Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Into Enemy Territory? A Kings Fan Returns to the Pond.

It’s been over ten years since I last stepped foot in Honda Center (known back in the day as the Arrowhead Pond) for an NHL game. Oddly enough, that game at the Ponda- it just rolls off the tongue- came the same day Teemu Selanne was traded to the Ducks, still Mighty at that point, from the Winnipeg Jets. February 7, 1996, to be specific. My dad was going to the Ducks game with three friends, but one backed out and suddenly there was an extra ticket available, and they decided to bring me along. It was a weeknight and my mom was less than thrilled because I wouldn’t be in bed at a reasonable hour. I, a devoted Kings fan, was less than thrilled that I was going to see a Ducks game.

But it was a free ticket to see a hockey game. A good one, too. Lower bowl, behind the net. It would be wrong to let it go to waste, right?

Had the game not coincided with the Selanne deal, I doubt I’d remember the date. Instead, it would be the little things that make an impression when you’re younger. How much fun it was going to a game with my dad and sitting so close to the ice. How the Pond was such an improvement over the Great Western Forum, and that it was a treat just to be walking around in such a brand spanking new arena. How this one fan, an older man, grandfather aged, was sitting directly behind the goal and had a puck practically fall into his lap (remember, these were the days before protective netting, when seats behind the goals got pucks all the time).

The man took the puck… and threw it back over the glass.

Everyone in our section was horrified. I looked at my dad, and we both started laughing. In all my years of attending hockey games, I’d never seen anyone throw a puck back on the ice. Did he not know it was a prized souvenir, and he could keep it? Did he not want it? Was he just an ignorant Ducks fan who didn’t know better (haha)?

Nowadays, opportunities to laugh at Ducks fans are few and far between. Since that night in ‘96 when I visited the Pond, so much has happened to the Anaheim and L.A. franchises, and for a Kings fan, the comparison is depressing. Like many fans of non-winning franchises, I’ve grown older watching an endless string of losing seasons, one after the next like clockwork, and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to witness my team win the most coveted prize. When the Ducks first entered the league they were the Mickey Mouse Club. (Literally. They were owned by Disney.)

Sure Kings fans were annoyed that there was another hockey club in town, but nobody north on the 5 Freeway expected the Ducks to be the team to beat. L.A. had just made it to the Stanley Cup Finals and had momentum to burn in the city. King. Yet here we are, fifteen years later and the roles are reversed.

The once Mighty Ducks, still mighty but now just the Ducks, have a Cup to their name and have their sights set on another one while the Kings are bringing up the rear of the NHL, sitting out of the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Ducks fans have had a lot to celebrate over the past ten years and have shown their support by forcing management to cap the number of season tickets sold in order to preserve seats for everyone else. Kings fans still come out to games but sellouts are rare and sometimes it feels as if the road team has just as many representatives in the crowd. Ducks fans have seen management prove repeatedly they can put together a winning franchise. Kings fans can’t stop complaining about the state of the club (can you blame us?) since every year when the players can start golf season in April.

We wonder when the roster will once again be competitive and whether or not the front office knows what they’re doing.

Every year Kings fans seem to be the brunt of more jokes and continue to loathe the Ducks (a little jealousy, perhaps?). But maybe we should be thankful the Ducks have been successful. If not for them, the rest of the hockey world might point fingers at Southern California and say the region can’t handle hockey, that nobody cares or knows how to create a bonafide club. Regardless, as a Kings fan it’s difficult to be around our Ducks brethren, since they’ve been in the league for a comparatively short amount of time but have already experienced seeing their team raise the Cup. Again, the jealousy thing…

Wednesday night, I will be attending the second to last Kings/Ducks game of the season, and finally, after all these years, will step foot back in “enemy territory.” I’ve always avoided going to these “road” games, apprehensive about how I would be received and how I should act. I absolutely hate it when opposing fans come to Staples Center and cheer obnoxiously loud for the visiting team. Should I show my team pride (even though we’re dead last in the league) and cheer as loud as I can for my boys? Or should I show some respect for the home team, arena, and fans, and quietly show my excitement when (if?) the Kings do well?

I’m not worried about the jeers- as a Kings fan, I get it all the time- and just try to smile, play cute, and keep walking. Besides, there’s no such thing as a witty comeback from a fan of a losing team.

I’m pondering a simple reply, “ITK.” “ITK, people, ITK.” Maybe I should make a sign and wear it around my neck? Because losing? Last place? Missing the playoffs?

What else can we say but, “It’s the Kings.”

x-posted to SportsHubLA


Kerri said...

You scream your head off and carry on like a loser! That's what I would do, anyway.

Maybe I'm a little less sensitive to walking into enemy territory and vice versa, because the Devils, Islanders, and Rangers are all within spitting distance of each other. You're missing out if you DON'T walk into enemy territory to root for the away team once in a while.

Did you pay for that ticket? Sure. Then you have every right to scream and yell as you please... despite those Duck fans giving you the eye, lol.

KMS2 said...

thanks for the support, kerri! I did cheer when the Kings scored. I stood up for an extended amount of time with my arms in the air when Frolov was stopped on the breakway with just seconds remaining in regulation (and definitely heard the lady behind me yell, "SIT DOWN!!"). But overall it was a very weird experience being in Ducks territory.