New Breed of Hockey Coming From South of the Border

Until that faraway day when Mighty Ducks walk on frozen water, passing the Stanley Cup from forward to defenseman to Minnie Mouse, Saturday, May 29, 1993 will suffice as Canada's worst nightmare.

A hockey team from Southern California has reached the Stanley Cup finals.

Not southern Alberta.

Not southern Ontario.

Not even the south side of Chicago.

Two teams still have a shot at the championship of professional hockey, and Los Angeles has one of them.

Toronto's gone.

Calgary's gone.

Vancouver, Quebec, Edmonton--gone, gone, gone.

But L.A.'s the place where Games 3 and 4 of the 1993 Stanley Cup finals will be played. Maybe Game 6, too. The team from L.A. has outlasted the Blackhawks and the Red Wings, the Rangers and the Islanders, the Flyers and the Penguins--every team except the one from Montreal, which is merely the Vatican of the sport, where 22 National Hockey League championship banners hang from the hallowed Forum rafters.

The Kings also play in a Forum. Hollow, not hallowed. Great Western, not the great Rocket Richard.

And that's about it for common ground.

Championship banners? The Kings have none, unless you count those ridiculous oversized patches that brag about one measly division championship and, oh boy, back-to-back victories over Calgary and Vancouver in first- and second-round playoff series.

Stanley Cup appearances? The Kings are closing out their 26th season of existence. Had they reached the finals in each of those seasons, they would still be six behind the Canadiens, who make their 33rd appearance beginning Tuesday night. But the Kings were 0-for-25 before Saturday. For their first quarter-century, they behaved precisely the way the average Canadian on the street believed a hockey team from Los Angeles should:

Lots of style.

No substance.

Lots of time off in June.

The Kings are supposed to be hockey's sideshow. You know the viewpoint Up North: Throw them a big name, the same way you would throw a kitten a ball of yarn, and keep them occupied. Give them a Marcel Dionne, a Bernie Nicholls, a Wayne Gretzky. Then forget about them. The Southern California hockey mind is too primitive, too undeveloped to grasp the complexities and nuances of playoff hockey. All it can understand is goals.

Gee, a 10-8 hockey game. We lost, but wasn't that flashing red light way cool?

Heavens to Jean Beliveau, a truckload of hoary stereotypes went by the boards Saturday evening in Toronto. Everything El Lay hockey is supposed to be wasn't on a Hockey Night in Canada unlike any other.

L.A. hockey is soft, right? So the Kings did blow leads of 2-0 and 3-2, as is their custom. But El Foldo didn't clear customs. As soon as Toronto makes it 2-2, Gretzky drives home a slap shot to break the tie. As soon as the Maple Leafs pull even at 3-3, with all of Canada howling for one more, Mike Donnelly is camped out, all alone at the right side of net, slithering Alexei Zhitnik's pass past Felix (The Cat On A Hot Tin Roof) Potvin.

L.A. hockey is all finesse and no force, right? So what were Zhitnik and Rob Blake and Marty McSorley doing, impersonating Zamboni machines as they rolled into and over assorted Maple Leafs? Even Gretzky, the Ever Fragile One, was mucking and grinding, leveling Doug Gilmour, Mr. Old-Time Hockey, the Toothless One, L.A. Public Enemy No. 1, in the first period behind the Kings net.

L.A. hockey is spelled C-H-O-K-E, right? So who lost Game 7 on its home ice? Who squandered decibels of devotion and decades of tradition at the hands of the no-heart, nothing-in-the-nets infidels from Hollywood--led by a 36-year-old rookie head coach just off the bus from Adirondack, no less?

Hockey is in for some jolting sights in the days ahead.

Kelly Hrudey, tending goal in a Stanley Cup final.

Goldie Hawn and James Woods, getting equal television time with Jacques Demers.

Palm trees, sea breeze and 85 degrees outside, with the Stanley Cup up for grabs inside.

Is Southern California ready for the Stanley Cup? To ask that is to ask the question in reverse. The Stanley Cup is the one that needs to get acclimated. Judging from the jam-packed bars from Redondo to Laguna Beach, complete with cheers at the right times (like whenever the guys in black put the puck in the net), SoCal is set.

A half-mile away from where the finishing touches are being applied to the new home of the new Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, transistor radios provided the soundtrack to Saturday night's Angels-Orioles game. In the third inning, with nothing much happening on the field, an unbridled roar rang from the Anaheim Stadium stands and beers were raised to toast the champions of the 1992-93 Campbell Conference.

Canadiens, welcome to hockey country.

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