LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Kings raised their first Stanley Cup championship banner Saturday in a joyous ceremony delayed more than three months by the NHL lockout.
With help from the family of a victim of the Sandy Hook massacre, the Kings hung their black-and-white banner in the rafters at Staples Center and received their championship rings before their season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The ceremony was the culmination of Los Angeles’ improbable rampage through the postseason last year, when the Kings became the first eighth-seeded team to capture the Cup.
The Kings hadn’t played on the Staples Center ice since June 11, when they completed a six-game victory over the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup finals. With the 6-1 win, the 45-year-old franchise secured its first NHL championship.
After a lengthy video presentation in the darkened arena while fans waved glowsticks, Nancy Anschutz – the wife of Kings owner Phil Anschutz – handed the ring boxes to the players as they skated to center ice.
After the Stanley Cup’s handlers brought the trophy through the crowd and onto the ice, the Kings relayed it around the perimeter of the rink, with each player raising it one more time.
Even two injured Kings suited up for the ceremony: Anze Kopitar, the club’s co-scoring leader in the postseason, and defenseman Willie Mitchell, the oldest player on last year’s team. Los Angeles retained every player who skated in the playoffs last season, a remarkable feat in pro sports.
The Kings’ leaders then picked up the banner from the family of Ana Marquez-Greene and Los Angeles hockey stars Marcel Dionne and Rogie Vachon, skating it across the ice and raising it to the rafters amid thunderous applause.
Los Angeles’ accomplishments during its 16-4 run through the postseason are well-known to every Kings fan by now.
Starting with their upset of Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver, the Kings set NHL records by leading all four of their playoff series 3-0 and winning 10 straight road games. Los Angeles thrashed the Western Conference’s top three seeds, never played an elimination game, and only trailed for about 184 minutes in the entire postseason.
With plenty of time to plan during the lockout, the Kings also made a few changes to their arena to honor their first championship, notably moving their banners and retired numbers off the Staples Center wall and hanging them in the rafters.
The Kings had followed the tradition of the Lakers, their co-tenants in the Forum and Staples, by hanging their banners on the walls of the arenas. But after doubling their number of banners from two to four, the Kings joined every other NHL team and moved their banners into the rafters.
The club also made new banners for the transition, hanging its Western Conference title banner before fans even entered the arena next to a similar new banner celebrating the 1992-93 conference title. The Kings hung new ones for their five retired numbers, including Dionne, Vachon and Wayne Gretzky.
The Kings’ celebration began early Saturday outside the arena, where thousands of black-jerseyed fans gathered for a street fair.
General manager Dean Lombardi and Kings ownership executive Tim Leiweke greeted fans at the door and even handed out hot dogs.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was in the building, but didn’t go on the ice.
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