The most interesting development at today’s morning practice was the sight of center Anze Kopitar skating with his teammates. Although Kopitar has not yet been cleared for contact, he said afterward he did not experience any pain or swelling in his sprained right knee. Still, Kopitar does not know if he will be able to play when the Kings open the season vs. Chicago at STAPLES Center.
Coach Darryl Sutter, however, did not sound optimistic about the prospect having Kopitar available for Saturday’s noon faceoff.
“Until the player decides, or the trainer decides, or the doctor decides, you just make sure he stays out of the way,” Sutter said.
Sutter said he was originally informed that Kopitar, who suffered the injury while playing for Mora IK in Sweden, would be sidelined two-to-three weeks.
“He did it on the fourth,” Sutter said. “Today is the 16th. So it’s what, 12 days? Until someone tells me differently, that’s how I look at it.”
Backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier kept busy during the four-month lockout by playing for German second division team Heilbronn Falken. Bernier, who is stuck behind Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles and has asked the Kings to trade him, went to Europe in search of ice time.
“I got to play a lot, which was a lot of fun,” Bernier said. “I got my game shape back on. Obviously, for me, the last three years I didn’t play much. When I heard the lockout was going to happen, I jumped at the opportunity to go overseas and play as many games as possible. It was great to get that passion back and get back that fun of playing games.”
In addition to finding a regular place in net, Bernier found the European lifestyle agreed with him.
“It was a great city and I had a great time,” Bernier said. “I was able to travel quite a bit, too. In Europe, you have what they call “Olympic breaks,” where you get four or five days off every couple months.”
Bernier had two of those breaks during his time in Germany. He spent his free time visiting his brother, Marc-Andre, who plays in France and also visited Switzerland and Italy.
“I got to see a lot of new places, to it was great,” Bernier said. “Everything is different there. As far as the hockey, it was more skills, not so much about one-on-one battles. Away from hockey, the food was great. I am a big pasta guy, and they had some great Italian restaurants over there.”
For Bernier, playing and living in Europe was the perfect response to being locked out of his regular gig.
“For my life situation, not having kids and not being a No. 1 yet, it was a great experience for me. It all depends where you are in life. If I had gotten injured last year, I probably would have taken the time off. But I was healthy and had not played many games, so it was great timing for me.”
When the Kings won the Stanley Cup last season, they effectively ended 45 years of torment for hockey fans in Los Angeles. At the same time, an even longer drought came to an end in the Salt Lake State. By virtue of his participation, Kings’ winger Trevor Lewis became the first Uthan to have his name engraved on the Cup.
“It’s a big honor,” Lewis said.
Lewis was born and raised in Salt Lake City before leaving at 15 to play for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League, but Utah always remained his home.
“I go back every summer,” Lewis said. “My whole family is there.”
It was only fitting that he spent his day with the Stanley Cup in Salt Lake City. Like everyone else, Lewis only had the Cup for a few hours, but he made them count, taking it on a grand tour of his hometown.
“I had a little family get-together, a barbecue,” Lewis said. “Then I took it to the University of Utah. It was there home-opener football game, so it was pretty cool. I also went to my grandparents’ grave; we took all my family to the grave and took the Cup. That was pretty special. Then we had a little bash that night with family and friends.”
Hockey is more prominent than ever in Utah, and players can now develop there without moving out-of-state. Lewis even envisions a day when other Utah natives will have their names etched on the Cup.
“When I was young,” Lewis said, “there was not very much hockey there, so you had to move if you wanted to go anywhere in the sport. But hockey is getting bigger and bigger in Utah now, so hopefully there will be more players who make the NHL and get their name on the Cup.”
The 25-year-old winger takes pride in his roots and says the sport’s lack of popularity in Utah during his formative years may actually have aided his development in that it afforded him endless ice time.
“When I was young,” Lewis said, “we only had 10 guys on the team, so you got a lot more playing time. That’s kind of what you need when you are young.”
In rampaging through the postseason with a 16-4 record, the Kings made things look easy last spring. It’s easy to forget, but there were key moments along the way, times when games – and momentum – could have swung in a different direction.
One of those moments came in Game 5 of the Kings’ opening round upset of Vancouver. The contest had gone into overtime and, who knows, a Vancouver goal might have been enough to change the course of the series. Thanks to a play Lewis made early in the OT, we will never know if a Vancouver win would have altered history.
