It's been seven long, lockout-padded months since the Los Angeles Kings won the first Stanley Cup in their 45-year history, but the team and its rabid fans finally got to witness history Saturday. As the delayed and abbreviated 2013 NHL season got under way, the Kings' first championship banner was raised to the Staples Center rafters.
Hollywood hockey faithful including Jerry Bruckheimer, Alyssa Milano and Matthew Perry were part of the sold-out crowd that arrived early to bask in the Kings' first game as NHL champions.
How long has Los Angeles waited to raise a Stanley Cup banner? When the Kings first took the ice at the Fabulous Forum in 1967, Lyndon Johnson was president, gas was 33 cents a gallon and James Bond was on just his fifth movie mission. And sitcom star Perry -- who sat in a suite with injured Kings center Anze Kopitar and Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille, a longtime Kings great who's now the team’s president of business operations -- hadn't been born.
It was perfect SoCal hockey weather outside (75 and sunny) and jet-landing loud inside as the festivities began with a video recapping the Kings' dominant 16-4 run to the Cup in the spring. A number of celebrities offered testimonials in the clip including Will Ferrell, Steven Tyler, Hugh Hefner and L.A. icons Tommy Lasorda and Ice Cube. Following a tribute to longtime Kings public-address announcer David Courtney, who died in November, the ceremony kicked off with Emerson, Lake and Palmer's rousing "Karn Evil 9" (Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends...").
After the Kings players were introduced and received their ultra-bling championship rings, the rolled-up banner was presented to Kings captain Dustin Brown by Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon, longtime King greats from the purple-and-gold era, and 8-year-old Isaiah Marquez-Greene, whose sister Ana died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last month. It was a touching moment. A national NBC audience then watched as Kings fans -- both long-suffering and newly minted -- roared while the 15-foot-by-17-foot banner was unfurled and raised.
The visiting Chicago Black Hawks killed the buzz later, thumping the Kings, 5-2, but that didn't tarnish the fans' glee about the banner ceremony and the puck finally being dropped on the shortened 48-game season.
“Staples Center is incredibly excited to have hockey back," said Lee Zeidman, the venue's senior vp and general manager. "Last June was an amazing run by the L.A. Kings, and we look forward to them making another run to the Stanley Cup Finals to defend their title."
The Staples Center crew was hardly done for the day, though. As they set up for a Clippers game that night, the banner was moved from up near the overhead scoreboard to its permanent home on the wall near the retired jerseys of Kings legends Wayne Gretzky, Dave Taylor, Robitaille, Dionne and Vachon.
Here's a NHL clip showing some of the celebrities at Staples on Saturday.