When Bob Pulford watched the Los Angeles Kings win their first Stanley Cup with a victory in Game 6 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, he did it alone in his basement. The former NHL player, coach and general manager needed the space, especially considering the anxiety he felt watching the Kings, a team he helped bring to prominence 30 years ago which now is run by his son-in-law, Dean Lombardi.
"There was lots of family [in the house], but none around me," Pulford, a former Kings captain and coach, told NHL.com. "That's how I watch it. Because of Dean, I was nervous about it."
A player on the Toronto Maple Leafs' last Stanley Cup-winning team, Pulford was overjoyed to have a second Cup winner in the family, immediately calling Lombardi to congratulate him. But the Kings' big win wasn't just a huge accomplishment for a family member. In many ways, it was a culmination for someone who played on some of the earliest Kings teams before ushering in the first golden age of California hockey as the team's coach, a job that earned Pulford the Jack Adams Award in 1975.
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While the birth of Kings hockey usually is associated with the arrival of Wayne Gretzky in 1988, the Kings' first rise to prominence really coincided with the arrival of Pulford, who was traded to Los Angeles In 1970 after winning four Cups in Toronto. At the time, the Kings had just completed a disastrous third season in which they lost 52 games, still the most in team history. With Pulford on the roster the Kings made the playoffs for the first time, but it was with the future Hall-of-Famer behind the bench that the city of Los Angeles really fell in love with the Kings.
Just two years after retiring as a player in 1972 to become the team's coach, Pulford led the Kings to their first winning season. A season later, he coached the team to its first playoff series win. With Pulford at the helm, the Kings finally arrived.
"We outdrew the [NBA] Lakers for four years there. We had very good teams," Pulford said. "Usually we would win the first round of the playoffs and we would end up playing Boston in the second round and we never got by Boston. They had [Bobby] Orr, but we went six or seven games with them each year."
Following his third straight winning season with the Kings, in 1976-77, Pulford moved to Chicago to coach the Blackhawks, a team he would serve as a coach, general manager and vice president for almost 30 years. Pulford became a fixture in Chicago, but never forgot his time in Los Angeles, a relationship that was rekindled when Lombardi was hired as the Kings' president and general manager in 2006. Six years later, the family now boasts a second Stanley Cup champion.
"Our family is obviously very proud of what [Dean] has done there. We're proud of all the work he has done and the success he has had," Pulford said. "The seven years we spent there were very enjoyable and we had good hockey teams when we were there. To see this culminate in a Stanley Cup under your son-in-law means a great deal. People forget what great hockey teams they've had there. And they have another one now."
Aside from the brief phone call following Game 6, Pulford and Lombardi haven't yet had an opportunity to celebrate the Kings' Cup win. But with both men attending the upcoming wedding of Brett Sutter, the son of former Hawks associate coach and current Kings coach Darryl Sutter, there will be plenty for the family to celebrate very soon.
"We're going to see him in a couple of weeks. [Darryl's] son is getting married," said Pulford. "So I'll see them both at that. I'm sure we'll congratulate them at that time. That will be a great time for us."