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Loud and Proud

by Doug Ward / Los Angeles Kings

Kings’ fans patiently waited 45 years for their happy ending. But the deafening roar that rumbled through STAPLES Center as the Kings brought the Stanley Cup home last spring was really just the beginning.

Hockey’s most loyal fan base is still hungry – and loud – as ever, packing STAPLES Center to capacity for every home games this season, further cementing the growing sentiment that the Kings play in one of the NHL’s most passionate venues. In fact the Kings have sold out 64 straight contests.

“The last few years, our fans have been supporting us and this year has been absolutely incredible,” says Kings President, Business Operations Luc Robitaille. “Our fans have given us so much support over the last few years.”

Robitaille has been one of the beneficiaries of that fan support, dating back to 1986 when he arrived as an unheralded ninth round draft selection hoping to earn a roster spot. But LA’s love affair with the Kings even predates its passion for Luc.

“Actually,” Robitaille says, “we have had that support for the last 45 years. Our fans have been so patient and they deserve this right now. Now that our team is successful, we want to keep it going.”

Robitaille says the Kings’ relationship with their fans is a two-way street. Fans get a thrill from watching some of the world’s greatest athletes and players can’t help but get a jolt from the impassioned crowd.

The electricity level at STAPLES Center soars in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the stakes are raised. Did you hear how loud it was Thursday night when Trevor Lewis scored the game winner?

“As a player you want to soak it in but you are so focused on the game,” Robitaille says of the playoff atmosphere that envelops NHL arenas. “It does give you a lift. My mentality was always that I wanted to win 16 games, one at a time. Win one and keep moving along. Try to improve and try to play better each game.”

Fans at STAPLES Center do their part. The reception is always overwhelming, particularly during the first minutes of a playoff game.

“The first game on the home ice and then the first game on the opposition’s ice is where the fans really get a chance to show their appreciation for a season,” Kings television analyst Jim Fox says. “In the pre-game skate and when you come out for the opening faceoff, it’s always emotional.”

Crowds at STAPLES Center can sometimes resemble a Hollywood party, with some of the entertainment industry’s biggest stars turning out.

Among those who have been spotted at Kings games include Tom Hanks, Will Ferrell, Josh Brolin, Jon Hamm, Cory Monteith, Eric Stonestreet, Matthew Perry, Rainn Wilson, Zac Efron, Kurt Russell, Rachel McAdams and Alyssa Milano.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame have not only attended games at STAPLES Center, but have also created Kings-specific South Park shorts for the video board.

Robitaille says the Kings and their fans share a common goal; they both want to keep the good times rolling.

“This is our fourth year in a row making the playoffs,” Robitaille says. “After last year, we are excited about the playoffs. We want to keep the momentum going with the way we have played lately.”

Kings’ center Jeff Carter grew up in London, Ontario, Canada, where he gave little thought to hockey in Los Angeles. Once he made it to the NHL, however, it didn’t take him long to learn. He first played at STAPLES Center as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2005-06 season and immediately got a feel for the building’s aura.

“When I first came to play against the Kings, I didn’t know what to expect,” Carter says. “But it’s a great rink with great fans. When you are going to California you might have no idea what it’s going to be like. But once you get in the building, you realize that the fans are hockey fans and they love their Kings. It’s great to play here.”

The only thing better than a Kings’ game at STAPLES Center, Carter says, is a postseason game in the building.

“Playoff games are even more intense,” Carter says. “There is a different feeling in the building. There’s a little bit of nervous energy, a little bit of adrenaline, kind of all boiled up in one. It’s pretty special.”

So special that before the Kings ended their Stanley Cup drought last summer, President/General Manager Dean Lombardi likened his team’s fan base and it’s loyalty to that of Chicago Cubs’ diehards.

“Our fans are as much a motivating factor as anything,” Lombardi said last year. “It’s like my players, when you have guys that stick it out, grind it out, aren’t fair weather, they deserve it. If there is any core group of fans that deserve a winner – in any sport – our fans are right up there with the Cubs.”

Today, Kings fans have a championship among their memories, something Cubs fans can only dream about. They also have an identity all their own.

“Our fans are absolutely the greatest,” Robitaille says. “They have been great for a long time.”

Robitaille and the Kings have an idea of how to thank those fans for their undying support.

“Our goal,” Robitaille says, “is to win the Stanley Cup again.”

Loud and proud indeed.

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