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Reflecting on the LA Kings First Game at STAPLES Center

Andy Murray, Garry Galley, Dave Tippett and Jaroslav Modry reflect on their vivid memories of their first time in the building

by Mike Commito @MikeCommito /

It's been two decades since hockey was first played at STAPLES Center, but those who were in attendance that evening still have vivid memories of the monumental game. 

When Garry Galley thinks back to the Kings' first game in the building, on October 20, 1999, he can't believe it's already been 20 years. "Time is just racing by," he reflected.

For the franchise's first 32 years, the club had called the Great Western Forum home. Despite all of the charm and history on Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, the Kings and its players were ready for a change.

"I played in the Forum and it was exciting place to be. It just seemed that as time moved on, the organization needed a new building," Galley stated. "It was just exciting to be a player who was part of the old Forum and play quite a few games there and see the future that was coming with the Kings."

Drafted 100th overall by the Kings in 1983, Galley played his first three NHL seasons at the Forum before he was traded to Washington.

When he returned to Los Angeles as a free agent in 1997, he remembers the buzz around the development of STAPLES Center. He just hoped he would be around long enough to play in it.

"It just became this bigger than life thing that was going on in downtown Los Angeles. Everyone was just waiting and waiting hoping they'd still be around to get an opportunity to play in it," he reminisced. 

But as the 1999-00 season approached, the $375-million state-of-the-art facility was not yet ready. Galley and the Kings would start the season on a seven-game road trip, before having the opportunity to christen the new building. 

Andy Murray, who was behind the Kings' bench for his first season as an NHL coach, recalled the anticipation leading up to that first home game.

"I remember being at a press conference and somebody asked me what my thoughts were about coaching in the future, and I said my goal is still to be the coach by the eighth game because our first seven were on the road," he joked. 

Although the Kings would have preferred to start their season at home, they made the most of the situation.

"Knowing that you're coming back to this brand new building and you're going to have a lot of games there at home and enjoy the building, was not that bad at all," Galley recollected. "The start of the season, everyone is fresh and everyone is ready to roll. A road trip like that and long road trip like that at the start of the season, I think is one you can tend to get through."

The Kings coaching staff, which included rookie assistant Dave Tippett, believed that the challenge in the schedule had a galvanizing effect on the club. "We thought about getting home to a new building would be an advantage for us, so we had to play well on the road," he explained. 

When the Kings returned home from the road trip, they had only lost two games. Head coach Murray was pleased with the results.

"We played well on that road trip and I think that really got our team going that year. Getting off to a good start was important," he remembered. "I think that kind of set up the year and created a little bit of drive for the season." 

Tippett agreed that the team's performance on the road really set the stage for that opening night at STAPLES. "The anticipation of getting back to our building and opening it up led to the energy in the first game," he explained.

The move to STAPLES was just one part of the new era for the Kings. In addition to playing games downtown, the club also opened a new practice facility to El Segundo later that season.

According to Galley, that move made a world of difference for the players. "Going to the Forum and the Valley, being on the road an hour and an hour and a half just to get to and from practice on the freeways, it was taxing just doing that," he recalled. 

For Jaroslav Modry, who had also spent some time at the Forum after arriving in Los Angeles in 1995-96, it felt like the start of a new chapter.

"It was just an exciting time," the blueliner recalled. "It was time to move forward. To keep advancing the product and give the fans a little bit different pace of the event it had to be in one of these new buildings." 

When it was finally game time, the excitement in the building was palpable.

"I remember the atmosphere in the building was unbelievable. It was part the start of the season but part that building was that people were excited to be there. The energy was phenomenal," Tippett remembered from the bench.

And for good reason. There was an unprecedented amount of people in attendance. The sold out crowd of 18,118 was the largest crowd to watch a professional hockey game in California. 

It was an extraordinary feeling for first-year NHL coach Andy Murray. "It was really special and certainly you have different highlights in your career," he said. "To be involved in the opening of such a spectacular building as just really special. I can still remember all the ceremonies while being on the bench."

Although the Kings didn't get the satisfaction of scoring the first goal in the new building, that distinction went to Boston's Anson Carter, they tied the game twice, including a late third period goal by former Bruin Jozef Stumpel to force overtime. The extra frame solved nothing and the Kings ended their first game at STAPLES with a 2-2 tie. 

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The Kings finished their inaugural season at STAPLES with a home record of 21-13-5-2. While they were swept by the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that year, the club wouldn't have to wait too long to exact its revenge. 

The following year, late in Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Kings trailed by three goals. After they closed the deficit in the final six minutes of the third period, they completed the comeback in overtime in what became known as the "Frenzy on Figueroa." Five days later, back at STAPLES, they eliminated the Red Wings to win the first playoff series in the new building. 

Following a decade of not qualifying for the post-season and a couple of first-round exits, the Kings finally found playoff magic at STAPLES. In 2012, the Kings captured the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Two years later, they did it again on home ice. 

As the Kings head into their next decade at STAPLES, only time will tell what moments will make their way from the ice into the club's record books.

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