NHL dream near reality
Wanda Mercury-Simmonds raised her four sons to be strong but respectful and to channel their boundless energy into sports, as she had done as a tomboy alongside four brothers.
A mother at 16, she grew up with her kids. She went to school and worked but never missed a chance to take the boys skating or swimming or climb trees with them near their home in Scarborough, Canada, outside Toronto.
She and her husband, Cyril, who works in construction, found the money or the help to buy them second-hand skates and gloves even though “we were living from paycheck to paycheck,” she recalled.
Her third son, Wayne, inherited her strong will.
That’s why when he earnestly told her long ago he would become an NHL player, she never doubted it.
Now that he’s close to making it, having survived the first cuts of the Kings’ training camp and earning raves for his smart and assertive play, she’s sure he will defeat the odds and successfully navigate the final step on his unlikely journey.
“For all the years he’s been out there trying for this, for his dream to come true, he deserves everything he gets,” she said by telephone from Toronto.
“He takes everything on his shoulders and works so hard. I used to hate to get in the car with Wayne after he lost a game. I used to dread it because he would be so sad, and when he hurts, I hurt too.”
Neither of them was hurting much Tuesday, after he contributed an assist and three hits and tangled in two crowd-pleasing fights during the Kings’ 2-1 shootout exhibition loss to the Ducks at Staples Center.
Simmonds, the Kings’ second-round pick and 61st overall in the 2007 entry draft, has made a strong impression so far and could soon join the small number of black players in the NHL. Playing Tuesday on right wing with center Jarret Stoll and left wing Matt Moulson, he assisted on the Kings’ goal, scored by Moulson off a first-period scramble.
He also earned a pair of major fighting penalties for tussling with Troy Bodie and Travis Moen in the second period. Both scraps involved more shoving and wrestling than actual punching, but Simmonds won’t back down from anyone.
He’s the kind of player the Kings have needed but are just starting to find and develop.
They have a few superb forwards -- and will have another good one if restricted free agent Patrick O’Sullivan ever signs -- and their defense oozes with promise.
It’s the character players they’ve lacked, and in dumpster-diving to fill that hole they’ve made more than a few mistakes that soured the team’s chemistry.
Simmonds, a month past his 20th birthday and still likely to add muscle to his 6-foot-2, 181-pound frame, has character and skill.
Coach Terry Murray sees him as a third-line player or better because his strong defensive play can allow him to be a checking forward on a scoring line.
“He made a huge commitment over the summer to do his off-ice workouts here and he’s just continued to impress me almost on a daily basis,” Murray said.
“He’s intelligent, he reads the plays, he’s very responsible away from the puck and he does all the right things when our team has the puck on the attack. And he’s a teammate. He jumps in for his teammates. He’s in there, battling, and he’s very competitive in every situation.”
Simmonds is accustomed to standing up for himself. Black players have not always had an easy time in this sport, and Simmonds said he heard racial taunts directed at him while he worked his way up through the youth hockey ranks and into major junior hockey in Canada.
“You rarely hear it anymore,” he said. “But when you’re younger you have the ignorant kid that says something because he’s not educated or his parents don’t teach him, I guess. But now you don’t hear anything, and that’s good.
“You’ve kind of got to let those things go by the wayside sometimes, and if you have an opportunity to settle the score, you settle the score.”
Winning is the best revenge, and he’s winning points in his quest to make his childhood dream come true.
“I just try to keep things simple and not go out of my way to try to be fancy or anything,” he said. “I think that’s benefited me a lot.
“I’ve got my chance and I’ve got to prove myself. I don’t know if my mom really believed me at the start when I said I’d play in the NHL, because a lot of kids say that. But now she certainly believes.”
So will a lot of other people, if they don’t already.
Helene Elliott can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.
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