Opening Victory for Kings : Hockey: Prospective new owners watch their $113-million investment beat Colorado, 4-2, in front of 16,005.


What do you get for more than $113 million?

Prospective King owners, reclusive Denver billionaire Philip F. Anschutz and local developer Edward P. Roski Jr., found out firsthand on Saturday night as their latest pending acquisition--the Kings--defeated the Colorado Avalanche, 4-2, in their season opener.

Anschutz and Roski were among the sellout crowd of 16,005 at the Forum, only a few rinkside seats away from one of the current King owners, former telecommunications mogul Jeffrey Sudikoff. They are within days of officially acquiring the franchise, a complicated transaction expected to close on Tuesday.

Perhaps the dawning of a new era inspired the Kings, who have missed the playoffs the last two seasons. They gave Larry Robinson, a Hall of Fame defenseman, a victory in his debut as an NHL head coach. And it was a night for many successful debuts--winning goaltender Byron Dafoe and flashy rookie forward Vitali Yachmenev, who scored twice, including the game-winner with 9:05 remaining.

Robinson, who clenched his fist on the bench after the victory, tried to take it in stride, saying that it is a long season.

"That's all it was--one," he said. "Now if I won the Stanley Cup [with the Kings], that would be a dream come true. It's just one game out of 82."

Wayne Gretzky, who had two assists, said he saw a big difference.

"With all the problems we went through the last couple of years," he said, "I'm not sure Toe Blake could have coached this team. . . . We're going to have a fun year."

Helping in that regard would be Yachmenev, the Kings' third-round draft choice in 1994. He has always been able to score at every level and proved it again in a sensational NHL debut. Both his goals were on the power play, with the game-winner coming off a rebound of right wing Rick Tocchet's shot. Gretzky set up the play, initially, with a pass from the right corner to Tocchet in the right circle.

Gretzky assisted on Yachmenev's first goal of the game, at 4:15 of the first period on the power play, which gave the Kings a 2-0 lead. Yachmenev, 20, showed few nerves despite playing on a line with left wing Dimitri Khristich and Gretzky.

"It's a big step to come to the NHL from juniors." Yachmenev said. "I didn't expect to have this happen in my first game. I know I have to score like this--that's my job."

Said Gretzky: "From Day 1, I said this kid is going to make the team. It was funny to play on his line. No one says a word. And I thought Jari [Kurri] was quiet."

The other King goals were scored by forward Pat Conacher, who finished off a two-on-one 30 seconds into the game, and Tocchet, who put away an empty-netter with 39 seconds remaining after the Avalanche pulled goaltender Stephane Fiset for an extra attacker.

Also turning in a solid performance was Dafoe, who has moved to the forefront because of the ankle injury to the Kings' No. 1 goaltender, Kelly Hrudey. Dafoe, acquired in a draft-day trade from Washington along with Khristich, faced 24 shots and made 22 saves. Colorado had only six shots in the third period.

In 10 games in the last few seasons with the Capitals, Dafoe's NHL career record was 3-3-1.

The only player to get anything past him was Colorado's scoring star, center Joe Sakic, who scored both of his goals in close. Sakic's goals erased the Kings' 2-0 lead as he scored on the power play at 6:25 of the first period and added another at 13:23 of the second.

Sakic's second goal was a bit of a fluke as Adam Deadmarsh's attempted shot hit the leg of King defenseman Sean O'Donnell and bounced over to Sakic, who was all alone at the right crease.

But Dafoe was flawless in the third period, and his biggest save of the game came late when he stopped Peter Forsberg on a breakaway with 7:40 remaining.

"To tell the truth, I got lucky," Dafoe said. "It surprised me, went off my leg and off the post. When you're lucky, you're lucky."

Dafoe got the starting assignment after it became clear that Hrudey would not be ready for the season opener.

"I would have never thought I would start opening night and that we'd win," he said. "I got a lot of support. Twenty four shots? From what I've heard, that would be in one period."

Said Avalanche Coach Marc Crawford, whose team beat the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, Friday night: "They [the Kings] played well as a team, they outshot us, outscored us and, from what I saw, they out-worked us."


King Notes

After completing an avalanche of paperwork to close their purchase of the Kings, the new owners intend to hire a president to run the team, according to David Rogers, a lawyer for Majestic/Anschutz Venture (MAV). Rogers said several candidates already have been identified and that the hiring is a priority.

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