LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Before the late 1980s attendance at a Kings game was sparse and the only buzz at the Great Western Forum was for Showtime and the Lakers.
Then a trade that shocked the NHL started a hockey explosion on the West Coast.
In August of 1988, Edmonton Oilers star Wayne Gretzky was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for two little-known players in return, thus paving the way hockey in California.
The eventual all-time leading scorer came to the Kings with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski in exchange for Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas and $15 million in cash.
“That’s actually when I became a fan, I had never watched a hockey game before and a buddy brought me to a game and I was hooked ever since,” Eric Frazier, of Santa Clarita said. “It’s amazing the way those athletes can move on the ice like that.”
Hockey fans were out in droves this weekend at the 2017 NHL All-Star Fan Fest and the All-Star Game Sunday.
“It did a lot for the sport, it brought all the fans out because he brought his skills and dedication to the team,” Leanne Frazier said. “He brought the excitement and dedication, and it just blossomed in L.A. They call people bandwagon fans but in L.A., it’s not like that because the fans and the players are tough. If you look at the players going all the way back to the 1960s they are very tough and so are the fans.”
Craig Cunning, who came here from New York in 1975, didn’t see the passion for the sport like he did back east. Then the Great One changed everything.
“He made hockey in Southern California,” Cunning said. “Yea, it’s come a long way. People didn’t even know about hockey when I came out here. In New York people are playing it everywhere in the rinks and even the parking lots. I couldn’t find people playing anywhere. Now it’s big.”
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With the success of the Kings, soon came the Anaheim Ducks then the San Jose Sharks.
“Three teams in California? That’s was unheard of when I came out here,” Cunning said.