Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings for winning the 2014 Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers!!!
Now that the formalities are over and I finally am officially back to blogging thanks to a new routine I’ve picked up since Tonie started (Senior) Kindergarten, let’s start to explain this whole hockey thing and why do I suddenly sound like I’m waaaay too eager for my own good.
Might as well get the first question out of the way:
What’s hockey got to do with travel?
Nothing and everything. It’s my blog and I get to talk about whatever I want.
But if you must find a connection, we took a month-long vacation in California and since the NHL playoffs were happening and my cousin is a fan of hockey, he took me and Tonie along to our first ever hockey game. It was the 2nd round of the playoffs between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks. I watched and since then, I can officially say, I got hooked. So there.
I could say that it’s got to do with travel because being an admittedly urban traveler myself, I marvel at places like the Honda Center and Staples Center. The way the parking structures and traffic and crowd control are handled also fascinate me. Because at home, seemingly, it just doesn’t exist.
Travel always gives me perspective and the ability to make comparisons to how things should be done for maximum efficiency. I may not be an urban planner but at least it educates me for the better.
In our month long trip, I was able to see 4 games, 2 in Honda Center and 2 in Staples Center.
My Spectator Sport History
I’ve always been a basketball fan because, well, I’m Filipino. And I’ve always been a Lakers fan because having spent some childhood in LA County, I grew up in a household that was once called on by the cops because they were too noisy watching a Lakers game. This was in the 80’s so well into the magical era of the Lakers, too, circa Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
But somewhere in the start of the new millennium, I went into college and forgot about the NBA. The world expanded and so did my interests, I started getting busy with organizations and playing basketball, as opposed to just watching it on TV. And then the sport started to shift.
The appeal was now more about individual players than the team. It was more about showboating and getting big deal endorsements. I finally quit caring about the NBA entirely.
As my love for the NBA weaned, I started falling for the UAAP basketball series (another league similar to the NCAA in the Philippines). College ball seemed so much more than the NBA. It was all about heart and push and passion and school pride. It felt more real than the NBA and it seemed like it had more at stake.
Nobody was getting paid. Nobody was getting endorsements. They all had studies to worry about (for the most part). It was all heart.
As I graduated and felt that I was cheering for younger and younger kids, I went into a stand-still in terms of watching sports.
Tennis was a good way to pass some days on some parts of the year but it really didn’t give you a sense of team. It seemed more like watching a movie, wanting one person to win and that’s it. There was prestige and there was intensity, but you just can’t relate yourself to those players.
I actually started watching hockey during the 2014 Sochi Olympics but because of scheduling conflicts, I only ended up watching the women’s games and some parts of the men’s games. But the thing that made me watch in the first place was nostalgia.
Like some people my age, I grew up watching the Mighty Ducks movies where a group of rag tag kids from Minnesota became state champions and later, in the sequels, became World Champions and the official varsity team of a private school. Because of the 2nd movie, I picked up a hockey stick and started playing roller hockey in our garage. There were hockey summer schools but the price for the equipment and fees were too high for us then, also the rink (only one of two in the country at the time), was a good hour and a half away from our place – all small backroads with twists and turns too. So that immediately put my interests at bay when it came to hockey, but let’s just say, the seed was planted.
Growing up and in present day, our cable provider couldn’t provide us with NHL coverage. Plus, even if it did, there wouldn’t me any of my friends or family that I could watch it with. It all was just destined to not be at the time.
First Hockey Game
So, finally, when I got to see my very first hockey game, featuring no other than the Anaheim Ducks, formerly the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim (and trivia here, the actual hockey team was founded a year after the first Ducks movie came out AND they were founded and owned by the Disney), I was super excited.
I walked into the Honda Center as an enemy though. I bore the black and silver colors of the Los Angeles Kings because that’s what my cousins were rooting for. Their LA County roots stayed with them despite having spent majority of their lives in Orange County. Still, home or away, I was just happy to be having this opportunity.
Another reason why I was excited about the Honda Center, was because it was formerly called the Arrowhead Pond – the same exact location for the 2nd Mighty Ducks movie. Call me cheesy and corny.
As we made our way to our seats, I was dumbfounded at the fact that we had glass seats. As we settled into our chairs with our food and drinks, I got the best welcome ever, a very violent check right in front of me, literally 2 feet away from me. I was jostled and sorta shrieked for a moment. But that would be the last of it, ever.
I sat my butt down, and after contemplating that I should’ve worn warmer clothes for being so close to the ice, I watched hockey.
The object of the game is pretty self-explanatory, get the puck to the opponent’s net. It would take me another game to understand the rules, regulations, penalties and styles of playing. Eventually though, I was able to easily grasp the concept of a powerplay, penalties, empty-net situations, offside (similar to football) and goalie interference.
[Yes, we were THAT close to the ice]
[Tonie had thermal bottoms, jeans, then a tank top, a long sleeved cotton shirt, a jean jacket, this souvenir shirt, the scarf and the 2 cheering rags or whatever they’re called]
[From the white vertical line, it’s me, the little spec of Orange is Tonie and the two guys in black are my cousins.]
