Prior to this year’s training camp getting underway, the Kings held their second annual HockeyFest. While the new end-of-summer tradition was scaled back from last year’s grand festivities, a sold-out crowd of 2,000 fans seemed to enjoy it just as much.
Like last year, by far, the most popular activities at the event were the speaker sessions. Fans were treated to current and former players sharing stories and answering questions.
Using our popular 10 Tidbits format, here are selected highlights from the event…
1. Goalies - The unintentional funny quote of the day came from Hextall when he said “Bernier hasn’t made the team yet.” Um, ok. I guess that gives hope to three of you that previously purchased Ersberg jerseys. To end any possible controversy heading into camp, he also said ”Jonathan Quick is our #1 goalie” about 32 times. Regarding Niemi – “We didn’t even talk about it. Our goaltending is solid.”
2. Free Agents - Lombardi doesn’t buy Frolov’s agent saying the team purposefully sabotaged his numbers last season by playing him on the third line. Also said by the time they reached out to Fro (after Kovy drama), it was too late – intimating that feelings were hurt by that point. Regarding possibly trading a prospect (defenseman) for a top six forward - it’s possible, but it has to be the…wait for it…”right fit.” And there aren’t many teams looking to trade right now. He thinks that will change about 20 games into the season. What about the Patrick O’Sullivan rumor? Dean says “Not interested right now, not the right fit.”
3. Scott Parse – In what may have been the most talked about quote from the morning session, Lombardi said “Parse is near the top three on the team in terms of skill (just skill).” He went on to say he needed him to be a Kris Versteeg type player. KV is coming off back to back 20-goal seasons and was a Calder candidate just two seasons ago. Not sure Parse has that type of upside. He was a point a game player in college, yet in his first full season at Manchester he scored 39 points (15g, 24a) in 74 games. Sure, it can take time for a college player to adjust his game at the pro level. So, I guess we’ll see.
4. The Kids – Is Thomas Hickey ready? Hextall thinks so. He’s been impressed with his training this summer and watched him have a great playoff run in Manchester last season, saying he “took over” in game six of the Eastern Finals. He’s “not flashy, like Drew,” but team remains very high on him. Hex also said ”he does all the little things to make a team better, like (Eric) Desjardins.” DAMMIT – I could have gone a lifetime and been fine never hearing that name again. Desjardins, of course, scored a hat-trick and beat the Kings in OT in game two of the ’93 Stanley Cup Finals, the infamous ‘Illegal Stick’ game.
Dean also said prospect Nic Deslauriers needs to get better – “last year he was in horrible shape, came in a little better shape this year” and he needs to calm down on the ice. Dean once called Doughty “fat”. So, if it works half as well with Deslauriers, that will be great for the team. To me, he’s been one of the most talented kids in camp the last two summers.
Up front, if Schenn and/or Clifford make the team, it “probably won’t be as a top nine forward” – that’s “too much pressure to put on a young kid.” That should end any talk of Schenn as the second line center. I said should. And I still see Clifford starting the year in LA.
5. The Fourth Line – Dean: “I’m a traditionalist. On the fourth line, I believe in having an enforcer and a skilled center.” He doesn’t believe they’ve established “an identity there.” This comment will probably get lost in the shuffle for most. However, I wonder what’s really going on. He made similar statements last year at HockeyFest, even alluding to possibly starting Westgarth and Ivanans against teams like the Sharks and Ducks (which didn’t happen) - because he felt those teams had taken liberties with the Kings the year prior – especially at home, inside Staples Center. Will that change this year?
6. Rule Changes – If you’re a regular reader of MayorsManor you may recall a few weeks back we had interviews with two of the players sent to Toronto to test the proposed NHL rule changes. Hextall commented about a few of the ideas looked at during the NHL R & D camp, saying he likes the shallow net idea (giving players more room behind the net). However, he wasn’t in favor of changing the icing rule, thinking the “race for the puck” is part of the game.
7. Rob Blake – Gone, but not forgotten. Regarding any talk of retiring #4 to the rafters, Lombardi wants a “cooling off period,” of probably two years, before the Kings front office even starts thinking about it. I wonder if that will stop Kings fans from arguing about it on LetsGoKings.com. Maybe for a day or two.
8. Team Unity and Expectations – In the past Lombardi has talked about the team needing to come together, what stage are they in now? This is the “first year with legitimate expectations on the team” to win. Overall, he feels good heading into the season because ”I don’t have one jerk in the locker room.” He also reminded everybody “winning gets harder from this point forward.”
9. “Life of a King” session - Wells, McSorley and Robitaille treated fans to an hour or so of old stories, many of which only former players had probably heard before. Wells talked about getting his head shaved by teammates as part of an initiation, dating Jeanie Buss (pre-Playboy and pre-Phil Jackson) and various pranks pulled by Mark Hardy and others.
Luc talked about accidentally busting up Dave Taylor’s nose with his stick (in an once ice scrum) and being too afraid to cop to it for several years.
Marty told several stories about often warning members of the other team, coaches…and even referees…that he was going to beat somebody up. The best was the time he went to Paul Coffey and Steve Yzerman on the bench in Detroit and said “If I see Sean Burr on the ice one more time, one of you is getting a broken arm because if I’m getting suspended (he had too many penalties at that point in the season), it’s going to be for something good.” Burr had speared a Kings player earlier in the game. He did not see any ice time the remainder of the game, per Marty.
10. This final tidbit was personal to me. I’ve long said that Tomas Sandstrom is the most underrated player in Kings history. In fact, just moments before this happened, I said those exact words to a member of the Kings organization, whom I was sitting with at the time…
Somebody in the crowd asked about the worst player to ever play against the Kings, the dreaded Craig Muni of the Oilers, circa the early ’90s. He took out Sandstrom’s leg in a playoff series. No matter, he came back a few games later and even scored a goal…on the fractured leg! When Marty was done talking about the whole situation, Jim Fox - already a cult hero - earned a new stripe or two by saying ”Tomas Sandstrom is the most underrated skilled player in LA Kings history” – I couldn’t agree more!
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Congratulations to Chris McGowan and his entire staff for putting together another fabulous Kings party. Everything was top notch and continued to raise the bar on the quality of team-hosted events.
The only draw back, if there was one, was trying to fit everything into a single day. I heard some fans talking about struggling to choose between lining up for autographs and attending the speaker sessions. Which is really too bad because to date, there hasn’t been one bad session at either HockeyFest.
Which means two things…attendees can’t wait for it again next year and if you missed it, well – you missed out.
Plus, comments from two OHL General Managers on their players that were drafted / signed by the Kings:
GM Dave Torrie of Soo Greyhounds (his thoughts on Jake Muzzin, Andrew Campbell, Jordan Nolan and Justin Azevedo)
GM Brian Kilrea of the Ottawa 67s (his thoughts on Tyler Toffoli)
VIDEOS FROM HOCKEYFEST:
* Video of the Lombardi, et al. session is available by clicking here (at 61 min long, be patient while it’s loading)
* Video of the Marty-Wells-Luc session is avialable by clicking here (also long)
Filed Under: NHL
About the Author: The Mayor of the LA Kings provides news, interviews and inside information at www.MayorsManor.com. His stories have been featured on ESPN, The Fourth Period, Hockey Independent and many other websites. You can also follow along at www.twitter.com/MayorNHL and/or www.facebook.com/MayorsManor.