For Kings right wing Justin Williams, visiting the White House to meet the president and accept congratulations for winning the Stanley Cup is becoming a habit.
“It’s my third time now. I think I should maybe get a room in the White House, I’m not sure. I’ll ask him about it,” said Williams, who made his first trip with the Carolina Hurricanes after their 2006 triumph and returned with the Kings after their 2012 championship.
Williams will complete a hat trick’s worth of visits on Monday, when the Kings will meet President Obama and be honored for their 2014 Cup title. The Kings will share the celebration with the MLS champion Galaxy, their corporate cousin under AEG ownership. The event will be live streamed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live at 11 a.m. Pacific time.
Center Mike Richards, who was waived and assigned to Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League last week after he went unclaimed, politely declined an invitation to go to the White House, a club spokesman said. The spokesman said Richards gave no reason.
Richards might have thought it would be too difficult to be around the Kings after the team waived him last week, or he might have feared he’d become a distraction. “It’s a personal decision,” center Jarret Stoll said of Richards’ absence. “That’s all I can say.”
Defenseman Jeff Schultz, who played in seven playoff games for the Kings last spring but has spent most of this season with Manchester, is scheduled to be part of the delegation Monday.
The Kings had been scheduled to visit Canada’s Parliament in Ottawa in December but that event was canceled because many dignitaries who would have greeted them were instead attending a memorial for Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Jean Beliveau.
The chance to visit the White House resonated with Kings players from all nations. Center Anze Kopitar, a native of Slovenia, shaved his scraggly beard out of respect for the occasion.
“I didn’t want to be seen as a grizzly bear,” he said Sunday, after the Kings practiced in Arlington, Va. “It was nice, for sure, the last time we were there. I don’t know if I would ever get the chance, besides winning the Cup, to go in the White House. I’m pretty sure it’s the same with everybody in here.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s nice.”
Trevor Lewis, who’s from Salt Lake City, Utah, remembered the tight security in effect during the Kings’ first visit and that Obama knew each player’s name. “It’s cool that he’s a sports fan and he appreciates what we do,” Lewis said.
“I had never been to the White House before that. Growing up as an American, obviously it’s not every day that you get to do that, and it’s pretty cool, pretty special to do. To shake the president’s hand is a pretty cool thing to do.”
Players said the visit won’t disrupt their preparations for Tuesday’s game against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center. The Kings opened a five-game trip with a 3-1 loss at Boston on Saturday, dragging their road record down to 5-10-6. Only Buffalo and Edmonton have fewer road wins this season, with four each.
“We’ve got two days to not just think about the visit, but think about our next game, where we’re at and what we need to do for the rest of the season,” Stoll said. “It’s a special visit. We want to do it.
“To see the Stanley Cup one more time, maybe it will help us out the rest of the season and inspire us to play some better hockey and get some more wins and be closer to that thing than we are right now.”
Coach Darryl Sutter said that because most Kings personnel will be making their second White House visit, they’re happiest for first-timers such as Schultz, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Martin Jones, Robyn Regehr and Marian Gaborik. Sutter said his strongest memory of the previous visit — which was delayed by a lockout that cut short the 2012-13 season — was seeing Obama up close.
“I just think Obama’s presence and his interaction with our players,” Sutter said. “He was just like us. We were just like him.”
Williams said the event won’t divert the focus of a team that faces a tough road to get back into a playoff position. “We’re going to enjoy it and get us refocused on a road trip we need to get a lot of wins on,” he said.
Asked about the Calgary Flames, who extended their lead over the Kings with a come-from-behind victory over Edmonton on Saturday, Williams said they’re not the Kings’ focus. “Forget them,” he said. “We do what we do, we’ll beat them and then we’ll keep climbing.”
Left wing Tanner Pearson, who broke a bone in his left leg on Jan. 10, joined the team for the trip. He’s wearing a walking boot and using crutches but can ride a stationary bike….As he mentioned after the loss at Boston on Saturday, Sutter lamented the lack of quality scoring chances — and scoring — from his forwards. Williams and Gaborik have gone five games without a goal and Dwight King is 0 for 9. Production on the road has become a problem: Kopitar has two goals and seven points and is minus-12 defensively in 18 road games this season. Williams leads the team with seven road goals, followed by Gaborik and Dustin Brown with five each. Jordan Nolan scored the Kings’ only goal on Saturday, but Sutter praised Jeff Carter for being active. “Carts had two or three grade A opportunities, and that’s what you’d expect out of all your top players, not just one,” he said. “So if you go past Jeff, in terms of Grade A chances…" he said, before finishing the sentence by circling his forefinger and thumb to create a zero.