So, it wasn’t a surprise that our conversation took place during a late afternoon ride on the elliptical. There’s some hockey on the horizon.
“The transition was very smooth,” King said of his first season in the primarily Austrian league. “Obviously, the league itself is a lot more laid back with the scheduling. We play 50 games. You don’t spend too many nights away from home, which is great for the ages of my kids. Everybody’s comfortable, the team accommodates you as far as living and transportation, so things are very easy to get adjusted to.”
He also teamed up again with former ECHL-Reign sniper Colton Yellow Horn, a WHL teammate in Lethbridge and a member of the Blackfoot tribe in southwestern Alberta’s Piikani Nation. King, who is Métis, acknowledged the personal ties and familiarity helped.
“it’s more of a comfort level,” he said. “Obviously we’re both a little older now in our careers. It’s maybe a little more crucial when you’re adjusting to living away from home, but there are definitely family values that are very similar that you group up with that you can kind of read or judge a guy’s comfort level or even character off that. It just makes it a little more comfortable being around and enjoying your time away from home.”
They also enjoyed their time on the ice. Yellow Horn, now 32 and a reliable veteran EBEL scorer, is coming off a team-best 58 points in 51 games, while King’s 42 points ranked fifth on the league’s top regular season team. Though the 99ers – named after the year of their inception – were ousted in the second round of the EBEL playoffs, they still qualified for a berth in the continental tournament and will again have an opportunity to contend for their first league title.
All-around, it was a more wholesome lifestyle than that experienced in the Eurasian KHL city of Yekaterinburg the year prior, when a language barrier presented a few challenges he hadn’t yet faced in his career. Speaking with LA Kings Insider from his home in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, King articulated how his view of the team’s two Stanley Cups has evolved since he left Los Angeles – and looked back on his controversial goal on Henrik Lundqvist in Game 2 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
LA Kings Insider: So, I saw 74 was taken in Graz – is that the reason you chose 12?
Dwight King: To be honest, it was one of them. 74 was actually my camp number in LA. Obviously, a lot of great memories with the number. More so in Russia – when I went there, they really wanted me to wear 74 to kind of relate to that, but 12 was actually just my childhood number that I grew up wanting to wear.
LAKI: How often do you make it back to L.A.?
DK: Actually not this year. Usually we go once an off-season just to catch up some of the friends that are still around there, but it’s usually been about one a year. But I just wasn’t able to squeeze it in this summer.
LAKI: I can’t believe I’ve gone this far without offering a congratulations! You turned 30 – what was the celebration like?
DK: Actually, turning 30 isn’t so much different, but I was very spoiled by my wife. She took me out to Kelowna for the weekend, so we left the kids with grandma and grandpa and got to spend about two and a half days away. Did a little bit of golfing and just kind of toured around downtown Kelowna, which was a nice surprise.
LAKI: So, this was a tough year for the team. How closely did you watch what went on last season?
DK: As far as watching games, the time difference was tough, but I got to see the highlights, which was kind of a daily routine, and obviously knowing guys who were still on the roster that I’m still friends with and still keep in touch with. It’s obviously a tough year for them. But that’s kind of the business – it happened to pretty much any team any other year. I just said, if they had any questions or if they wanted to talk, I can talk, but other than that, I’m just pretty much just a fan of the guys that I played with and continue to be friends with now.
LAKI: What resonates with you now – the bond that you had, the experience you had, the championships you won, the entire LA Kings experience? I’m sorry, Dwight, this is a very broad question.
DK: I think over time it kind of sets in a little bit more. Obviously for me, it was pretty much within half a year, our first championship, so it just kind of kept building for the first four years of my career, and now looking back, I’ve kind of taken in all the little memories that you’ve built along the way. It kind of sets in a little bit more. It’s stuff that you’ll cherish forever. Like you said, the older you get, the little more keen you are at picking up on the little things that you’ll remember forever.
LAKI: In that 2012 run, the team doesn’t win without a number of things settling into place, one of which was you and Jordan Nolan coming up and filling important spots in the lineup. When you and Jordan were both skating with Mike Richards in your first games back up with the team – I think it was that game in Dallas. What was it then that allowed you to maximize your skills and succeed in a number of important games for the team?
