By Barry Melrose - NHL Network Analyst / Melrose Minute
I remember one morning I walked into the office in 1993 and I saw Kings owner Bruce McNall and he looked completely dejected and I said to him, "Bruce, what the heck's wrong? We're going to the Stanley Cup Final!"
"I just got requests for 500 tickets for Hollywood," he said. "And I've only got 300 available."
That was Bruce's biggest problem. He had to find 200 extra tickets for the Stanley Cup Final for Hollywood stars. It was an unbelievable time to be part of the Los Angeles Kings. Every night, there were stars all over the place. President Reagan and his wife Nancy were at all of our games and they were in the dressing room after the game meeting the players. After a game, I would walk into the dressing room and Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn would be in my office with Goldie's daughter Kate Hudson, who was just 14 then. The dressing room would always be full of Hollywood stars wanting to meet the players, outside limos would be lined up along the Forum to pick up guys at the Forum Club after the game, and the Forum Club was just a who's who of Hollywood stars. James Woods, was a big hockey fan and he was at all the games. Mary Hart from Entertainment Tonight was a huge hockey fan and she was always there both in the regular season and the playoffs. During the Final that year the Forum was the place to be, the place to go and the place to be seen at.
It was just a magical time and L.A. hasn't seen anything like it since. The city was just crazy and it really jumped on the Kings bandwagon. Obviously, we had a very high-profile team with Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Luc Robitaille, Tony Granato, Tomas Sandstrom and Rob Blake. We had a little bit of everything, we had former superstars, we had young superstars on the way up, but the thing I remember the most was how the city got behind us. It was nuts. The lines to see the Stanley Cup were longer in L.A. than they were in Montreal. People just couldn't get enough of it. You also need to remember that at that time the Lakers were really down, so the Kings were the No. 1 team in town by far. We were ahead of the Dodgers, ahead of the Angels, ahead of the Raiders and Rams. Everything was Kings, Kings, Kings.
The Kings were huge and I don't think it's just because they were winning. It's because Gretzky was there. When you have Gretzky involved in anything it magnifies everything and he hadn't been in a Stanley Cup Final in a while at that point. That was why he came to L.A. He came to win a Stanley Cup and he did everything he possibly could to make it happen. He's come out and said that Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against Toronto, in which he scored a hat trick to send the Kings to their first ever Stanley Cup Final, was the best game he's ever played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That was a year when the matchup, partially because of Gretzky, produced so many stories. You had the process of the Kings acquiring Gretzky finally culminating in a berth in the Cup Final, you had Gretzky against the greatest franchise in NHL history, you had Luc Robitaille, a French-Canadian kid playing against Montreal in the Final, which is a dream for any kid who grew up playing hockey in Quebec and you also had McNall, who was arguably the most powerful owner in the NHL at the time. He was the Board of Governors President, he was spending more money than anyone else in the NHL, getting the NHL on the front page more than anyone else and he could just promote the game better than anyone else. Bruce was the perfect owner for that team at that time.
It was like it had been written in a script. It was like a movie.
But even beyond the star power on the team and the star culture, it was also a special time for the every day Kings fan. This is a team that's been in L.A. since 1967 and never won a Stanley Cup -- and at that point had never been to the Final. There is a great group of hockey fans in L.A. that has been there since Day 1 and this was a special moment for them. Sure, a lot of people were bandwagon jumpers, but that's going to happen in any city. It'll happen in New York, too. People go to Rangers games that have never been to Rangers games. I got a sense of what it meant to the fans because L.A. is a huge place, but the hockey community there is a small community, and a number of fans come to charity events that the team has put on for years to meet players and coaches. You get to know the fans that have been there a long time. The fans have a chance to meet you and talk to you and air their grievances and tell you what's wrong with the team, but also what's right with the team.
Now that this team is reaching the same heights that that team did in 1993, you're really starting to see a lot of the same excitement in the city. I've been doing a lot of interviews from L.A. recently because of this team. Last week I was on Dennis Miller's show, and he's a big hockey fan. He had me on and he was talking about how the city was. When I do interviews with the L.A. Media now, they're all talking about how crazy the city is and how everyone is jumping on the Kings bandwagon.
There are a number of ways that this team has reminded me of the 1993 club, and it's very easy to see parallels and get nostalgic. These Kings were the last seed in the West and mine had to fight an uphill battle get this far, too. We played well in the last month of the season and came into the playoffs ona high note, but we played Calgary first and no one gave us a chance against Calgary, a lot like these Kings against Vancouver. We beat Vancouver in the second round when no one said we could beat them like these Kings beat St. Louis. We also didn't have home ice throughout the playoffs, and we had some young guys grabbing attention like Rob Blake and Darryl Sydor and Alexei Zhitnik, whereas on this team Doughty, Brown and Kopitar are having a coming out party.
There are a number of things about this team that really bring you back to that team in 1993, but this group has a real chance to take that next step and win it all and get a place all their own in Kings history. There's no doubt that it's an exciting time again to be a Kings fan and to be in L.A. The energy will be there, the craziness in the city will be there and of course the stars will be there.
I have no doubt the Kings ownership is going to be dealing with the same kinds of problems Bruce had to deal with 19 years ago.