It was 106 degrees Wednesday, in late June, and I was headed to Wynn Las Vegas where the NHL was holding a fancy chicken dinner to honor, among others, its new champions – these upstarts called the Kings, from the ice hockey hotbed known as Los Angeles.
And I was struggling to come up with an Original Six list of reasons why all of this made sense.
Growing up near Chicago, where stuff freezes, it was easier to be a hockey fan, to have favorite hockey players.
First and foremost, there was Bobby Hull, the Golden Jet.
I would have been a Bobby Hull fan regardless, because he was one of the first great goal scorers and he played for my team, the Blackhawks, when I liked ballplayers and hockey players and racecar drivers and astronauts more than I liked girls.
But then an amazing thing happened: My cousins Phil, Gary and Rusty moved to the village of Addison, Ill., on the west side of Chicago – which at first was a bad thing, because these were cousins I liked, and Addison seemed far away. I knew my dad would never drive the Pontiac station wagon there.
But when my cousins arrived in Addison, they discovered their next-door neighbor was none other than the great Bobby Hull. I kid you not, there he was, the Golden Jet himself, mowing his lawn, checking his mailbox, taking out his trash.
This was better than discovering oil in your backyard.
And though my dad still wouldn’t drive to the other side of Chicago, at Christmas my brother and I would receive hockey sticks autographed by all of the Blackhawks – except for Chico Maki and Little Lou Angotti, who must have been injured and not at practice that day – courtesy of our favorite cousins and the great Bobby Hull.
Two of my other favorite hockey players were Ned Braden of the Charlestown Chiefs because, let’s face it, it takes a lot of moxie to strip down to one’s jockstrap at center ice in the championship game of the Federal League playoffs against Syracuse. And Pierre Mondou, mostly for the way his name rolled off the tongue like a piece of butterscotch candy.
With a name like that, there were only three things that Pierre Mondou could have been: A hockey player, a Formula One driver or maybe a chef.
Alas, after scoring 30 goals three times during his eight seasons with the Montreal Canadiens, he was poked in the eye after scoring a goal and never played another game.
Not only did Pierre Mondou have a cool name, he had sadly proven my mom prophetic. She had warned my brother and me that if we kept running around with sticks or other sharp objects, we were liable to “poke somebody’s eye out.” We didn’t think it actually could happen.
And then on Wednesday at the Wynn, it all came back full circle, like a one-legged man killing a penalty.
The girl from the NHL office inferred that space on the red carpet would be tighter than the sweater that porn star wore while sitting behind the Kings’ bench during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Yet, I still entertained thoughts about asking Vince Vaughn, or the lead singer from Loverboy, about what Bobby Hull might have made of all this pomp and Las Vegas circumstance. And of all these slinky cocktail dresses with the plunging necklines.
But Vince apparently was off driving the Zamboni and Loverboy must’ve had a gig at the Moose Jaw Holiday Inn. So I asked Ted Lindsay instead.
“In our day, the celebration with the Stanley Cup was when they presented it at center ice,” said the hockey Hall of Famer, who was briefly teammates with Bobby Hull, will turn 87 in July and looks fantastic. “The parade was when you took it from center ice to the dressing room. Then if you were lucky enough to win it again the next year, that’s the next time you saw it.”
On the red carpet, Kings captain Dustin Brown was sort of trying to keep the young women and their plunging necklines from getting their fingerprints – among other things – on Ted Lindsay’s name, which is engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup in four places.
Inside the Encore Theater, they soon would be paying homage to the greats of the game and – I still can’t get over this – the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
It was 106 degrees outside and hell had frozen over.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.