Kings happy to be in Canada

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:26 PM ET

VANCOUVER – The Los Angeles Kings have not played a Canadian team in a playoff series since 1993 – the last year a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup.

That year the Kings played four Canadian teams, one in every round.

Calgary. Vancouver. Toronto. Montreal.

Returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and with more than half a roster of players who had never played a playoff game anywhere before, the Kings have been a study - opening their playoff careers in a Canadian city in the first round of Stanley season.

“I personally have liked it a lot,” said coach Terry Murray.

“It's a great way to kick off your career playing in Canada with all the media attention and everything involved. It puts you under the microscope more than you are used to being under it. It's a test to see how you are going to handle it,” he said of developing a young team to play deep into the playoffs every year.

Whatever happens in this series with the Vancouver Canucks, which switches to Los Angeles for Game 3 and 4 on Monday and Wednesday, this has been an experience to savor so far.

“This is a series they're going to remember their whole life,” said Murray.

General manager Dean Lombardi says there's a first time for every experience in life.

“It's a little more intense, no a lot more, when you're playing the playoffs in Canada. Most of these guys are Canadian kids who dreamed it. It's even better for them.

“From my point of view it tells you a lot about the upside of players. Playing in the playoffs is playing at another level. Playing in the playoffs in Canada just adds to everything. A lot of these kids have handled it pretty well.”

The Kings showed up to the host city of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and drove up to Gate 9 of G.M. Place, noticing Vancouver Canucks banners hanging where Olympic banners had hung two months earlier. They picked up papers with massive Stanley Cup preview sections and daily sports sections with pages and pages of coverage every day. And the Kings dressing room has been full of media, including the one and only scribe from Los Angeles, where there was one story - shorter than the column you are reading - in the Saturday paper.

“It's been so exciting to be in Canada with the atmosphere here. The attention is so magnified. It's just the very best way to experience playoff hockey,” said Dustin Brown, a first round draft pick from 2003, the first year of six-straight seasons out of the playoffs.

“It's definitely special when it's the very first series of your career. I don't think there's any better place to start it than in Canada. You can feel it right away. There's definitely a lot of hype. It's been really exciting,” said Anze Kopitar, the first round pick in 2005.

Jarret Stoll, who hasn't been in the playoffs since going to Game 7 of the final with the Edmonton Oilers four years ago, said it's great for the veteran guys to be back and fun watching the first timers at the same time.

“The young guys were all talking about getting chills for the opening face off,” he said of Game 1.

Drew Doughty, the No. 2 pick in the first round two years ago and a player who just had a gold medal Olympic experience here, said it's been everything he expected.

“It's pretty cool. During the national anthem of Game 1 I had chills going down my whole body. But it's not just an experience at the rink. It's sitting down and reading the papers at breakfast with all the coverage and seeing three or four people wearing Canucks jerseys on the sidewalks of every block downtown.”

Even Ryan Smyth, who has played playoff games with the New York Islanders and Colorado Avalanche since his years in Edmonton, says it's great to be back in a series in Canada.

“Everything is magnified to a new level,” he said.

“Obviously there's more of a buzz in Canada. But when the players talk about getting chills in their spine, I tell them about Edmonton. This is something but it isn't quite as loud here as it was there.”

Hey, some of these guys waited long enough to get this experience. Who knows how long they might have to wait to get that one?

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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