. He's done a great job with the power play and he's been a big part of our d-core."

I then asked, among those three, who would he pick as the best rookie this season?

Clifford responded with "I'd have to say three-way tie. Keep it safe."

To read Bernier's thoughts on the nominees and to see who he voted for (it wasn't a tie!), please click here.

Coming up next, Trevor Lewis.

The Mayor

Friday, April 8, 2011

Evaluating the Rookies with Jonathan Bernier

Over the next 24 hours MayorsManor will provide a multi-part series on the Kings' Best Rookie of the 2010-11 season, as determined by the players.

The four most likely candidates to win this award are (in alphabetical order) - Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Alec Martinez.

I've spoken with all four, plus coach Terry Murray and the captain, Dustin Brown. While there were some similarities in who they selected, it wasn't a consensus and each offered a slightly different take on the pool of players.

First up, let's see what Bernier thought...

On Clifford - "Amazing for a 19-year old kid to join the league and come out and fight some tough guys. He's been really good at giving us that energy sometimes. I think that's what they (management) wanted from him and he's done a tremendous job."

Coach Terry Murray on His Most Impressive Player of Late

When Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams went down with injuries a few weeks ago, readers of MayorsManor voted Dustin Brown as the player 'most likely' to step up and seize the opportunity.

In the days that followed coach the latest reconfiguring of the line combinations, this time necessitated by the absence of two of the Kings top players, the remaining forwards and coach Terry Murray kept talking about everybody on the team needing to step up.

With seven games in the books now as the 'new' Kings, who has Murray been most impressed with so far?

"Whenever stuff like this happens, with good players going out, you're always looking to your leadership group," he said.  "You're always looking to your captains first, to lead the way in all of the areas - whether it's in the locker room, the things you talk about, the message that's brought from the coach's office into the locker room - to be those carriers of what needs to be said.

"I think Brownie's done a wonderful job there, with how he's playing - with the effort, with the intensity, the compete, he's getting results, he's scoring goals, he's involved in scrums. He's just really bringing an all-around game right now and setting the example to lead the way for the rest of the guys. So, I feel I have to look at him as the guy that's really taken on more. And he's able to deal with it. He's such a powerful individual, physically, that he can carry that workload and do it at a high tempo."

More high praise for the LA Kings captain, who earlier this week was talked up quite a bit by 20-year NHL veteran Jeremy Roenick (article here).

The Mayor

Interview with Thomas Hickey - LA's Professional Prospect

When Kings GM Dean Lombardi was hired in April 2006 the NHL Draft was right around the corner and a year's worth of prep had already gone into the team's ranking of players. So, it was only natural that he let the scouting staff do most of the heavy lifting come draft day.

One year later, he was in full control.

And it was at that 2007 Draft where he made one of his most controversial decisions - even to this day. With the fourth pick in the first round he selected defenseman Thomas Hickey from the WHL's Seattle Thunderbirds.

It was a confusing moment for many.  Hickey wasn't projected to be taken in the first 15-20 picks and he went in the top five?

Being a first rounder comes with a heavy enough burden, so this was likely to magnify an already tough situation. Yet, the following season he went on to win his second gold medal with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships and after finishing his junior season joined the Monarchs.

His professional debut with the Manchester may have come on April 1, 2009 - but, Thomas Hickey is no joke.

After some stops and starts over the last few years due to injuries, he's played in 76 of the Monarchs 78 games this season and remains one of the Kings top defensive prospects.

As they head into the final weekend of the AHL's regular season, I had an in-depth conversation with Hickey on how things are going out east...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Players Rep Their Schools on LA Kings All-College Teams

Later tonight, Kings prospect Derek Forbort and the North Dakota Fighting Sioux will continue their quest for an eighth NCAA National Championship.

It's a game that several of the current Kings will be watching, namely Matt Greene and Jack Johnson. Greene went to UND and of course, Johnson went to Michigan.

Other former college players on the Kings roster this season include every defenseman not named Drew Doughty and forwards Scott Parse, Dustin Penner and Kevin Westgarth.

And then you have a whole group of more guys in the system, like Jeff Zatkoff - starting goaltender in Manchester.  Just a few years ago he was roaming the campus of Miami University (Ohio) with defenseman Alec Martinez.

So, with that in mind, here are the Kings All-Time, All-College first and second teams...

Kings Win, But Still Want More

"Made the playoffs.... Now time to get home ice!" - Dustin Brown's tweet after the game.

No need for a fancy press conference or long extended quotes from the team captain. That statement says it all.

The Kings have been a very workman like group this year. There isn't a flashy superstar carrying the load offensively or a Norris Trophy worthy season being played on the blueline.

It's been a team game, supported by (for the most part) excellent goaltending.

