Gretzky-Less Kings Still Have Support : Hockey: The NHL's all-time scoring leader might be sidelined, but the fans say they will come anyway.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Kings played a home opener without Wayne Gretzky for the first time since the 1987-88 season.

But they still sold out.

And many of those among Thursday night's crowd of 16,005, the Kings' 74th consecutive sellout at the Forum, said they would continue to support the Kings even in the absence of Gretzky, who is sidelined indefinitely because of a herniated disk.

"I think it's better," said Dave Hillman, 35, of Los Angeles, a season ticket-holder for eight seasons. "I think the team will work harder, pick up the pace a little bit. I don't like to see him hurt, but I think it will make the team (try to) prove that it can win without him."

Diana Hoskins, 14, of Glendora, arrived with several of her friends about three hours before Thursday's game.

"I love Gretzky and everything," said Hoskins, wearing a Kelly Hrudey jersey, "but I'll come to see the rest."

Martha Gonzalez, 26, of Whittier, wearing a Bernie Nicholls jersey, said that she has been coming to King games since 1986.

"Pre-Gretzky," she said, "so I'm a real fan."

Gonzalez has traveled to Edmonton, Calgary, San Jose and Las Vegas to watch the Kings play. She attends almost every game at the Forum.

"It makes a difference," she said of Gretzky's absence, "but I was here before he came. It doesn't stop me or my friends. I just love the game, period. Even if I lived in San Diego, I'd come to the games."

David Stephan, 59, of Los Angeles expressed similar thoughts.

"I wish he were here, and I'd enjoy it a lot more if he were here," Stephan said of the NHL's all-time scoring leader.

But Stephan will still attend about 20 games this season.

"I like hockey," he said. "I've been coming since the Kings' very first game in Long Beach. I saw their first game in the Sports Arena, and their last game in the Sports Arena. And I saw the first game ever played (at the Forum) . . . when Mrs. Jack Kent Cooke walked out on the ice, got a big red bouquet of roses and did a pratfall. I remember it vividly."

David Saw, 24, of Diamond Bar, wearing a purple-and-gold Jimmy Carson jersey, said he was glad to see Gretzky sidelined.

Saw said he was a King fan from 1978, when he moved to Southern California from Baltimore, to Aug. 9, 1988, when the Kings included Carson, his favorite player, in the package they used to obtain Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers.

"I'll probably go to more games because I can't stand to see Gretzky," Saw said. "I grew up watching hockey, and to me, the prototype was (former Philadelphia Flyer) Bobby Clarke. Tough guy. Never hit the deck. Wasn't a big baby. And, to me, that's what Gretzky is--a big baby.

"I'd rather see somebody who is willing to take a shot, (somebody who will) go in front of the net and stay there, taking the poundings."

Saw, who attends about half as many games as he used to before the Kings acquired Gretzky, has never been enamored of No. 99.

"I've always respected Gretzky," he said, "but I never thought Gretzky was the greatest. I've never looked at Gretzky like he was a god. He's not like Magic."

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