California only rarely warmed up to the sport

The Nhl's Lost Season

L.a. Reaction

February 17, 2005|By Randy Harvey | Randy Harvey,SUN STAFF

As owner of the Los Angeles Kings, the late Jack Kent Cooke once explained the team's failure to become more imbedded in the area's sports culture.

"There are 600,000 Canadians living in Southern California," he said. "I know now why they moved here - they hate hockey."

Hate is probably too strong a word to use today to describe the feeling expatriated Canadians, and virtually everyone else living in Southern California, have for hockey because that would suggest they have some sort of passion for the sport.

Apathetic is a more appropriate word.

"No one seems to miss us," Kings president Tim Leiweke said yesterday. "I'm not sure there is a huge outcry for the return of the NHL. That says a lot about the difficult balance we live with having hockey in a warm weather climate."

Los Angeles was awarded the expansion Kings in 1967, becoming the league's first city that had little experience with ice, much less hockey. It would be joined years later by other Sun Belt cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, Miami, Tampa Bay, Nashville and - just down the freeway - Anaheim.

The Mighty Ducks, the only professional sports team inspired by a movie, joined the NHL as an expansion team in 1993. With the money of current owner Philip Anschutz behind the Kings and Disney's marketing might behind the Ducks, it was anticipated that the two Southern California teams would become fierce rivals and generate hockey fever in the metropolitan area.

It hasn't happened. Both teams have loyal fan bases, but neither has been able to sustain interest beyond that. The Kings have yet to turn a profit under Anschutz; Disney is trying to sell the Ducks.

There have been only six occasions in almost four decades when ice hockey dominated the sports buzz in Los Angeles.

In 1982, the Kings came from five goals behind in the third period to beat Wayne Gretzky's Edmonton Oilers.

In 1988, when Gretzky was traded from the Oilers to the Kings.

In 1989, Gretzky, replaced Gordie Howe as the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer.

In 1993, the Kings advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals before losing to Montreal.

In 2003, the Ducks advanced to the Finals before losing to New Jersey.

In 1997, actress Lucy Lawless, better known on television as Xena, lost her top while singing the national anthem before a Ducks game.

Those times were too few and far in between to capture Los Angeles' attention span.

"It's too bad for the players, who are the most decent of professional athletes, and too bad for the fans in those few outposts that really care about and understand the game," said John Schulian, a screenwriter from Pasadena who co-created "Xena, Warrior Princess."

"But the vast majority or the populace south of Flin Flon [Canada], this is just a little less significant than finding a hole in a sweater that you were going to throw out anyway."

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