SPIRIT OF THE HOLIDAYS

Wednesday, 12.21.2005 / 12:43 PM / Los Angeles Kings | News
Los Angeles Kings


When it came to Thanksgiving Day, the Kings enjoyed their (somewhat) traditional dinner at an altitude of about 30,000 feet following a Thursday night contest in Nashville as the team winged its way to Los Angeles while downing turkey wings.

The collection of Kings, most from the US and Canada, a pair from Slovakia and one each from Russia and Sweden, took to the day in a different way.

Canadians enjoy their form of Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October. Mattias Norstrom, from Sweden, said he learned about the US holiday when he studied it in school.

Pavol Demitra, out of Slovakia, said there was no Slovakian equivalent. Moscow-born Alexander Frolov talked about a Russian holiday that was sort of close to Thanksgiving but rather than saying "thanks" they say, "I'm sorry."

Christmas, meanwhile, seems as universal as Santa Claus. And the Kings, like everyone else, are looking forward to December 25…and the sunshine of Southern California.

"This year, it seems weird to me with Christmas carols and lights and all that kind of stuff all over," said first-year Kings goaltender Jason LaBarbera. "It doesn't seem like Christmas time. It's definitely been interesting."

"I grew up in the snow," he added. "It always snowed up north in Prince George, British Columbia. "The last two Christmases I spent in Florida, just to get away from Hartford. I played with Hartford in the AHL so I spent about three or four days in Florida each of the past two Christmases."

Another first-year King, forward Tom Kostopoulos, is from the Canadian province of Ontario. He played in Manchester, New Hampshire last year and had previously played all five of his pro seasons in Pennsylvania, splitting time with the Penguins and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.

"Yeah it's pretty amazing the difference here," he said when asked to describe the disparity between his first Christmas in California compared to what he is used to.

"Last week we're hanging out here on the beach with our feet in the ocean, and I was talking to my parents back home and they have a foot of snow. So Christmas will definitely be different.

"It's tough to picture no snow. The weather here is amazing, so you can't complain about it. The other day I was at the Grove and they have fake snow coming off the roof and the whole Christmas spirit going. I don't think there's a lack of Christmas spirit here. Everywhere you go around LA, everyone is pretty into it. It will just be different without snow."

Kings fans probably hope that young, talented winger Alexander Frolov spends a lot of future holidays in Los Angeles.

He, too, talked about the differences between spending Christmas here as opposed to his native Russia.

"First of all it's a different time," Frolov said. "Our Christmas is in January. It's a little bit different. We celebrate it differently. We get presents for everyone and everyone goes to church. It's a huge celebration. All the priests go into Moscow and they show it on TV."

Frolov said that Christmas is not the best-known holiday in Russia.

"I think it's the biggest day in the country outside New Year's. For kids, saying 'Happy New Year' is the big one."

Slovakian-born defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky has played for the Kings since 2000. He came to this country speaking very little English, but when asked about his favorite present growing up, his eyes lit up like, well, a Christmas tree.

"I remember I was very happy when my parents got hockey helmets," Visnovsky said. "I slept in the helmet."

Some things seem universal indeed.

"Christmas here and back in Slovakia is similar," Visnovsky claimed. "We have Christmas on December 24 and we have a dinner at 5 or 6 o'clock. After dinner we go to the Christmas tree and open Christmas gifts.

"It's a good day for the kids because it's a beautiful day. I love Christmas Day. There's good and special food and gifts. I love it."

Defenseman Mike Weaver did not recall getting a hockey helmet as a youngster. Still, a hockey-gift was instantly recalled when asked.

"My favorite gift for Christmas growing up was when I walked downstairs and my parents always had the one big gift outside the box, unwrapped, just sitting there and then they had a whole bunch of smaller gifts all wrapped.

"One year I came downstairs and there were two mini-stick hockey nets. Everyone played mini-sticks when they were younger. After that I had many 'Hockey Nights in Canada' at my house. Every night seemed like Hockey Night in Canada. All my friends came over. It was one of the best gifts I ever got growing up, especially growing up in Toronto."

As for Weaver's plans for this year?

"Now my wife and I this year are just going to relax. It's going to be a little different here in L.A. without the snow. I think we're just going to get a little Christmas tree and kick back."

LaBarbera too recalled his favorite present. And it does not seem like, to this day, he is over the disappointment that came with it.

"My favorite gift was the most disappointing one too. I remember there was a He-Man action figure that came out, and the commercial, the way they showed it, said that you could turn the He-Man button and he'd punch you. In the commercial it looked like you could actually feel him punching you.

"So when I got it, all he had were these caps in his back. When you turned them he made a big pop, but, obviously, it didn't hit you or punch you. I was so disappointed because I was like 'Wow, this action figure can actually punch you.'

"So it was exciting but when I opened it and realized what it was, I was kind of disappointed."