Mikael Kempe just about shook his head from 5,500 miles away.
Kempe gets up before sunrise in his home in Sweden to watch his son, Kings forward Adrian Kempe, play on television. It was about 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 21 when Adrian dropped the gloves against Brendan Smith of the New York Rangers, his first fight since his junior days in Sweden.
"I don't think it was a fight," Mikael said. "I was laughing."
It wasn't exactly a heavyweight bout, and Mikael would know, having practiced Taekwondo since he was a teenager and eventually risen to Scandinavian champion. His oldest son, Mario, a forward in the Arizona Coyotes organization, is a blue belt, Mikael said. Adrian, eight years younger than Mario, shook his own head when asked if his father ever showed him some martial arts moves.
"I have some," Adrian said. "[But] I never really got into it. I was a little too aggressive. I know some stuff. It's pretty fun, but it's really hard."
Besides, Adrian's sport of choice has worked out well, and this week represented a rare opportunity for Mikael to see that in person. Mikael, general manager of a Swedish club team, only gets to come to America three or four times a year. It could have been a family reunion Saturday when the Kings played the Coyotes at Staples Center, but Mario is currently with Arizona's minor league team.
Kempe has asserted himself as the Kings' second line center, a tall order considering he's had to fill the void left by Jeff Carter since Carter suffered a leg laceration in the sixth game of the season. In addition to his 14 goals — on just 76 shots — Kempe has drawn some tough defensive assignments and held his own on a lot of nights.
One of the few nuances he has to learn is faceoffs — he was at a 39.3% success rate through Friday. But Kings coach John Stevens said that even if Kempe doesn't win a faceoff, "he does a good job of not losing it clean. That's a big step in the process for him, and I think the level of trust in his game from us has grown."
Kempe has a good example to follow in teammate Anze Kopitar, a near 54% winner on draws. Of course, Kopitar is in his 12th year in the NHL.
"It doesn't come right away," Kempe said. "I started to play center [in the NHL] last year a little bit. It takes a while to be good at it. I want to get better at it every day and I think I've shown that I've improved during the season." It would be quite a moment if Adrian and Mario faced off against each other in an NHL game. The two did play against each other in a preseason game in September, and Mikael proudly has the photo of them during warmups. It's a dream come true for him to have two sons in the NHL.
"I have to [pinch myself] every morning when I wake up," Mikael said. "It's unbelievable. You can wish for it, but you never believe it's really going to happen.