On Wednesday morning, following the devastating loss my LA Kings experienced at the hand of the Edmonton Oilers – a team they had just pounded a week prior by a score of 8-2 – I came across a piece written by one of the local LA Kings bloggers called “The Cost of Success” that resonated with me. Like most fans, I had not yet given up hope that the Kings could make the playoffs. Sure, their destiny now depended on others, but all they had to do was win in Calgary on Thursday, followed by a win against San Jose on home ice, Saturday and fate could do the rest. The gist of this blogger’s heartfelt piece was a recognition of how spoiled LA Kings fans have been the past three years and how high our collective expectations have been raised since the mostly forgettable eighties and the just slightly improved nineties. We had enjoyed two Stanley Cups and a Western Conference final appearance in three years. In 2012, we had watched an eighth seed squeak into the playoffs only to win it all. In 2014, we’d watched them claw their way back from a seemingly impossible 0-3 hole in the first round of the playoffs only to win that series, then conquer two more including two more game 7s on the road, to once again, win back the Cup. We were indeed, a lucky bunch.
This particular blog reminded us all of our good fortune and our possibly unreasonable expectations and told us that win or lose on Thursday – we should all be thankful and celebrate our team’s season. With these words ringing in my ears, I jumped online and bought tickets to Saturday’s final regular season game. I was determined to be part of the fan base that remains appreciative, stands by its team, win or lose, whether this game was just the finale of the regular season or the end of it all.
As we now know, it turned out to be the latter. Thursday night was rough. I even shed tears watching the post-game interview with center Anze Kopitar where he looked to be holding back his own emotions. Twitter was a savior in that fellow Kings fans were there to comfort each other. It was also the opposite in that there were opposing teams’ fans ready to pounce and use the opportunity to rub salt in the wound.
Friday wasn’t much easier with the reality setting in. But I was even more determined than ever to head to Staples Center on Saturday, watch the final game of the season, cheer on my team and let them know how much we fans appreciate their accomplishments.
I wasn’t sure what to expect given the last game I’d attended this season – though a loss – was during the thick of the regular season when the Kings were still very much in playoff contention. True, some of the nicest people I’ve “met” on Twitter are Kings fans. The LA Kings social media program – in particular, the Twitter account – has been lauded for its strategy and execution and for good reason – they do an amazing job of building loyalty, creating bonds and spreading the message of one of the Kings’ best marketing campaigns, “We Are All Kings” (and for a reminder of how important this is, you can read about another NHL team whose social media strategies have gone wrong here). Even the writers and broadcasters who cover the Kings, largely an impartial and objective bunch in their reporting, clearly demonstrate an admiration and appreciation for this team. That said, in loss and disappointment, other emotions bubble to the surface and some fans are bound to lash out, trying to place blame on a particular player, the coaching staff or the GM. Rumors fly about who is out and who is in for next season. I also remembered reading about the loud boos the San Jose Sharks encountered in their home closer last week and though we all know every team has bad fans, I wondered how many might rear their ugly heads at the Kings’ last game of the season – especially if the Kings lost the game.
So, what did I encounter at Saturday’s game? In short, everything I could have wanted except, of course, a playoff berth for the Kings.
From the time the Kings took the ice during warm-ups until they left the ice post-game, after a special presentation where they gave the jerseys off their backs to lucky fans chosen at random, there were cheers, standing ovations, loud chants of “Go Kings Go” and tons of fans standing at the glass, holding up signs most of which were variations on “Thank You”.
The Sharks took an early lead and the Kings didn’t get on the board until ten minutes into the second period, then came back with a very strong third to put the Sharks away by a score of 4-1. But the score didn’t matter all that much. After all, neither team was playing for points or positioning; both teams are set to hit the golf course early. But there were a few things that did matter and stuck with me:
– Tyler Toffoli, who could have easily put the empty netter in at the end of the third, looked up, and instead tossed the puck over to rookie, Andy Andreoff, allowing him the glory of his second-ever NHL goal.
– Jarrett Stoll, whose future with the Kings is uncertain, picked up the puck at the end of the game and gave it to Robyn Regehr, who he knew shortly thereafter, would announce his retirement to the media.
– A special crew of fans wore jerseys, each with one letter of the word “Believe” so that when they turned their backs to the ice during warm-ups, the players could clearly see their message.
PHOTO COURTESY OF @LAKINGS TWITTER
– Although the score was such that the outcome was clear with five or six minutes left in the game, virtually no one left until the very end. In fact, even after the jersey presentations and the final sign-off from the Staples announcer, many fans lingered, not wanting to leave. The standing ovation was noted by the broadcasters covering the game for NBC (for the first time ever, a combination of Sharks play-by-play announcer, Randy Hahn and Kings color analyst, Jim Fox).
– It was fan appreciation night (or day, since the game began at 12pm) and among all of the giveaways and games, there was also the opening video, created especially for the last game of the season, which spotlighted players, coaches and fans alike. With a nod to fans who have been asking to hear it again since the first Cup win in 2012, there was also a revamp of “Welcome to the Black Parade” (the original seen at this link). The Kings organization sent the message that they truly appreciate their fans and Kings fans sent a clear message back that they’re not going anywhere, playoffs or not.
There was also some hugging and high-fiving and a few tears. Appreciation for a game well-played and a happy outcome. Sadness for a season over too soon for the no-longer defending Stanley Cup champs. In short, it was a game I’ll always remember and it was everything I wanted it to be.