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Kings ransom: With Lakers and Clippers out, L.A. grudgingly turns to hockey

After an astounding run through the playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings are in hockey's Stanley Cup finals. When Los Angelenos get over the Lakers' collapse, they might tune in.

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There is not a sense of celebration in the air around Los Angeles, but if you scratch the surface, you can find it.

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“You can’t tell on the streets, but hockey fans here really get into it,” says Wayne Sherman, a medical claims insurer who has lived here since 1982, reading the paper at a corner Starbucks. “This is not as big as when Gretzky was on the team in 1993, but it is still a big deal.”

Dan Lebowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society, says the Kings have done much to establish themselves as a viable and important franchise in an area of the country where hockey is not naturally indigenous.

“The Kings have established a marquee franchise with great tradition even though it’s not as long as the Lakers,” Lebowitz says. “They’ve done a lot for the sport of hockey, and Los Angelenos have responded by embracing them and investing them with a kind of passionate identity.”

Charlie Lavoie, a carpenter who moved to Pasadena in 1984 from Connecticut, considers himself a knowledgeable hockey fan after growing up watching the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Rangers. He says the Los Angeles fan atmosphere is generally not what it is in the East. But he says the current fever is very high, partly because of a controversial statement by radio personality Roger Lodge of KLAA AM830.

“Roger Lodge said the Kings won’t win a game in the playoffs, and that alone has made every King fan in the city so ticked off that they’re tuning in to see Lodge get his comeuppance,” says Lavoie. 

“I got so sucked in, I wouldn’t miss a game even if it was only on radio,” says Lavoie.

The Kings will play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals on May 30 at either New Jersey or New York. Los Angeles is in the final round for the first time since 1993, when Wayne Gretzky and the Kings lost to the Montreal Canadiens in their only finals appearance.

“The Clippers blew their chance. The Lakers blew their chance. This is it for Los Angeles,” says Lavoie. “People here need somebody to root for and this year it’s the Kings.”

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