DK: I think it helped that we were both pretty young and pretty naïve just going into a situation. Obviously playing with Mike on that call-up right away, just giving us an opportunity to be comfortable with each other because we had played with each other up to that point in Manchester, and Mike’s just an adaptable player to play with. We went out there – they told us just to play. That made it a lot easier for us, and obviously going through it together, kind of crutching off each other when we needed it, we were fortunate enough to score early, so our confidence was high, too.
LAKI: There was a really interesting article by a Chicago writer – the Blackhawks remember some select moments of that 2014 series, but very few intricate details. They also lost that series. Now, five years removed, how much do you remember of it, and has your appreciation of that series grown since?
DK: The whole experience – not just Chicago … I’m probably not great with specific moments or specific highlights. Obviously there are a couple that stand out to me. In general, I’m just a guy who just takes it as a win more so than anything. If I watched highlights, I’m sure it would come a little more clearer to me, but at the end, when we found a way to win, those are the things that I’ll probably remember a little better.
DK: Basically, that’s how we were built as a team. It was preached every day to get to the front of the net and try to make things tough for the goaltenders. As far as that specific play for me, I believe it was McDonagh, the defenseman, and I was just worried about trying to get around him. Obviously, we were right at the edge of the crease while the puck came. I could understand nowadays if it wouldn’t count, so I could see the frustration there. But as far as we go, that’s what we were taught at that point, and what you try to do to stay effective.
LAKI: When we mention your name on social media, it sets of a little bit of a reaction. You seem to have really resonated with the LA Kings fanbase – particularly those on social media, and maybe as a little bit of a cult-like figure. Does that resonate at all with you?
DK: It is cool to have fan support – obviously I’m not too big on social media, so you’d be a little more aware of that than I am. I would always show appreciation to anybody that is a fan of our team and myself at that time, but as far as affecting me, they were some of the best memories of my life, and I’ll forever be grateful for going through that with the guys, and the situation we were in, and it’s nice to see that the fans got to enjoy the trip, too, being the first two championships for the Kings organization.
LAKI: What was the experience in the KHL like?
DK: It was an experience, that’s for sure. Obviously, their culture and their way of living is a little bit different from what you’re accustomed to in North America. Not to take anything away from the country itself – they just do things differently like they do in every other country in the world. As far as the transition, it was a little tougher because there was a language barrier and no real help with communication, so we just had the imports on the team, which are usually around five – obviously not all North Americans, but imports to Russia – and basically, that’s all you had for communication living there, and other than that you were kind of on your own. So, that part was tough, but hockey was hockey. Once you get on the ice, we had a decent team that made playoffs and fell short. In the end, I’m happy I did it. It probably wasn’t as smooth of a year as I would’ve loved to have, but it’s something that I could say I did.
LAKI: You see Rob Scuderi has gone into a position with Nashville, and I just saw Colin Fraser when we were at the draft, and he’s working for Chicago now. What other members of that team do you think would be guys that would be coaching or could go into executive or managerial roles?
DK: I honestly think if you put anybody’s name into the picture, I think everybody has the knowledge to be a benefit to any organization. I just don’t know if these guys at this point of life, if they want to commit themselves to that type of role, obviously. I think anybody with the winning culture that we had for the couple years, I think that experience alone would be beneficial to helping any organization in any role that would suit them.
LAKI: And that leads into the final question about culture. I guess this is a bit nebulous, but what did team culture mean to you and how did it form while you were with the Kings?
DK: I think with most teams, it starts with leadership. L.A. still has the leading core. Obviously, they were a couple years younger then, but they just kind of played by example, and that’s pretty relatable for any player. It’s a lot easier to follow someone into competition when they’re doing things at a high level, not just talking about it and maybe not performing, so I think that was a big thing. Also, the coaching staff prepared guys for the situation that was ahead. They were an intense group, but for that time and period it seemed to work well with the players we had in our room.
–Lead photo via Debora Robinson/NHLI
—Dwight King: Why does he smile so much?