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50 Kings - Bryan Smolinski

by By Deborah Lew /

Bryan Smolinski began his tour of duty with the Los Angeles Kings in June of 1999. He was traded from the New York Islanders in an eight-player deal that also brought Ziggy Palffy to LA.

Having spent his entire first seven years in the NHL on the east coast, Smolinski knew very little about the Western Conference, aside from enjoying the trips to Los Angeles and playing at The Forum.

"I was very excited to be reunited with some great players and great friends, and I was very excited to leave the island because we were not on an up and coming pace, where LA looked like they were looking to make strides to be a better team," remembers Smolinski.

In addition to Palffy, Smolinski was also familiar with Jozef Stumpel and Glen Murray, with whom he played while with the Boston Bruins organization, and he also knew Rob Blake, whom he played against in college. Blake and Smolinski were also from the same town of Stratford, Ontario.

"Knowing guys that you played against like [Philippe] Boucher or [Ian] Laperriere," Smolinski recalls when talking about what made the transition to LA easier. "Then as soon as you walk into the arena you have immediate friends. Knowing that STAPLES Center was being built was an added bonus, that we were going to be playing downtown."

One of the moments that Smolinski remembers most fondly from his days as a King, came during an afternoon game. He doesn't remember which season it was, or who the opponent happened to be, but that remains irrelevant.

"We were taking a faceoff in the neutral zone, on my left side is Luc Robitaille and I believe on my right side was Murray," Smolinski tells. "I turned to look at Luc to say something and I said 'hey, that's Don Johnson!'"

Johnson, an actor best known for his roles on 'Miami Vice' and 'Nash Bridges,' was seated adjacent to one of the penalty boxes. Smolinski noticed his tan and his famously-styled hair.

"The linesman kind of turned and said 'yeah, it is. Can we get moving here?' I said 'give me a minute I need to contain myself,'" says Smolinski, laughing at the fact that he looked right past future hall-of-famer, Robitaille, only to notice Johnson.

"That kind of epitomizes what it's like to be in LA," Smolinski adds.

Smolinski, now 44, is quick to admit that people-watching isn't as taboo as some athletes like to make it seem.

"Oh, God yes. We look through the glass, we look at everything," Smolinski admits. "That's the best part, it's so much fun. You get to look at all the hot chicks, all the guys, the cool jerseys, who's wearing whose jersey, it's pretty fun."

Other notable celebrities that Smolinski enjoyed meeting include Adam Duritz, the vocalist from the rock band Counting Crows, who was a good friend of teammate Mathieu Schneider, and Mark McGrath, the vocalist from the rock band Sugar Ray, who would come down to the locker room after games to socialize.

"It was really cool to see the musicians and even actors that would come down to the locker room after games," says Smolinski, who declined an invitation to the Playboy Mansions that some of this other teammates made good on.

Smolinski admits that sharing a practice facility with the LA Lakers also produced opportunities for celebrity sightings.

"Shaq [Shaquille O'Neal] and Kobe [Bryant] were around a lot. That was when Shaq was a big motorcycle fiend. We would meet them in the parking lot and Shaq's best quote was 'you guys must be the hockey guys,'" Smolinski says doing his best Shaq impression.

Smolinski is also quick to concede that his teammates in LA were what made his time in a Kings jersey special.

"Everyone was such good friends," Smolinski reveals. We always made fun of each other because no one was above the team and that was probably the best part."


Schneider was then and still remains one of Smolinski's closest friends, and Smolinski also connects with Blake, Murray, Nelson Emerson, and Kelly Buchberger on a regular basis. Many of the guys from that era of Kings are not only around the same age themselves, but now have sons around the same age, who play hockey.

"We're starting to run into each other at the local hockey rinks - tournaments in Toronto and Chicago. It's very cool - the circle is starting to come around again," articulates Smolinski, who has a 13-year-old son, and three daughters, ages 16, nine, and six.

Last year, Smolinski, Murray, and Stumpel all had sons playing in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, the biggest minor league hockey event in the world. Murray's son represented his Junior Kings team, Smolisnki's son played for a Detroit-based team, and Stumpel's son hailed from a Czech team.

"We hadn't seen Jozef in a lot of years, so seeing him, his wife and his son was so much fun, and we got to watch him play. Just being reunited with those guys was a treat," Smolinski states.

Smolinski had the pleasure of returning to Los Angeles for Blake's jersey retirement in 2015, and was also thrilled to be invited to Toronto for Blake's Hall of Fame induction.

Although he would like to be able to visit LA more often during summers, raising four kids makes it tough. Smolinski has also been dabbling in the insurance industry since his retirement from professional hockey in 2010, in addition to doing some hockey scouting.

The Smolinskis currently reside in the suburbs of Detroit, but Bryan has kept his finger on the hockey pulse in LA, and likes to think that he and his teammates from the early 2000s helped bring hockey to its current status in California.

 "I think when they built the Staples Center, it really unearthed a community that was waiting for that to explode," declares Smolinski. "Hockey from Anaheim up to San Jose, the coastal hockey and even the youth hockey, the explosion has been incredible. To see kids that are making the jump to Triple A level, the college level, Juniors, and the California-born players that are being drafted in the NHL, it's fantastic and speaks volumes to the grassroots of how it started back in those days."

He may very well be right.

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