After President Barack Obama exited the East Room, players from the Los Angeles Kings filed single file off a set of risers, through the Cross Hall and into the Blue Room, an oval-shaped parlor that served as the surroundings of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom’s wedding in June, 1886. Cleveland was the only standing President to be married at the White House.
Standing near a portrait of Thomas Jefferson, Jonathan Quick gazed across the South Lawn through an ornate window in the direction of the Washington Monument.
“A lot of schools do field trips down to the White House, things like that,” Quick said. “I was never a part of that, so it was a first time for me to be here. To shake the hand and meet the President, it was pretty special, something that I’ll always remember.”
He spoke for the entire team, one that triumphantly raised the Stanley Cup on home ice 288 days prior. A tradition borne out of President Calvin Coolidge honoring the Washington Senators for the 1925 American League pennant, (link, if necessary: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/25/sports/baseball/25whitehouse.html?_r=0) professional and collegiate sports teams’ visits to the White House following championship seasons have grown in frequency over the last several decades.
“It does, in effect, give you a sense of accomplishment knowing that you’re here for a reason, knowing that the best teams every year come here,” forward Justin Williams said.
It wasn’t Williams’ first trip to the White House. A member of the 2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes, his empty net goal against the Edmonton Oilers in a decisive Game 7 with 1:01 remaining iced the series and assured his first White House visit, which produced a memory that returned to Williams some seven years later.
“I think George Bush had a tough time pronouncing Rod Brind’Amour’s name,” he said.
Both Bush and Obama are passionate sports fans, and the 44th President of the United States pinpointed several performances that resonated with him while noting that Los Angeles became the first eight seed to win a championship in the history of American professional sports.
He quoted Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown in his address, referenced Quick’s remarkable play throughout the playoff run and eventually commented that “America found out that Southern California actually has some pretty intense hockey fans,” an observation that drew a noticeably proud reaction from the crowd at the ceremony.
Regardless of nationality, this was a profound day for all team and staff members of the Los Angeles Kings. Dean Lombardi was practically overwhelmed – taken aback as he recalled his own roots in working class Western Massachusetts, the Kings general manager sat admiring his Blue Room surroundings on a chair purchased during the James Monroe administration shortly after meeting with the President.
The moment was not lost on players born on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean.
“It’s so interesting for me,” Slava Voynov said. “I’ve never been here, and I didn’t know what to [expect], so it’s interesting.”
Being Los Angeles’ captain comes with its advantages. Dustin Brown was the first player in Kings history to lift the Stanley Cup above his head and also enjoyed a few brief moments with the President prior to the public ceremony, a discussion Brown referred to as “just a normal chit chat”.
It was actually a continuation of a conversation he had with President Obama shortly after L.A. had won the Cup.
“He knows his facts,” Brown said. “He knew I was the second American-born captain when we had talked after we won. I think it’s a pretty well-known fact that he’s a pretty big sports fan. Again, for a guy who’s in the position he’s in, he seems like a really normal guy.”
For many at the White House on Tuesday, the right words to describe the exclusivity of the situation were a challenge to come by.
“It’s hard to really explain,” Brown said. “He’s the most powerful man in the world, and you’re meeting him. Being an American, it’s definitely a pretty cool experience, but there aren’t really any words that kind of describe what it’s all about.”
Prior to meeting with the President, players spilled onto the South Lawn to take in a brisk early spring afternoon while capturing pictures and videos of their surroundings and posing for photos with the Stanley Cup and Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.
Speaking of the Anschutz Trophy, it was brought to Washington for the second consecutive year by the Los Angeles Galaxy, who won back-to-back Major League Soccer championships.
That meant Landon Donovan, the most decorated player in the history of the U.S. Soccer program, would return to the White House for what he estimated to be the sixth or seventh time.
An Inland Empire native, Donovan looks forward to the Kings replicating the Galaxy’s recent fortunes in finding themselves on the South Lawn of the White House.
“I’m a lifelong Kings fan,” Donovan said. “I’ve grown up a Kings fan, so it’s cool to see these guys here, and hopefully they can come back again next year, too.”