MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. – There was too much silence inside the Shark's Cove to think anyone really cared that the Los Angeles Kings were back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 19 years. With sun pouring through a pair of raised garage doors, waves percolating a block-and-a-half down the road, rush hour not yet through 15 minutes of its crawl and the Kings, locked in a scoreless tie with the New Jersey Devils, eliciting not so much as a whisper, everything seemed pretty normal here in Southern California.
Well, except that more than half of the 48 TVs inside the Cove were tuned into hockey, including the 60-incher flanked by a pair of surf boards, while LeBron James and the Miami Heat were relegated to a few 20-some-inchers dotting the walls inside this beach town bar.
Hockey may not matter everywhere in Los Angeles, but it does 20 miles away at a bar in the heart of Manhattan Beach, a super-hip surf town that spills into the Pacific Ocean. So when Colin Fraser scooted a puck past Martin Brodeur halfway through the first period to give the Kings a 1-0 lead in Game 1, a packed Cove erupted. Turns out they hadn't been disinterested but rather were listening intently to the NBC broadcast.
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Fraser's goal brought them out of their coma and their seats. High fives and gushing with pride all around, this is their hockey team.
But how does this happen? In a room where half the people are wearing board shorts and the other half wish they were, how does hockey come to matter?
At the Cove, it's because of the owner's sister-in-law.
Years ago, Scott McColgan and his brother left Massachusetts for California. They didn't have any money, but it didn't matter. They were in their 20s and chasing a dream that, eventually, landed them each a bride.
Being from Canada, McColgan's new sister-in-law steered her kids toward hockey. McColgan's kids followed and just like that a hockey family was born in Southern California.
They learned to play at the Kings' training facility just up the beach in El Segundo, which is churning out some good players. Last year, McColgan's nephew Shane was drafted in the fifth round by the New York Rangers. Seated across a table from him Wednesday night at his uncle's restaurant was Beau Bennett, another product out of El Segundo who two years ago became Southern California's highest-ever draft pick when the Pittsburgh Penguins took him in the first round.
Growing up in Massachusetts, Scott McColgan and his brother never played hockey. In California, it's become a huge part of their lives. Scott's son Logan, 14, travels all over the country with the Junior Kings. And his 17-year-old nephew Luke may be the best of the bunch. Through them, Scott became a hockey fan.
This is how a Manhattan Beach sports bar became a place to watch the Kings and, Wednesday night, the place in Southern California to be for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Devils eventually got to the Kings late in the second period on a ricochet that gave goaltender Jonathan Quick no chance. The Cove goers sunk back into their chairs. 1-1. A scoreless third period led to overtime, where the Devils and Kings traded blows, each drawing an oooh or an ahhhh, everyone knowing all it takes is one to end it.
With just over eight minutes gone in the extra period, Anze Kopitar took a pass from Justin Williams and squirted into the Devils zone all alone. The Cove rose to its feet. Kopitar skated in on Brodeur, waiting long enough for anyone to take a swig of beer, not that anyone did at this moment, before yanking the puck to his left and wristing it under Brodeur's pads.
The Cove goers, already on their feet, of course went nuts looking for anyone to high five. The Kings were up 1-0, just three more wins to go, and right on cue they started to chant as one:
"We want the Cup! We want the Cup!"
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