Lonnie Loach will remember the chance King Coach Barry Melrose gave him to play in the NHL after the pair met in the minor leagues.
Jim Thomson won’t forget the understanding he says King management showed during the heart-numbing season two years ago when four family members died.
Loach and Thomson once were Kings. But as the Kings meet the Mighty Ducks for the first time in an exhibition game at 8 o’clock tonight at Anaheim Arena, Loach and Thomson are fighting to make the expansion team’s roster. That certainly doesn’t mean the Ducks are deeper than the Stanley Cup finalists, just that the needs and makeup of the teams are different, and many Duck jobs are up for grabs.
“They’re both in battles for jobs. I think they realize that,” Duck Coach Ron Wilson said. “They’re working hard. It’s not in their hands, so they just have to work hard and play the best they can.”
Thomson, a right wing who played sparingly with the Kings last season, might sit out tonight because of a sore groin.
“It’s disappointing,” Thomson said. “I want to play against my old buddies. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time.”
Loach, a left wing, had 10 goals and 13 assists in 50 games with the Kings after rejoining Melrose, who had been his coach with Adirondack in the American Hockey League. Loach has showed his speed but not his scoring touch during training camp with the Ducks. It would help to find it soon.
“I have a lot of friends on that team, but I’m sure the first time Alex Zhitnik or Rob Blake get a chance to hit me, they’re not going to let up, they’re going to hit me,” Loach said. “And the first time I get a chance to score, I’m going to try to score.”
Thomson talked about how much he wants to play against the Kings, but he made a special point of thanking the team for the support it gave him two years ago. In terrible succession, Thomson said, his mother, Jean, died of cancer, his brother, John, was killed in a car accident, and his brother’s widow and daughter died in a fire.
“You should have seen the way the Kings treated me,” he said. “They flew me back and forth to Edmonton when my mom was sick. You never forget that. I thank them for the way they treated me. If not for men like (General Manager) Nick Beverley and (former GM) Rogie Vachon. . . . It shows how classy they are.”
With the Ducks, Loach and Thomson are trying to play without thinking about the watching eyes that will decide whether they start the season in the NHL.
Loach feels he simply needs to find his timing, and Wilson believes the Kings’ more wide-open style could help him in tonight’s game.
“Lonnie’s skating very well,” Wilson said. “He didn’t have many chances against Pittsburgh. They’re a very big defensive team, and Lonnie unfortunately was skating right into traffic instead of trying to get away.”
Though he tries not to, Loach sometimes finds himself trying to read the coaching staff’s minds.
“I haven’t played on the power play yet, so sometimes you wonder what’s going on,” he said. “Then again, I haven’t been scoring and so I don’t deserve to be on the power play. That’s a reward for guys who work hard and put up numbers.”
Wilson knows this season will be a succession of games against former teams. Each one, he says, will have to “cut the cord.”
“Both of those guys will be motivated to play the Kings. I expect them to be flying,” he said. “It’s important for them to play for real, not be out there watching their old teammates and saying, ‘Nice to see you.’ It’s also a game for them to prove that L.A. made a mistake by letting them come here.”
Loach says that isn’t his motivation.
“I got my feet kind of wet last year. I just want to be a solid player in this league. I want to show everybody in the game I can be a good player.”
Left wing Paul Lawless, 29, off the ice since a heart murmur was detected during his physical, has been released by the team, General Manager Jack Ferreira said.