No Place Like "Home"
The soon-to-be well-traveled Kings play an array of "home" games all over the globe over the next few weeks
For the second time in franchise history, the Kings will open a season in Europe, with games in Sweden and Germany on Oct. 7 and 8. But that’s only part of the trip, a 20-day journey that started Monday and includes 10 cities, four time zones and thousands of miles.
It’s the Kings World Tour ’11, with stops in Kansas City, Denver, Anaheim, Las Vegas, Hamburg, Stockholm, Berlin, Baltimore, Newark and Philadelphia. A trip that extensive requires enormous prep work, and the Kings’ staff has been at it for months.
The Kings, almost certainly, are the first team ever to play games in "Sin City,’’ the capital of the former Kingdom of Prussia and America’s birthplace, all in the same month.
Here’s the rundown:
- Monday, Sept. 26: Fly from Los Angeles to Kansas City, play Tuesday.
- Tuesday, Sept. 27: Late-night flight to Denver, play Wednesday night, then fly to Los Angeles.
- Friday, Sept. 30: Bus to Anaheim, play that night.
- Saturday, Oct. 1: Fly to Las Vegas in the morning, play that night, then fly overnight to Hamburg, Germany, in advance of exhibition game Tuesday.
- Tuesday, Oct. 4: Play game, then late-night flight to Stockholm.
- Friday, Oct. 7: Play game, then late-night flight to Berlin.
- Saturday, Oct. 8: Play game, then all-night flight to Maryland for three-day mini-camp.
- Wednesday, Oct. 12: Take train to Newark.
- Thursday, Oct. 13: Play game, then take bus to Philadelphia.
- Saturday, Oct. 15: Play game, then fly overnight to Los Angeles.
Much of the work was done over the summer. Marshall Dickerson, the Kings’ director of operations, took a trip to Germany and Sweden over the summer to do ``scouting.’’
Dickerson is in charge of all team travel and accommodations during the season. A veteran of the NHL wars while in North America, Dickerson is able to rely on a regular contact list of bus drivers, hotel employees and arena staff for coordination.
In Europe, it’s a different story. The Kings have never played in Germany or Sweden, and only a couple staffers have familiarity with the countries, so it’s a new ballgame.
Dickerson’s scouting trip was invaluable. He got a first-hand look at the team hotels. He visited the rinks and took pictures of the locker rooms, so that the Kings’ training staff would have an idea, in advance, of how and where it could set up equipment.
Dickerson familiarized himself with the cities, to the point of walking the streets to find the local coffee shops and other amenities.
On the road, Dickerson’s job is the make sure, as much as possible, that the players are able to function on auto-pilot and limit their concerns to hockey. That becomes all the more important when the team visits unfamiliar cities. If a player has a question, Dickerson wants to be able to answer in short order, and with accuracy.
Dickerson did the same job for the Kings at the start of the 2007-08 season, which they opened with two games in England.
That goes not only for the players but for the entire traveling party, which will number approximately 70, up from the 45 that travels for most regular-season road games.
Dickerson is far from alone, though, as almost every department within the Kings’ organization has been involved. The business side has played a big role, since all three of the Europe arenas are owned and/or operated by AEG, the Kings’ parent company.
``Taking the Kings to different places is, I think, a good thing for the NHL but also for the Kings,’’ Kings chief operating officer Chris McGowan said. ``I think it’s just a unique thing. The players, it’s tough on them because the travel requirements are a little extensive, but I think when they look back on their careers, to be able to say they played NHL games in Berlin and Stockholm, I think that’s something they’re going to look back on fondly.
“It’s also going to be cool to see how many Anze Kopitar fans come to Berlin. For a lot of those people, that’s going to be their only chance to ever see him play a live game, and I think that’s really unique. When we went to London (in 2007) and we played in Austria, I was amazed at the amount of Kopitar fans who were there. I think that’s just a cool thing to be a part of. Then, financially, it all makes sense for us.
“The league does very well on it and it’s another way for us to help AEG, by playing in AEG buildings, so it makes sense all around.”
The broadcasting side has been at work also. On radio, engineers and technicians need to be secured so that live broadcasts can be pulled off. On television, producers are working to find the best setup for Bob Miller and Jim Fox, who will call the Berlin game on FS West from a Los Angeles studio using an international feed, as often happens in overseas games.
Then there’s the mere comfort factor. Traveling overseas -- never mind playing high-level sports at the same time -- is taxing on the body, and the team has been working throughout the offseason to minimize the impact of jet lag.
To that end, the Kings have done two significant things. They’ve been working alongside a sleep consultant, who has offered suggestions about the ideal times and lengths for rest in order to get acclimated to the time changes as quickly as possible.
Second, coming back, the Kings arranged a schedule that calls for four days off, then games in New Jersey and Philadelphia. The belief is that a slow trip home, with a few days in the East, will be less jarring on the body than coming straight to Los Angeles, like they did after London in ‘07.
In between, the Kings have scheduled a mini-camp style event in the Baltimore area, in part because of coach Terry Murray’s familiarity from his days coaching the Washington Capitals. The Kings will practice and have a couple team-bonding events.
Not to be lost in all this is the actual games. The Kings got off to an outstanding start last season -- 12-3-0 -- a start that helped serve as a buoy during a midseason slump and helped them reach the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
Murray has stressed the importance of a strong start again this season, but will the players be distracted and thrown off by the novelty of the trip and all the miles? The Kings hope not, thus all the months of intense preparation behind the scenes.
The good news? The last three Stanley Cup champions played their regular-season openers in Europe.