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A Fan Down Under

by Andrew Howard / Los Angeles Kings
Hartman claims the atmosphere at STAPLES Center was louder than that in Vancouver.

It's a question that Scott Hartman has been asked, by his count, every day for the last month.

How does a man from Australia with no connections to Los Angeles come to follow the Kings, much less the game of hockey?

And for Hartman, the answer isn't that complicated.

"It was a love at first sight thing," Hartman said. "I watch hockey, it's physical, it's fast, [and] it's just a great game to watch. As far as the Kings, it was a case of I come to L.A. quite a lot and I love hockey. It was an easy match."

On the surface, Hartman resembles any other Kings fan. Sunglasses on, a freshly looking Anze Kopitar alternate jersey with blue jeans, Hartman blends in seamlessly with the Southern California crowd. That is, until you meet him and understand what he goes through to follow his team on a daily basis.

The first time Hartman visited Los Angeles was in 2001. As a young Australian who works for the public transportation section of his home in Perth, Western Australia, Hartman admitted that he was a bit nervous for his first trip to California.

"It takes some getting used to," Hartman said. "The second time I came back is when I just fell in love and certainly a case of one day I'd like to move here. But it's easier said than done."

Hartman did not come to Los Angeles on business. He did not come to visit family or friends. He simply just came for the fun of it.

"Obviously coming from Australia, L.A.'s sort of a launching pad," Hartman said. "You tend to fly into L.A. and go everywhere from here."

That trip began a love affair with the Kings that has blossomed into what Hartman describes as an obsession.

Ever since NHL opened up its NHL GameCenter available across the globe, Hartman has watched every Kings game, not missing a single game for the past two seasons.

There are two factors which make it easy for Hartman to see all the games. One is his work schedule in which he works mainly afternoon and night shifts, allowing him to watch the Kings when they typically come on around 11 o'clock in the morning Australian time.

The other reason is that there aren't any blackouts in Australia, allowing for every game to be shown, a problem some teams in the leagues such as the NFL have struggled with.

Hartman said that he usually makes two or three trips to the United States to watch the Kings play live. This season he was in the country for the first month and final month of the season, seeing 25-30 games.

"It's hard but it makes me enjoy it more when I'm here," Hartman said.

Not only has Hartman seen the Kings play at STAPLES Center, he has traveled across the country to places such as Nashville, Minnesota, St. Louis and Colorado.

When the Kings opened up this Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Vancouver Canucks last Thursday in Vancouver, Hartman was there for both games at GM Place.

"Game 1, I didn't see another Kings jersey the entire night," Hartman said. "Every other game that I've been to, there's always a bunch around you, not just walking the concourse. But walking around the concourse, walking outside the arena that first game, I didn't see anyone and they gave me a hard time. For the most part they were good, 99.9 percent of them were really genuine hockey fans, really nice people, [so I] couldn't complain."

That game the Kings fell 3-2 in overtime. Walking out of the arena, Hartman said that a couple of Vancouver fans adopted him, taking him out for drinks. Hartman recalls that he didn't have to pay for a drink all night.

However, after the Kings returned the favor and defeated the Canucks 3-2 in overtime, the reception he received was a bit different. There were no free drinks, no friendly greetings and some unpleasant chants.

Hartman continued his trip and was present for games three and four in Los Angeles at STAPLES Center.

Every time he comes to STAPLES, Hartman said that he always sits in the same seat in section 216. However, there was something different about Monday night.

"I sat in the same seat that I sat in all the games I've been to at STAPLES, and for me anyway, I felt like I was somewhere else," Hartman said. "I felt like it wasn't STAPLES Center. It was that loud."

In his estimation, the STAPLES Center crowd, which hadn't seen a playoff game since 2002, was more energized and loud than the Vancouver crowd in the first two games.

"I'm sure Canucks fans will tell you that it's a lie, they'll tell you that it's the acoustics, they'll tell you it's anything they want to tell you," Hartman said. "But I think its probably just our years without playoffs."

Immediately following the Kings 6-4 loss, Hartman was on his way to LAX to catch a red-eye flight back home so as not to miss Game 5. Also, after being away from home for over a month he said that he's pushed not going to work for as long as he can.

However, there is one way in which he could possibly find himself back.

"When they make it [to the Stanley Cup finals], I'll be here," Hartman said. "I can assure you of that."
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