Jeff Carter used to tag along to watch his dad coach players younger than himself, if only to hang at the rink for an hour or two.
Teaching 7-year-olds on skates often resembles babysitting 7-year-olds on skates. But that’s not always so in London, Ontario, where hockey dreams are practically mixed into the water. That is where Jeff first saw Drew Doughty, his younger neighbor from around the corner, playing for Jim Carter’s North London Nationals.
There was a swagger in Doughty’s game that caught the boy’s attention. It would not be the last time.
“Drew was just as good back then as he is now,” Carter said earlier in January. “Not much has changed.”
Twelve-year-old Jeff and 7-year-old Drew turned out to be quite the team. They won the Stanley Cup together in 2012, won a gold medal for Canada at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, and then won the Cup again later that year. Next, the pair will be All-Star game teammates when they lace up for the Pacific Division at Staples Center on Sunday.
Doughty, the Kings’ rock of a defenseman, will make his third straight All-Star appearance. Carter, who shouldered the Kings’ offensive load for much of the first half, will do so for the second time in his 12-year career. But it will be the first time they play in the same All-Star game, adding to their shared resume.
“For us to spend another time like this together …” Doughty said before he paused, thought and started rattling off all he and Carter have accomplished.
This season, at least through 49 games, does not get tacked on to that list of highlights.
The Kings have battled bouts of inconsistency and would be a point out of the playoffs if they started next week. They have not won more than two straight contests since a five-game winning streak in late November. But Carter and Doughty — along with stopgap goaltender Peter Budaj and Tanner Pearson’s 15 goals — have the Kings hanging around.
Carter is tied for second in the league with 24 goals and leads the Kings with 43 points. He already has matched his goals total from last season, leads the NHL with eight game-winning scores and is on pace for the best statistical season of his career.
Doughty leads Kings’ defensemen with eight goals and ranks second on the team with 20 assists. He also has worked seamlessly with different defensive partners throughout the season and helped the Kings allow the fifth-fewest goals per game in the league.
Then there is Carter and Doughty’s immeasurable influence, which comes in different forms.
Take a morning practice at Madison Square Garden last Sunday, 12 hours after the Kings opened a four-game road trip with a loss to the New York Islanders. Doughty barely closed his mouth during the 45-minute skate, chirping at his teammates and letting out high-pitched shrieks whenever he picked up speed.
“Hey, nice save, Zatkoff!” Doughty yelled through a gap-toothed grin to Kings goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, who had just let the puck past him.
“Way to warm up the goalies, Seto!” Doughty barked at forward Devin Setoguchi after he smacked a shot into Zatkoff’s right pad.
“Come on, boys! Let’s get one!” he sung to no one in particular, his voice echoing through an otherwise sleeping arena.
Carter, on the other hand, quietly flew through practice with his head down. He seemed to glide an inch or two above the ice while centering his line. He flicked shots past both of the team’s goalies. Then he lightly tapped his stick against linemates to subtly say, “Good job.”
“They are very different interacting with the team,” Pearson said. “But that’s why it’s so great having both of them. Drew is Drew, loud and always talking. Jeff is Jeff, talking when he needs to but mostly leading by example. And we wouldn’t be much without both of them.”
Now the Pacific All-Star team will see the precocious defenseman join the unshakable forward. Their long journey from London can be measured by both distance and daydreams. And on Sunday they will be right at home.
Follow Jesse Dougherty on Twitter @dougherty_jesse