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Hockey

Column: As Kings return, Staples Center lights the way

Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup descends to center ice during the Kings’ Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony at Staples Center on Wednesday.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Kings executive Luc Robitaille proclaims L.A. “the greatest hockey city” as Stanley Cup champs start season

With farm ponds beginning to freeze all across Southern California, we welcome hockey again, fierce and hot-tempered, the true sport of Kings.

How gracious of the local baseball clubs to bow out in time for this Kings season opener, giving fans a place to drown their sorrows. Hockey is indeed our sudsiest sport. Admittedly, no one should need to get tanked up to watch a local team play, unless of course it’s the Angels or the Dodgers come October. Yikes.

I’ve studied these Kings for a few minutes now, and they seem to feature the same roster that dazzled us till almost July. What a run. If I remember correctly, they won three Game 7s on the road. Double yikes. In the Stanley Cup Final, they left the superb Henrik Lundqvist splayed out on the ice. Rink kill.

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“Chilled Lundqvist,” soon to be the Tuesday special at Canter’s.

This year, fans may (or may not) notice that the Kings are performing under new stage lights. I’m not much for special effects, or lasers, or even flashbulbs, but Staples’ new LED lighting system, installed in the off-season, adds a certain acuity to an arena that was always a little noirish.

In short, the rink really pops.

The Lakers will stick with their old incandescent lighting, but the Kings and Clippers will play under these new, energy-efficient high beams this year.

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“It focuses light on the playing surface, and less on the seating area,” explained Staples Center President Lee Zeidman on Wednesday.

According to Zeidman, TV techs believe the LED system provides a sharper picture for viewers. The lighting grid, which cost around a half-million dollars, is expected to save enough electricity to pay for itself in 2.5 years. The LED system also generates less heat, lowering the arena’s gigantic air-conditioning tab.

“To be honest, I didn’t notice the new lights at all,” said Kings fan Todd Tate after the first period Wednesday.

“Not at all,” agreed another fan, Adi St. Vaughn.

But Kings fans did light up over Luc Robitaille’s pregame proclamation that L.A. is now “the greatest hockey city in the world.”

“Can you imagine?” said Todd St. Vaughn, Adi’s husband. “They’re going crazy right now in Montreal and Boston.”

“And Chicago!” added his wife. “I have a friend who’s a Blackhawks fan, and we’re not even talking.”

With as many as 250 events a year, Staples is a constant whirl. To that end, Zeidman is also installing a new retractable floor seating system to quicken hoops-to-hockey transitions. Gone soon will be the temp seats that wobbled like a Gold Line train.

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“The seats will be all new and more comfortable,” Zeidman said.

Till then, fans will have to entertain themselves with such minor upgrades as Goose Island, a craft beer emporium outside Section 108 that will also feature the world’s most perfect food, the Chicago-style hot dog, complete with nuclear-green relish and celery salt.

Other Staples changes: The old Fox Sports Skybox restaurant is becoming the TEAM LA merchandise store, set to open in December.

Apparently not changing: Staples’ ear-splitting music, which will still pierce the thalamus deep within your noggin. I guess some things are just beyond tampering with.

Upgrades or not, Staples has never been our most charming venue. Its entryway, L.A. Live, still looks like Lady Gaga’s Christmas tree. As Paul Newman once grumbled, “This used to be a bad neighborhood. Now look at it.”

But Staples is groomed and efficient in ways Dodger Stadium or the Coliseum can only wish for.

Meanwhile, Kings fans are already in full throat — loud and nasty, as they raise yet another Stanley Cup banner. Did I mention loud? Sutter’s Rooters are feverish on talk of repeats, even dynasties, much of it fueled by oddball visionaries like me, who once predicted a Freeway World Series.

They’ll be growing marigolds on the moon before I make any more L.A. sports predictions. Just remember, we are the greatest hockey city in the world. Luc says so himself.

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Oh, October, don’t you wish you could bottle it?

You know it’s October when you spend the night signaling “TOUCHDOWN!” in your sleep.

You know it’s October when you dream of being four for five at the plate, including a double off Bumgarner with two on and rally towels waving in the crisp night air.

You know it’s October when you lace your boots, skate out to center ice, and begin to defend the Stanley Cup in your sleep.

I keep thinking I’ll outgrow October or, at the very least, eventually learn all its tricks and plot twists. This is my 57th, and you’d think I’d seen every sort of last-minute heroics, Hail Mary, and happenstance that October has to offer.

But no. Which is why we need the magic of our best, most American month.

Go, Kings, go.


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