So, Why Hockey?
Hockey gives me the same high of watching basketball but in better, more intense pulses. Because goals are rarer, each goal is celebrated and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. You keep watching, you wait, you cheer, you groan. Unlike football (soccer), the field is smaller so the action is quicker, even though it shares the fact that football, too, has fewer goals in a game. I love watching football games live and on the TV, but because the field is big, it takes a while for things to get exciting.
Hockey is also very fast-paced compared to basketball and other sports. Take note that for an average 60-minute playing time, key players would only be playing an average of about 20 minutes on the ice. They skate hard and change their lines quite often. Sometimes, you could feel the exhausting coming through, especially when a game goes into overtime.
The level of skill needed is also outstanding. You’re not just running, you’re on skates – on ice. You’re not just dribbling a ball, you’re handling a teeny tiny rubber disc that fits in the palm of your hand — via a 5- foot stick (length varies, actually, depending on players’ preferences). Plus the size of the net is small and the bulk of the goaltender is huge. It’s a very challenging sport and seeing these players effortlessly glide, pivot, change direction and charge on the ice while doing plays and puck handling really astounds me.
Also, I love the feeling of team in hockey. It’s never about one person. During a live game, when a goal is scored, the name of the player is announced but so are the names of the players who contributed to the rest of the play. I love the camaraderie and the teamwork, it makes you swell up sometimes.
[Notice the very displeased Ducks fan behind us. This was taken after the game ended.
When the Ducks lost not just the game, but the round – on their home ice. Sorry bud.]
[Staples Center and Honda Center ice]
The Stanley Cup
But I guess, what makes the NHL different than most major league sports existing today is the Stanley Cup. The Stanley Cup is a trophy wherein, the same trophy is awarded every year, rather than fabricating a new one. There is only one cup, one trophy – which makes it even more special and prestigious. Also, it’s a very sizeable trophy, it stands 3 feet tall and weighs 38 pounds -seeing the trophy just makes it more awe-inspiring. Somehow, seeing the NBA and NHL trophies just doesn’t cut it anymore.
There are also official Stanley Cup guards called the Keepers of the Cup, whose sole purpose in life is to guard the Stanley Cup and be with it all the time when it’s not in the NHL Hall of Fame, which is about 10 months of the year. When not in the possession of the winning team, the Cup is handled with white gloves and is laid on a standardized table and table cloth.
So, Why the Los Angeles Kings?
Other than being introduced by my cousin to them, I also have fallen in love with this team. The on-ice bromance from Kopitar and Gaborik works and is an honor to watch. They just seem to “get” each other despite the team only getting Gaborik on the deadline of the most recent NHL trade.
Seeing team captain Dustin Brown do his part as an enforcer is impressive, aggressively charging for good checks against the opposing team. You’ll hear me growl a very heartfelt “Yeah” every time Brown takes one for the team.
I also enjoy watching the likes of Jeff Carter and Justin Williams perform to get those goals by attacking the net and completing awesome plays. Having Drew Doughty and the all-arounder Willie Mitchell also makes for a great defense line up – nothing gets past them.
But what is a good hockey team without its rock? The LA Kings’ rock happens to be their star goalie and previous awardee of the Conn Smyth Trophy (which is the MVP for the playoffs season), Jonathan Quick. It is magical what he does. At first, I thought all goalies perform similar techniques and playing styles as him but I watched more games and it became apparent that he was not your average goaltender. He also played as the starting goalie for Team USA in the most recent Winter Olympics. This man is graceful, powerful, flexible and of course, quick.
I still don’t know them by their faces, they all sorta look alike with their beards during the playoffs and all seem to be missing the same set of teeth as well, but I am starting to know them by how they do on the ice, and that is what matters anyway.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Quick, Carter (with or without teeth), Lewis and Martinez are easy on the eyes too.
Having seen them fight the Anaheim Ducks all the way through Game 7 and another Game 7 series with the Chicago Blackhawks, it was just a privilege to see them clinch every home game they had during the Finals against the New York Rangers, all in overtime too.
Now, they are 2-time Stanley Cup Champions within a 3-year (back to back champions, if we’re talking about full seasons of hockey) which is rare in this day and age of hockey – unless you’re the Blackhawks. Apparently, they’re really good at winning Stanley Cups lately.
Finally, I am proud to be wearing the numbers 23 and 32 on my back as I represent the Los Angeles Kings, in a country with only 3 hockey rinks. I have found hockey and my passion for spectator sport has been rekindled.
Basketball didn’t cut it, watching football only works (for me) when watching it live, tennis isn’t exciting enough, NFL has too much stop-and-go’s, college basketball is sooo young, volleyball doesn’t have enough body contact to make it exciting (for me). Hockey it is for me, then – and still, some tennis.
I love hockey and I love the Los Angeles Kings.
Is it October yet?