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Pacific: Kings, Ducks look forward to London matchup

by Doug Ward
The Kings and Ducks have shared America’s second largest market since 1993, and soon they will share the spotlight in London when they open the regular season with a pair of games in the United Kingdom.
A mere 30 miles of freeway is all that separates the Los Angeles Kings from the Anaheim Ducks. The two Southern California neighbors will draw even closer when they endeavor to co-exist on a European excursion in the fall.

The Kings and Ducks have shared America’s second largest market since 1993, and soon they will share the spotlight in London when they open the regular season with a pair of games in the United Kingdom, Sept. 29-30.

Like high school pals touring Europe before the enroll in different colleges, these old acquaintances share less and less in common, aside from their neighboring addresses. As their respective summers come to a conclusion, the two teams look, again, to be headed in different directions.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Ducks might take a hit from the possible retirements of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne, but they’ll still kick off their 14th NHL season with the optimism of freshman enrolling at the Ivy League school of his or her choice. Maybe it’s no coincidence that their GM -- Brian Burke -- is a Harvard Law alum.

The Kings, meanwhile, will launch their 40th campaign hoping you’re never too old to learn. Under the rebuilding program of GM Dean Lombardi, the gaining of wisdom figures to be a protracted process in Los Angeles. Lombardi has a law degree from Tulane, but his charges might need another year at the local juco before they think about transferring to a state school.

While the Ducks will be defending their Stanley Cup title, the Kings will be attempting to qualify for postseason play for the first time since 2001-02.

Last season, the Ducks posted a 48-20-14 record (110 points) and won 16 playoff games. The Kings 27-41-14 (68 points) season was highlighted by the jersey retirement of a franchise icon — Luc Robitaille — who had to go to Detroit to make sure a Stanley Cup was part of his legacy.

And yet, despite the glaring discrepancy in their transcripts, when the two teams get together, competition is always Grade A. Head-to-head meetings between these two teams are almost always a pick ‘em. Last season, the Kings won the season series, 4-2-2, including three-straight wins at Anaheim’s Honda Center. Since the Ducks entered the NHL in 1993-94, the Kings hold a scant 34-28-14 series lead.

The outcome of a Kings-Ducks game may be unpredictable, but the style of play is not. Always, it’s spirited.

“We have a great rivalry with Anaheim,” Kings center Derek Armstrong says. “We battle each other. It doesn’t matter where the game is being played. When it’s the Kings and the Ducks, the games are always intense.”

Because of the uniqueness of playing regular-season contests away from North America, there figures to be an added level of intensity to the London matchups.

“These are not exhibition games,” Armstrong says. “They count in the standings, so we have to work hard while we’re there. We will have to get our rest to overcome the time change and we’re going to be all business, but it will be a great experience. Maybe we can do a little shopping or have a couple of nice dinners, but otherwise, it’s a business trip.”

A business trip, yes, but it’s the kind of junket that has not been made before, and that has everyone eager to put on a good show. Both teams will showcase new players. The Ducks have added Mathieu Schneider and Todd Bertuzzi, while the Kings brought in Tom Preissing, Brad Stuart, Ladislav Nagy, Kyle Calder, and Michael Handzus.

“It’s exciting,” Preissing says of the trip, “because it hasn’t been done before. The guys are excited because of the novelty of it.”

The Ducks’ status as the defending Stanley Cup champs will add another layer of intrigue to the festivities. Southern California has long been “Kings Country,” but the Ducks ability to deliver a Stanley Cup has their stock soaring. The Ducks put a cap on season tickets at 15,000 and anticipate selling out all 41 home games this season at the 17,174 seat Honda Center.

“We don’t like each other,” Armstrong says, “especially with them bringing the Stanley Cup to Southern California. It’s great for hockey, because it will bring a lot of publicity and attention, but we want to take that away from them.”

Preissing spent last season with the Ottawa Senators before signing with the Kings as a free agent. That means the last time he was on an NHL sheet of ice, it was in Anaheim, where he watched as the Ducks paraded the Stanley Cup around Honda Center. It’s a painful memory, and while Preissing thinks his Senators could have won, he’s not surprised they didn’t.

Southern California has long been “Kings Country,” but the Ducks ability to deliver a Stanley Cup has their stock soaring.

“As far as the way they matched up against us,” Preissing says, “I still think that, talent-wise from top to bottom, we had more talent in Ottawa than Anaheim. But, they are so good a playing their system that we really didn’t have much chance of winning that series.”

At his off-season home in Colorado, Armstrong watched the Stanley Cup playoffs intently. After eight hard-fought regular season games with the Ducks, he was not surprised by the outcome of the playoffs.

“I would rather have been out there playing,” he says, “but I enjoyed watching it. The hockey was terrific. All the way through the playoffs, Anaheim was one of the better teams. They did a great job and put on a great show. I’m a fan of hockey. I watch as many games as I can in the regular season and I always watch the playoffs, and last year they were great.”

When the Ducks and Kings take the ice at 02 Arena in London, the players won’t be the only ones ramping up the excitement. The Kings’ Armstrong spent two years (2001-02, 2004-05) playing in Switzerland and says European fans can be among the most engaged in the world. The two games are already sold out.

“When I played in Switzerland, the fans in Europe were unbelievable,” Armstrong says. “They’re really passionate. Everyone at the games is there for the love of the sport. They don’t go just to be seen. They have chants going, they have signs going, and they have flags waving. It was a cool experience. It will be a good experience for the guys, especially the ones who have never been over there. Playing hockey in Europe is a really cool experience and I think everyone will really enjoy it.”

Sometimes, a mere change of venue can be all it takes to heighten the senses. Every September, the Kings meet the Avalanche in an exhibition game in Las Vegas. The match is meaningless, yet somehow, it’s one of the more rousing contests of the year.

“The game in Vegas is dynamite,” Armstrong says. “You get fans for both teams, and everyone there is in a party mode. I think you’ll see the same thing in England. They’ve never had the NHL before, and I think they’ll really enjoy the experience.”

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