RAITIS KNOWS THE WAY TO LA

Friday, 02.01.2008 / 1:27 PM / Features
By Thomas LaRocca  - LAKings.com Staff Writer
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RAITIS KNOWS THE WAY TO LA
It reads like a map on the wall of an AAA office in the Midwest somewhere.

Flint, Mich. Macon, Ga. Tulsa, Okla. Pensacola, Fla. New Haven, Conn. Hershey, Pa. Toledo, Ohio. Baton Rouge, La. Rockford, Ill. Milwaukee, Wisc. Hamilton, Ontario.

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Those 11 cities were at one time home to American Hockey League, United Hockey League, Eastern Hockey League and Central Hockey League teams that Kings forward Raitis Ivanans played for prior to reaching the National Hockey League.

And just to hammer the point home (from the department of redundancy department) Ivanans was a General, a Whoopee, an Oiler, an Ice Pilot, a Knight, a Bear, a member of the Storm, a King Fish, an IceHog, an Admiral and a Bull Dog before signing with the Los Angeles Kings on July 13, 2006.

That is a lot of jersey changing and a lot of moving.

And that is not even including his four games with the Montreal Canadiens in 2005-06.

So news that the 6-3, 263 lbs. enforcer had just signed a two-year extension to stay in Los Angeles must have been music to this large man’s ears.

“I have been bouncing around for so many years and not having any stability, it is a huge plus and I am very happy about that,” Ivanans said of his contract extension. “I am just happy to be here and happy that they want me for the next two years.

“Really I am just happy to be able to play and to have an opportunity in the league.”

It took a long time for Ivanans to get that opportunity.

He made his North American professional debut with the Flint Generals of the UHL as an 18-year old. The Riga, Latvia native would play in 18 games, earning an assist and 20 penalty minutes that year, hoping to one day play in the NHL.

Nine years, 11 teams, 446 games and 1,525 penalty minutes later, Ivanans made the Montreal Canadiens roster out of camp, with his NHL debut occurring Oct. 8, 2005 vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“I always knew that I just needed a break and I could get there,” he said. “I always knew that if I could just get that one shot, I could play in the National Hockey League.”

Three days later, he got into his first NHL fight and it was a big one, as he dropped the gloves with then-Ottawa defenseman Zdeno Chara, the tallest player to ever play in the NHL.

The 6-9 Chara and 6-4 Ivanans squared off and Chara connected with three shots, including one as the two fell to the ice.

Ivanans suffered a fractured facial bone, missed a month and was returned to Hamilton.

But Ivanans had worked too hard to get where he was and an injury was not going to hold him back.

So he returned to his craft, and to basically what got him there, and racked up 120 PIMs in 43 games with Hamilton, while also earning a two-game stint in Montreal that season.

The Canadiens, however, did not resign him that offseason and Ivanans chose to sign a one-year deal with Dean Lombardi and the Kings on July 6, excelling in his role of enforcer in Los Angeles.

Ivanans sums up his job this way: “Whenever the game gets rough or we need a pick up to get the team going, that is my role. That is what I do.

“I look after my players so they don’t get hurt.”

Ivanans did a lot of ‘looking after his players,’ finishing eighth in the NHL with 144 penalty minutes while also picking up his first NHL goal at Dallas on Oct. 12, 2006.

He would finish with four goals and four assists and would re-up with the Kings for another year on March 1 rather than enter free agency at the end of the 2006-07 season.

This year has been more of the same, as Ivanans has contributed 2-2=4 with 80 PIMs, despite missing seven games after taking a Rob Blake slap shot to the face in November.

Though 2007-08 has not gone as most have hoped, Ivanans, despite living in Rockford, Ill. – one of his previous stops – with his wife during the off season, is very happy to call Los Angeles his home.

“We have lots of young talent and I believe we are going to get better,” he said. “I am very happy to be here for it.”