Advertisement

How Kings’ Die-Hards live hockey

Jennifer Ogawa of Torrance was sitting minding her own business, as if that’s even possible at a hockey game, when a few rows up, one Steve Raboin of Chino Hills stumbled forward and landed in Ogawa’s lap, not on purpose. Two minutes: drinking.

As so often happens at hockey games, no one was hurt during what would appear to be a crushing hit, probably because Ogawa’s boyfriend didn’t witness the incident.

“He was in the bathroom,” Ogawa explains.

Such is life in what they call the Die-Hard section of Staples Center, a family-oriented section in the higher reaches, if your family consists of knuckleheads and other ne’er-do-wells, which it probably does.

Are people constantly falling on each other up here, I ask, or is it a rather rare thing?

“Well, not rare,” Ogawa explains.

Wrigley Field has its Bleacher Bums and Staples has its Die-Hards, a big-hearted, mostly harmless band of brothers (and sisters) who date back to the Dave Taylor days.

Once known as “Dave Taylor’s Die-Hards,” they are now mostly just the Die-Hards. Their ‘hood ranges from sections 304 to 314 in the nosebleed seats, and only the top three rows at that — though some lower rows claim to be Die-Hards too, proving there is no end to the odd associations to which some people aspire.

“Luon-goooo!” the fans shout, jeering the opposing goalie. Luon-goooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

At Staples on Wednesday, there were more bad noses than a Scorsese movie, and I’m not just talking about the players. You should see the louts up here in the Die-Hard section. War whoops. “Puckhead” hats. Crowns. And beer breath that would kill a goat.

There’s Steve Anetil of Cypress, who keeps insisting that the Die-Hards are like family, keeping in touch on Facebook during the season and off.

There’s Russian-born Greg Tsipkis, who stands against the wall with his buddies at the very back of the section because the seats make you docile.

“I have good days when the Kings win,” he explains, “and I have the worst days when the Kings lose.”

Join the crowd, dude.

See, hockey fans are almost their own ethnic group. They swagger off to games the way Vikings did to conquer rival villages. Beards, beer guts, clubs. And I’m not just talking about the women, either.

Many of the men exhibit these same physical traits. The typical hockey fan — woman or beast — appears to be about six months pregnant.

“Go, Kings, go! Go, Kings, go!” they scream.

Let me just say: There’s nothing better than a hockey game in person, or worse than a hockey game on TV.

In person, it’s like a sport the Marx Brothers might’ve invented. They wear boots designed to slide in an effort to chase something the size of a urinal cake. Assuming they can even catch the darned thing, the urinal cake wants to roll, skid, flutter like a finch.

Playing hockey is like cutting diamonds with a tent mallet.

Out of frustration, the players usually turn on each other, the thinking being: “I can’t get that bleepin’ puck, so I’ll just hit you instead.”

That, in essence, is hockey.

Three periods? Somebody explain to me three periods. It would be as if football had two halftimes. Evidently, hockey was invented by someone who couldn’t count to four.

And the season is mortally long — two years. It’s almost harder to miss the playoffs than make them. In many ways, the NHL is like AYSO soccer. Everyone plays.

Yet, hockey is wicked fast, wicked fun. It’s all angles and blood and stitches after the game. They play it on ice just to stanch the swelling.

If there are more passionate fans, I have yet to find them. Hockey crowds always smell faintly of moose to me. Doesn’t matter if it’s Edmonton or L.A., the musk of antlers and unwashed flannel shirts hangs over the arena.

But that’s only part of the appeal.

They also sing the anthem like no other fans — in Wednesday’s case, the American and the Canadian anthems.

They sing it loud, and not very well, the way anthems should be sung.

And once the game starts, they fall all over themselves.

Just ask Jennifer.

chris.erskine@latimes.com


Advertisement