Make the playoffs - check. Now, next on the list, hold onto home ice.

Here are a few post-game notes and the video highlights from last night's 3-2 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

VIDEO: When Believing was More Than Marketing

Los Angeles Kings Players on the 'Other' Trap Game

When you think Phoenix Coyotes vs. Los Angeles Kings, it's easy to think about a low scoring affair - especially given the calibre of goaltending on both sides.

Add in some good defensemen for each club and you usually have a recipe for a long night, something Jack Johnson talked about after practice yesterday - saying, "Games against Phoenix are usually, maybe not the most exciting games. It will probably be a trap game, like usual against them. So, it will probably be a low scoring game too. And like usual, it will be a tight checking game."

Regarding the importance of the match-up, forward Ryan Smyth added...

"Obviously, we want to shut them down and we want to keep climbing in the standings. This could be a team that we play against in the playoffs. So, it's important that we not only get a win, but make a statement."

Even though the Kings are coming off an embarrassing loss in San Jose Monday night, he says it's business as usual - "You put that one behind you. Whether you lose 1-0 or 6-1, it doesn't matter. A loss is a loss and you carry forth. We know we have three games left and they're very important."

So, back to the goal totals...

Jeremy Roenick Previews LA Kings vs Phoenix Coyotes

“You could argue about who the greatest American-born hockey player was, but you’re not going to get into any debate without J.R.’s name getting mentioned,” Brian Burke at the 2010 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Gala.

Jeremy Roenick was inducted that night, a recognition for the stamp he put on the game of hockey as a two-time Olympian, seven-time 30-goal-scorer and nine-time NHL All-Star.

Over the course of his 20-year NHL career he played nine seasons in the Pacific Division, including one year in Los Angeles and two stops in Phoenix.

He's always fun to talk hockey with and he was kind enough to make a return visit to MayorsManor for a preview of tonight's critical Kings-Coyotes match-up, mixed in with some highlights and memories too...

MM: Looking back over your career, what was your favorite game against the Kings?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Oscar Moller on mini-golf, Manchester and LA struggles

Oscar Moller hasn't seen the Phoenix Coyotes since December 26, 2009.

While it may sound like a lifetime ago, not much has changed. The battle in net that night was between Jonathan Quick and Ilya Bryzgalov, as it will be tomorrow night in downtown LA.

And the final score was 3-2, with goals by Dustin Brown, Michal Handzus, Adrian Aucoin, Martin Hanzal and Keith Yandle. All of those guys are still with their club - even though Hanzal isn't likely to play due to a lower body injury.

Moller was moved back to a line with Dustin Penner and Handzus today at practice. Afterwards, we had the following chat...

MM: If I understand the translation on your twitter profile correctly, you're not a fan of bowling or miniature golf. Is that right?

OM: I suck at bowling and I suck at mini-golf. Mini-golf just makes me mad. If I miss one, then I just become very frustrated. You want to do well at it, you know.

MM: You've been back with the Kings now for six games - has there been a game where you felt the most comfortable and/or has there been a game you felt you struggled in?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Kings vs Sharks - What Could Happen, Has Happened

Some credit card commercial says there's a one-in-18 chance of a hat trick being scored in an NHL game.

So, that's something that could happen.

However, here are a few of the more likely stories to watch for tonight (and some other loosely connected tidbits)...

* Should the Kings win, they're officially in the playoffs. Also of note - if the Kings can earn four points in their final four games, they're guaranteed to finish higher than Anaheim.

* Ryan Smyth's first goal as a member of the Kings came against the Sharks on October 6, 2009.  Since then, he's scored three more in another nine games between the two teams.

* Sharks captain 'Jumbo' Joe Thornton needs just three points to reach the 1,000 mark for his career (story here). Jarome Iginla reached the same milestone last week.

...And Now You're Caught Up - April 4, 2011

Opening weekend of Major League Baseball, the Final Four, WrestleMania, a Kings game, the Stars-Ducks game and the list goes on - it was a busy sports weekend for some of you.

So, here are the top ten Kings-related stories you need to know about or may have missed...

* Defenseman Willie Mitchell has been selected as the Kings’ nominee for the 2011 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy - awarded annually to the player who best exhibits perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey (press release). A Kings player has won the award three times previously, Butch Goring 1978, Bob Bourne 1988 and Dave Taylor 1991.

* If you want to relive the Mike Ribeiro Hit On Michal Handzus from Saturday's Stars-Kings game, video is available here.

* Jonathan Bernier's stellar 4-0-1 record in the month of March, including two shutouts, weren't enough to win him Player of the Month honors. Fans instead voted Dustin Brown the winner for the second time this season. See the full results for March and list of all winners this season at this link.