The play began with Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis trying to break out of his own zone. At the blue line, Lewis checked Hamhuis, stole the puck and managed to get it to Jarret Stoll, who went top shelf on Cory Schneider at 4:27. With that, top-seeded Vancouver had been ousted and the Kings were on their way.
The boxscore reads: Jarret Stoll from Trevor Lewis. But there was so much more to that play. It was a pivot point and Lewis swung it in the Kings’ direction.
“It was overtime and I was just trying to stay on (Dan) Hamhuis,” Lewis said after practice. “Luckily, I got his stick and took the puck to Stollie, who made a great shot. That closed out the overtime game and closed out the series, so it was definitely one of the better plays for me.”
It was just one of the memorable post-season moments Lewis had a hand in. Another came on June 11, the night the Kings clinched their first Stanley Cup. Lewis had two goals that night, but it was his second that set off the celebration inside STAPLES Center.
With the Kings leading, 4-1, Lewis sent the puck into an empty net at 16:15 of the third period, effectively ending any chance for miracle New Jersey comeback. More memorably, Lewis’s goal was an invitation for Kings’ fans to begin the party.
“It’s the best feeling you have ever had,” Lewis said. “To spend it with these guys, we are definitely looking to that again. We want to feel those emotions and do it with this team again.”
For far too long, the overtime goal Daryl Evans scored in overtime to cap the Kings’ comeback from a five-goal deficit against Edmonton in the 1982 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the team’s signature moment. As the Kings’ piled one magic moment on top of another during last year’s run to the Stanley Cup, Evans’ goal dropped precipitously on the club’s all-time hit list. Not that Evans minded. The radio analyst, a fixture at the Toyota Training Center and in the Kings’ organization, took time for a quick Q&A after practice Wednesday.
Q: For years and years, your goal to end the Miracle on Manchester was considered the greatest moment in franchise history. After last year’s Cup run, your goal has dropped down a few notches. Bittersweet?
A: The ultimate goal is to win the Stanley Cup. If you are fortunate enough to get to this level, you want to be part of it. I never had that opportunity as a player. The goal that I scored against Edmonton was a great moment and it was something that you never forget, but I have no problem, no problem at all, stepping aside to put the Stanley Cup above it. My goal will always be what it was, it was the greatest comeback in Stanley Cup history, but the Stanley Cup is what we all live for and I have ill feeling whatsoever about that. In fact, let’s do it again and again.
Q: You were a part of this team in the ’80s and you are still apart of the Kings thirty years later. From the outside, it looks like and entirely different organization. Does it feel that way on the inside?
A: I think so. As time has gone by, we have had a few different regimes that have run through. I think Dave Taylor did a great job at putting an identity within the organization. I think he was the first one to recognize that you really had to build the team through the draft. The Kopitars, the Browns, the Quicks, were all drafted under his group. I think a lot of the credit has to go Dean Lombardi, along with Ron Hextall; they had the same beliefs going forward. This team has been around 45, 46 years now and it is still almost like a baby compared to the Original Six teams, but I think they have established themselves and when you come around here, it feels different. When you win a Stanley Cup, you earn a lot of respect. This organization has done a great job in the community and of putting together a real quality presentation; that means from the game, to the way the players present themselves in the community. More importantly, now they have a solid foundation where they can compete and contend for a number of years, which is a credit to a lot of different people.
Q: You were honored with a special night by the organization last year. What was that like?
A: It was a great honor. My kids never got a chance to see me play, so when they see their father get regarded like that, it is a special thing. I was able to fly my mum and dad in. It was really a nice night and lot of credit to the organization for doing something like that. We have done it for a couple years and we have seen different individuals come through will continue to do it as we move forward. It was done with complete class and the people that saw it were touched by the way it was done by the organization.
Q: What was it like to be in the booth calling the game in which the Kings finally won the Stanley Cup?
A: It’s a dream come true. You dream about winning it as a player and I can only imagine what that would be like. Going through it as a broadcaster, I felt like I was a part of it. Maybe some of it is due to originally starting with the organization 32 years ago. That has to be said for all our broadcasters. Just to hear the emotion in my partner, Nick Nickson’s voice, and then the emotion from the fans. I had one earphone in my headset pulled back so I could hear the crowd. It was definitely a moment that I will never forget.