|More than 17,000 fans at the 02 Arena in London watched the Los Angeles Kings defeat the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in the opening game of the 2007-08 NHL season.
Have no fear; Queen Elizabeth II is still on her throne. On Saturday night, though, the Los Angeles Kings reigned in London, opening the NHL regular season in grand style with a 4-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks, the defending Stanley Cup champions, at the 02 Arena.
Saturday’s game, the first of two in the Premiere Series, brought NHL regular-season hockey to Europe for the first time. To say that it was warmly received would be an understatement.
More than 17,000 fans filled the beautiful 02 Arena to capacity to witness history in the making. Those lucky enough to score tickets got even more than they bargained for in the process.
Jonathan Bernier, the Kings’ precocious 19-year-old goalie, made 26 saves to win his NHL debut in grand fashion. He kept the Ducks’ high-powered offense off the scoresheet until more than 13 minutes had elapsed in the third period. In fact, Bernier stopped the first 23 shots he faced before allowing a power-play tally to rookie Bobby Ryan.
Mike Cammalleri had a pair of goals to take offensive honors for the Kings, but it was the game of hockey that was the true star in its London debut.
Fans from throughout England and across Europe began streaming into the arena two hours before faceoff, filling the building with a blinding array of colors. Club and national team jerseys from a variety of countries were in evidence in the excited and vocal crowd.
The pageantry in the stands was to be expected, said Ken Yaffe, the senior vice president for NHL International.
“As you looked around the arena, you saw an unbelievable cross section of fans,” Yaffe said. “There were Czechs, Slovaks, Finns, Swedes, Canadians and Americans all in attendance. But, perhaps, most important, were the fans from the United Kingdom, who showed that, for the most part, they have a keen understanding of the game. They showed that tonight by the sheer number of fans that have shown up and the passion they brought to the game.”
Everyone knew that it would be a special night when the crowd virtually raised the roof as the anthem singer concluded her stirring version of “God Save the Queen.” Not even the 16-minute delay to the start of the game that followed – caused by lighting issues within the arena – could dampen the spirits of the fans.
“Obviously, to start the game, we had a little bit of difficulties, but they got into it right away,” Cammalleri said. “It was like a North American hockey crowd. There wasn’t much difference. They did a couple of waves, like in soccer, and that was fun for us to watch. I’m a soccer guy myself – football, I guess you call it over here – and watching that and playing in front of that is pretty cool.”
The Kings showed their appreciation by getting off to a quick start against their bitter Southern California rival.
Cammalleri scored the first goal of the NHL season 8:35 into the first period, beating Anaheim goalie Ilya Bryzgalov after a sweet bit of puck movement around the zone by the Kings. Midway through the second period, Blake added a power-play goal, jamming home the rebound of a slap shot from the point.
Cammalleri added his second goal of the night for a 3-0 lead, tipping a shot by Tom Preissing past Bryzgalov.
“I love London,” Cammalleri joked.
|Bobby Ryan of the Ducks spoiled Kings rookie goaltender Jonathan Bernier's shutout bid when he scored a power-play goal with just 6:51 remaining in regulation.
Kings coach Marc Crawford believes the fans got all they could ask for from the first game of this two-game series. He knows that he thoroughly enjoyed the game – and not just because his team earned a valuable two points against a divisional rival.
“I just tried to soak it all in,” he said. “Seeing all the different jerseys in the crowd, all the different sections – the Kings fans, the Ducks fans, the fans from Slovakia. We saw a lot of them, they’re the ones in the beer section, I’m sure about that. It was a good atmosphere.”
There was little for Anaheim’s Brad May to enjoy. His Ducks came here to open their defense of the Stanley Cup with a win. That did not happen. But he still admitted that there was something special about Saturday night’s historic game.
“I think that this has been great for the National Hockey League, great for the hockey fans that came and watched,” May said. “It’s a big step, obviously, to play a regular-season game in Europe. It’s a good experience, but it would have been nice to win. We have to respond and play a big game tomorrow.”
Ah yes, tomorrow. These same Kings and Ducks will go at it again in less than 24 hours, finishing the two-game series. A new set of fans will get to witness NHL hockey in person, many for the first – and perhaps only – time.
The Kings’ coach insists Sunday’s crowd will be treated to as good a spectacle as the folks who attended Saturday’s game.
“We enjoyed the game tonight and are looking forward to tomorrow,” Crawford said. “It should be a great game as well."