When the LA Kings opened up the 2020-21 season on January 14, STAPLES Center was unrecognizable compared to previous opening nights. There weren't thousands of fans spilling through the doors, or ushers lining the stairs or dozens of staff, scouts and media covering the game from the press box.
However, with COVID-19 protocols in place, it was deemed safest to have the least amount of people in the building at STAPLES Center to ensure a successful NHL season.
For those special tiered members who still attend STAPLES Center on game nights, everything from their pregame routine to in-game duties has looked different.
Video: The return of LA Kings hockey.
The most glaring difference is the fact that the building is eerily quiet with 18,000 missing fans.
That's where Mason Donley, Vice President of Ticket Sales and Service, and Ryan Miller, Vice President of Ticket Sales, come into play. The two of them have found themselves in the unique position of running crowd noise at games.
After two days of training, mostly to learn the technical side of setting up of the equipment, followed by watching recorded games on the TV to gauge the fan reactions, the duo set out to react to goals, hits and other on-ice plays as the voice of the fans in the arena.
"The fans play such a huge part of the game, especially for the players," Miller said, who utilizes a range of different tones and levels of excitement through a panel of buttons. He hits a lot of "ooohs" and stays away from the "aaaah's" unless things get really crazy, but his only complaint is that there isn't a "boo" button to heckle the other team.
Video: The team behind the crowd noise at STAPLES Center
Down on the ice, Hockey Development Manager Courtney Ports oversees 13 Ice Maintenance Members, all of who hold regular positions in the Kings front office.
"When we were asked to be the new Ice Maintenance Team I immediately thought, 'Wow. Never in my 13 years here with the Kings did I ever think I would be doing this,' but at the same time never in my life did I think we would be locked in our homes due to a pandemic," Ports said.
"Honestly, I was happy that the organization came to us to do it. We have a great group of all hockey players who love the game, love to skate, and love watching live hockey," he said. "Plus...it got me out of my house and brought some sense of routine and sanity back into my life."
"We have a running tally going of everyone that falls. I fully intend to never be on that list. We have a few so far, will not mention names," Ports said.
Although Ports may not be mentioning names, we are more than happy to throw Marketing Coordinator Emma Tani under the bus. She gracefully took the first tumble in the third game of the season.
"It's been a unique experience to say the least," Tani said. "It's funny because I was chirping all of my coworkers about who was going to be the first to fall, and of course, I went down right in front of our players bench."
"Luc [Robitaille] and [Derek Armstrong] were both very quick to critique my stride from the press box and give me some pointers on being a more efficient ice scraper... which is hilarious," Tani said. "Overall though, it's been incredible and I'm really grateful for the experience."
Another member of the Kings staff who finds himself in a new role is Production Supervisor Trevor Rabone. He sits at the top of Section 111 in "a glass case of emotion" as he calls it, serving as the Public Address Announcer for the players and staff in the arena.
Rabone had done some announcing in high school for his football team, as well as hockey, soccer, softball, and basketball at Cal State Fullerton where he attended college. So when he started working for the Kings, he became the back up PA announcer and worked several Ontario Reign games before having his name thrown into the mix to be this season's main announcer.
"The idea is to keep the whole game atmosphere as similar to what the players and teams are used to as possible," Rabone said. "So having the announcer, the music, DJ - to keep everything as close to normal as possible is important. I'm announcing to the media members that are in the building as well as just having some sense of normalcy for the players."
On an average gameday, Rabone comes across just five people in total and feels that safety has been paramount through the whole process.
"It's definitely nice to see some familiar faces, like the Fox Sports West crew. It's so comforting to see all of that that we're trying to have some sense of normalcy, even though it's very not normal," Rabone said. "They've done a really good job. All the STAPLES Center operations crew is really overly conforming to the regulations to be safe, which is awesome. It's about as safe as it can be."
As if the new role isn't weird enough, Rabone has also been getting follow requests on social media from fans. And while this isn't Rabone's first time behind a microphone, it's never too late to get those butterflies in the stomach.
"Even though there were no fans, I was probably the most nervous I've ever been doing announcing, because it's still the NHL, right? There are still only 30 other people doing this in this league, so it still made me really nervous," Rabone said.
Rabone knew he had an interest in announcing as a kid when he attended hockey, baseball and football games and was drawn to the announcers.
"I always remember paying attention to it. Even as a kid, I was a Kings and Angels fan growing up, so I would listen to Dave Courtney, who was the PA at the time for both teams. I don't know what it was, but his voice was just so comforting. When you were in either building - it's almost like you knew you were at home. And over the years, I paid a little more attention to it."
"I'd be in Staples Center and I'd be yelling Ziggy Palffy back when Courtney said it. And now I'm actually doing that, and it's still really surreal to me, but so much fun."
Whether or not he will continue this role after this season is unclear, but Rabone is enjoying every moment of the experience.
"It would be a blast, and I would be honored to have that position and keep it. But if not, it's going to be something that I remember for the rest of my life. It's fun to just be a small part of the environment and the experience."
Until the game-day experience returns back to normal, one thing is clear: the Kings team is adapting and adjusting... and having fun while doing it.