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by Mike Kalinowski / Los Angeles Kings
Every Sunday, the Los Angeles Kings will bring you Q and A with the LAK, a question and answer-style format in which your favorite Los Angeles Kings sits down with to answer a handful of questions.

For the first edition, will go to the Royal Reign, the Kings official program.

FACEOFF…with Raitis Ivanans

Raitis Ivanans’ road to the NHL is unlike most who currently skate in the National Hockey League.

When the (undrafted) second-year Kings winger made his NHL debut lin 2005-06, playing in four games with the Montreal Canadiens, it was the realization of a dream that started several years ago when he left his native Riga, Latvia, in pursuit of a professional hockey career in North America.

Since turning pro in the 1997-98 season, the giant 6-3, 263-pound enforcer has made stops in Flint, Macon, Tulsa, Pensacola, New Haven, Hershey, Toledo, Baton Rouge, Rockford, Milwaukee and Hamilton. He totaled 489 games in some leagues that seem about as far away from the NHL as Latvia does from Los Angeles.

Signed as a free agent on July 13, the 27-year-old who was born on New Year’s Day opened eyes at training camp this fall, and has played regularly throughout the early portion of the Kings schedule.

Ivanans, who also recorded his first career NHL goal on Oct.12, 2006 at STAPLES Center, answered the following questions:

Royal Reign: How are did you enjoy your first year of playing hockey in Los Angeles?

Raitis Ivanans: To be honest with you, I’m just thankful for everyday that I’m here because I’m really honored to be in the NHL. I just think about what it took for me to get here, and I try to be thankful for every day that I’m here and really enjoy it.

RR: When you look at where you have come from, all of the leagues and all of the different teams, did you ever think you would ever get to this point -- taking a regular shift with an NHL club?

RI: Obviously as you’re getting older, and you look at the NHL and it’s all young, 20-year-old guys coming in all, you start to sort of panic but you still hope that one of these days you’re going to get in there. You start to see the guys you used to play against now playing in the NHL and you’re just like them. You need to get a good chance and someone who likes you to get here, and that’s exactly what happened to me.

RR: You have played in the AHL, the ECHL, the UHL and the CHL. What was the hardest part of that journey?

Los Angeles Kings' Patrick O'Sullivan, left, celebrates with Raitis Ivanans of Latvia after Ivanans' goal against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Los Angeles, Thursday, March 1, 2007. (Photo/Chris Carlson)
RI: The hardest part was that from those lower leagues I was trying to get up to the AHL because I was never drafted and I was never seen. I started in Junior hockey and was a pro at 18 or 19 years of age around those leagues. From there, I was concentrating on getting to the AHL because that was the next step. I wasn’t even thinking about the NHL then because my goal was getting to the AHL first. Every year, whatever team I was playing for, I would talk to people about what the best situation was for me to get to the closest AHL team. If that happened, and in case they needed a call up, I would be right there and they wouldn’t have to put me on a plane or anything. I wanted to be as close to an AHL team as possible. That’s what my goal was from those leagues.

RR: What is the biggest difference between the NHL and those other leagues?

RI: Everything. I could talk about that all day. The game, how we prepare, etc. This is the NHL -- everything is done to the highest level.

RR: You are 6-3 and 263 pounds. Growing up, have you always been larger than most other guys around you?

RI: No, I wasn’t too big growing up. I then started working out seriously as I was playing more in North America. I wanted to put on more weight and play a more physical game. That’s how it started. I wasn’t as big back home.

RR: You spend a lot of time in the weight room. Have you always enjoyed working out?

RI: It’s good to get into a routine. Once you have your program, you know what you need to do. If you’re out of that, it’s not fun anymore. Once you’re committed to what you’ve got to do that day, it’s fun.

RR: How much does that work in the weight room help you with your role as an on-ice enforcer?

RI: Well I’m not really sure how much it helps or doesn’t help, but for myself, I know I want to keep myself in shape by being in the gym and by working out.

RR: Off the ice, what do you like to do for fun?

RI: I like to go to movies to relax. I also like shopping and going to the beach.

RR: You are also married. How has your family’s adjustment been to living here in Los Angeles?

RI: Well I’m still adjusting. Dealing with the traffic and everything – I don’t know how people do it. It gets so frustrating that even if you’re going five or 10 miles it can take an hour. That’s the biggest adjustment. Other than that though, it’s fine. You can’t beat the weather. It’s unbelievable.

RR: A native of Riga, Latvia, what do you miss the most about your home country while over here?

RI: My mom’s cooking and the food. Obviously, my family as well.

RR: What can you tell us about your upbringing in Europe and Latvia in particular?

RI: I have one sister. She’s married with a kid. We were pretty average. My dad works with heating/cooling/plumbing. Growing up, I was always thankful to my parents for what they did. They spent a lot of money for me to play hockey and I really appreciate it now. Where I am now is because of them.

RR: When you first came to North America, did you speak English?

RI: I didn’t know any of the language. I came over to Canada and learned my English there. It happened pretty quickly though.

RR: How closely does your family follow your hockey career over here?

RI: My dad is really proud. I text him after every game and they follow it through the news and stuff.

RR: Your wife is American. Growing up, did you ever imagine that you would marry an American and live over here so far from home?

RI: No, actually I didn’t think about that. As the years go by, I’ve been here eight or nine years now and you get used to the American style. The first couple of years was hard, but you just get used to it.

RR: Has she gone to Latvia or does she speak any of the language? Where do you live in the off-season?

RI: She doesn’t speak any of the language. She’s been over three times. We live in Rockford, Illinois, in the off-season.

-By Jeff Moeller

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