This story, a follow-up to 2015’s Dwight King: Why Does He Smile So Much? is something I’ve actually wanted to write for a little bit. Going back, it always seemed as though the Kings’ goal celebrations were, on the curve, more subdued than the average NHL team’s. Perhaps this is up for debate; there have, after all, been formal handshakes, cup grabs, body checks and jazz hands following L.A. goals of varying resonance. But their on-ice juju, forged and made honest through Terry Murray and Darryl Sutter’s osmosis and molded by a blue-collar captain like Dustin Brown and through Anze Kopitar’s lead-by-example selflessness, and through the trials of playing and winning deep into the spring, doesn’t scream “1993 Teemu Selanne.”
I was originally planning on writing this story about players like Brown and Jeff Carter, whose celebrations can be muted but also include ample personality when the situation calls for it. Brown smiles a big, gap-toothed grin when returning to the bench and provided one of the most memorable celebrations when capping his four-goal night with a fist pump on one knee two seasons ago, while Carter even offers some Bernie Nicholls flair with a roundhouse fist pump and balancing on one leg when the situation is ripe.
And then we all met Juice.
This is said with endearing respect – and is something he’s heard from teammates past and present – but Adrian Kempe’s emotional reaction to scoring is akin pulling into departures traffic at LAX. Not the choked LAX traffic on Christmas Eve, obviously, but rather a Thursday in April. He’s not angry, but almost… inconvenienced?
“I think he doesn’t ever even smile,” Trevor Lewis said. “He’s probably trying to do it for his Instagram.”
This does not represent his personality, at least off the ice. In the dressing room, around his teammates, when it’s time to work, he still displays the unselfish disposition one would expect under the influences of a father who coaches and manages and a brother eight years his senior with a similarly established work ethic. While any comparison of tenacity to Mike Richards’ should draw scrutiny, Kempe does align with Dustin Penner’s pithy 2021 observation of the ex-King, who “arrives to every part of the ice with ill humor.” He’s a great teammate, he’s helpful with staff and the media and doesn’t seem to let too much bother him. Except for scoring goals.
“I think my brother shows more emotions than I do,” Kempe said. “I’ve heard it a lot since I was growing up that I don’t show emotions a lot when I score. It’s just been a thing, I guess. Sometimes I get happier when I pass to someone else who scores than when I score myself. It’s just been a thing for a while.”
It was a particularly timely topic because Todd McLellan recently shared his appreciation over Alex Ovechkin’s unadulterated joy for the game. “I see guys in our league and maybe on our team that scored a goal and they’re not that happy about it sometimes. ‘Let’s go line up again,’” he said the morning of the Washington game. There are better things to do than archive the events of last season, but if you were to, and in support of this point, you’d recall Willie Desjardins’ regular praise – while in a difficult spot – for how much joy Ilya Kovalchuk felt when he scored.
It’s not that Kempe doesn’t love the game. To the extreme contrary, you have to pry him from the ice. He’s from Örnsköldsvik, basically Sweden’s most hockey-focused city, and, absent of an extended playoff run to embark on, plays World Championship in the spring. Kempe’s love for the game is worth the style penalty for using italics.
He just… doesn’t usually emote after scoring. “Sometimes it all depends on what kind of goal you score,” he said, and perhaps that’s it. To date, he has 40 in 255 regular season games and none from his four purposeful playoff games two years ago. When he does score that first postseason goal, we’ll probably have to revisit this discussion.
“When I score, I get really happy, so I don’t know what the deal is,” Lewis said. “But Juice, yeah, and I think Carts, it kind of looks like he’s done it before, you know? But he’s kind of got the same celebration every time. Carts kind of has his ritual. … fist pump and he’ll just put the one leg up.
“Brownie’s big celebrations, he gives you a hard one. I remember one in Anaheim, I think it was last year or two years ago. He gave a hard, hard fist pump. I don’t know what it is, but Kovalchuk, he was always a big celebrator, too. I think it’s good. I think it’s fun to see people celebrate and be happy for their goals.”