Sports

Kings reach California radar

You will have to excuse some of the puck-free media in Los Angeles as they adjust to giving the Kings top-cheese billing these days.

In case you missed it last week, one TV network flashed a logo of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings when referencing the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.

Another absolutely butchered a highlight pack from the hockey-playing Kings’ Western Conference final – the puck was referred to as a ball, and that might not have been the worst mistake as Drew Doughty somehow transformed into the lesser-known Brad Doty.

At least the female sportscaster laughed at her bungles and hopefully headed to the Kings’ web site afterwards.

Greg Heakes, a former cohort of mine at the Nanaimo Daily Free Press, has lived in L.A. for a decade and writes sports for the international wire service AFP (French Presse).

The 51-year-old White Rock product says the Kings are receiving historic coverage for their amazing Stanley Cup run.

“The L.A. Times even put the Kings on the front page, and that never happens,” said Heakes, who scouts for the WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes. “A couple of years ago, they stopped sending a reporter on the road with the team. That was a big scandal. They got letters from all over Canada asking them why they stopped covering the Kings’ road games.

“There is a lot more buzz around with lots of Kings’ stuff up by the Staples Centre. TV stations, who rarely cover ice hockey, are leading off with the Kings.”

Heakes, who lives in Rancho Cucamonga, and has played summer hockey with the likes of former Viper d-man Kyle Bigos, says the loyal Kings’ fans are locals who have followed the team for years, and not Canadian transplants.

Some may even remember the 1967 expansion draft when the Kings took Leafs’ goalie Terry Sawchuk with their first pick and then added Ed Joyal, Paul Popiel, Mike Corrigan and Bill Flett to their 20-man roster.

With the NBA Clippers and Lakers long gone from the playoffs, the Kings are the only pro playoff show in Hollywood these days.

“You don’t have to look any further than Twitter to see how fan interest has soared as 124,800 are following the club which includes more than 30,000 who joined since April,” said Heakes.

“A potential Stanley Cup win by the Kings would carry a lot more weight than the Ducks’ win in 2007 as the Kings have a bigger following and longer history in the city. The Ducks are a regional team; the Kings are L.A.’s team.”

Heakes’ son Sean, 20, received coaching from former NHLer Mel Bridgman (Nanaimo) and Shawn O’Byrne, the screenwriter for the hockey flick, Mystery Alaska. Heakes says new rinks are being built and old ones are being remodelled for both adult and youth leagues.

He said Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan and family have purchased a couple of rinks in the L.A. area, while the Ducks run a minor hockey program through an arena in Westminster.

“They just built a rink in Palm Springs in an old Coca-Cola building,” said Heakes. “They’ve got an adult hockey league you can join on a drop-in basis.”

Viper grad Steve Weinstein, a California product now playing NCAA hockey for the Bentley Falcons in Massachussets, comes from a serious Kings’ household.

“My dad’s been a diehard fan ever since he’s been in LA. and hasn’t missed a home playoff game since 1976,” said Weinstein, who fondly remembers cheering for Lubomir Visnovsky, Adam Deadmarsh, Ziggy Palffy and Jason Allison.

“I started going (to games) back when they played in the Forum. They had a couple playoff runs in ‘01 and ‘02, and lost to Colorado in seven games, both years.”

Weinstein, who led the Falcon d-men with 18 points in 38 games, likes the Kings chances of winning their first Stanley Cup.

“I’m not making any predictions; I’m not going to celebrate until they have it in the bag. With all four lines they have real solid production. My two favourite players for them right now are Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell. They play a lot better defensively than I could ever play.

“Obviously, (Jonathan) Quick has been playing great. There’s all that talk about Dustin Brown being Conn Smythe (contender), but they shouldn’t even have been in the playoffs if it wasn’t for Quick.”

Vernon’s Sandy Moger is also backing L.A., where he scored 14 goals in 104 games from 1997-99 with the likes of Luc Robitaille and Rob Blake.

“With Boston winning last year, I like to say I set the foundation for both teams to go deep in the playoffs, and win the Cup,” laughed Moger. “In Boston, everybody in town recognized you. In L.A., we were under dog racing (in the media). The fans knew Robitaille, but the rest of us could walk around all day and nobody would recognize us.”

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