For the first time in franchise history, the Los Angeles Kings are, quantitatively, hockey’s best team; champions of the gritty second season that begins in early spring and follows an arrhythmic cadence that favours deflected point shots and immovable objects colliding in corners. As a lifelong Kings fan, it feels both impossible and inevitable that my great childhood dream has become a reality. Monday night, when I finally saw captain Dustin Brown — with his doe-eyed toddler’s face and Asian mystic’s wispy facial hair — lift the Stanley Cup over his head, it felt less like a dividend paid to my decades of empathetic investment than a lesson in how to finally grow up.
Rest assured, mine is no fairweather fandom; I’ve been cheering for the Kings since I was ten years old. In fact, I can recall in vivid detail the precise moment I devoted myself to them.
November 11, 1989: It’s a sunny Saturday evening; I’m flipping channels and I land on Hockey Night in Canada. The Kings are playing the Canadiens. But something is wrong: the broadcast is in black and white. I open the television’s control panel and play with the dials: the balance, the brightness, the contrast. Nothing works. I turn the TV off, then back on. There’s colour now, but just at the margins — in the crowd, in the blue and red lines painted on the ice, in the Habs’ jerseys. It takes me a moment to realize the desaturation is an optical illusion.
The Kings are wearing silver and black. Having that summer played mistress in the big Wayne Gretzky drama — when the Edmonton Oilers traded away the game’s greatest player — the team has replaced its garish purple and yellow uniforms with sleek monochrome. The neon-bright ’80s are over. The Kings’ new jerseys recall the jumpsuits worn by utopian space explorers in science fiction films. They seem like a team that has travelled back in time from some wonderful future where altered laws of physics allow them to skate faster and shoot harder. They seem a team of destiny. But all that is peripheral to the fact that they look so cool. When you’re ten, that’s all it takes. (more…)