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Kings host Special Olympics World Games athletes

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Tyler Toffoli, Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter of the Los Angeles Kings spent Thursday afternoon welcoming athletes for the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.

The event had a loose, fun feel to it, much like the players' interactions with coach Darryl Sutter's son Chris, who has competed in the Special Olympics and is such a part of the Kings that he is in the team photo from their 2013-14 Stanley Cup season.

"We see Chris around all the time, and he's basically one of the guys on the team," Toffoli said. "He comes in here and makes us laugh. We know how Chris is. He's incredible, and for us to give back and help out here with the Special Olympics and show off our facility, it was a good experience."

The Special Olympics World Games, which begin Saturday, will feature 6,500 intellectually disabled athletes from 165 countries competing in 25 sports in venues across Los Angeles, which is hosting the international competition for the first time since 1972. It will be the single-biggest sporting event in L.A. since the 1984 Summer Olympics, according to the event website.

In January, Maria Shriver, whose mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics, asked Darryl and Chris Sutter to be torchbearers for the event. Chris has Down Syndrome and has competed in the Special Olympics in Canada for Alberta's bowling team.

"Chris is around the room all the time," Martinez said. "It's really cool. He's a huge part of our room and he's in a lot of different things, bowling being one of them … we have that link there too. It's awesome."

The Kings gave Special Olympians from Barbados and Macedonia a tour of their practice facility, including its state-of-the-art, skylighted weight room, and showed them video highlights of their 2013-14 season before an entertaining question-and-answer session.

"Who is your favorite hockey player?" a Barbados athlete asked.

"Jeff Carter," Toffoli said.

"Is Jeff Carter still alive?" the athlete asked.

Carter raised his hand, and everybody laughed.

The Kings seemed more than happy to give their guests a look into their professional lives.

"That's the best part, when they walk into that weight room and their eyes light up and they start smiling, especially when they saw that video," Martinez said. "… There wasn't one of them that had ever ice-skated before."

Toffoli said, "One of the coaches, as they were leaving, said that we made their day. Just hearing those things, it's pretty incredible and it's a good experience."

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