Hello, Old Friend
Dustin Penner, the only player to win a Cup with both teams, checks in on the Battle for SoCal
To Southern California hockey fans, the name ‘Dustin Penner’ is synonymous with…well…a lot of things.
Arguably the most colorful player to ever wear the jerseys of the Los Angeles Kings AND Anaheim Ducks, Penner is the only player to have won a Stanley Cup with both teams. Considering each team has only won one Championship, it is a unique accomplishment, and one that will likely remain his and only his, for a while.
Currently a forward for the Washington Capitals, where he’s been since being traded out of Anaheim in March, Penner first came to Southern California when he was signed by the Ducks as a free agent in 2004 after playing college hockey at the University of Maine.
Penner spent time in Southern California during the lockout in 2005, and won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007, his first full year with the Club.
In the summer of 2007, Penner signed with the Edmonton Oilers, which is where he played until a trade brought him to the Kings on February 28, 2011. Penner then won the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012, his first full season in Los Angeles.
“After playing in ’06-’07 with the Ducks, then in ’08 being away for a few years, you get an appreciation for how much the game has grown and how much it has evolved out here,” Penner points out.
Happy in Southern California, and owning a home in Newport Beach, Penner signed with Anaheim once more in the Summer of 2013, with the hope that he would be able to participate in the Stadium Series Game between the Kings and Ducks at Dodger Stadium, which he did, in January of this year.
“I was very excited to be a part of that, it was one of the reasons I signed in Anaheim, amongst others,” admits Penner. “The theatrics of it, and just playing outdoor hockey in California, it was a very exciting game, regardless of what actually happened, just to walk out in front of that many people onto the ice surface and play in front of them.”
“It was kind of a brochure for the rest of the teams and fans of the league to show that this is how it is here,” Penner adds.
Being only one season removed from both the Kings and the Ducks, Penner has close ties to both organizations and a vested interest in the Western Conference Semifinal matchup between his former Clubs.
“I always thought it was a good rivalry, a fun one because of the proximity of the teams, but I think this will really escalate any future games, as far as the intensity of the rivalry,” explains Penner, who keeps in touch with friends from both teams.
Like many others, Penner trusts that this playoff series will finally allow this rivalry to resonate with the players and not just the fans, as it has in the years leading up to this crosstown playoff matchup.
“It’s not just going to the next round that’s on the line,” Penner reveals. “A huge factor for a lot of athletes is pride. There are guys who have been on Olympic teams together, so (Drew) Doughty wants to be able to tell (Corey) Perry, because both live in London (Ontario) in the summer, ‘Hey, buy me a beer because we beat you in the playoffs.’ Things like that – those little games within a game that make life fun.”
Continues Penner: “Trust me, I say it’s fun, but it’s probably not a lot of fun right now, the idea of losing to the other guy, so they’re going to fight tooth and nail to win.”
Another element that Penner identified as a ‘game within a game’ is Perry squirting water into Kings forward, Jeff Carter’s glove, while Carter had his glove sitting atop the boards. The incident has been widely circulated via videos and GIF files throughout social media, and Penner thought it was so funny that he posted it to his Twitter feed.
“It’s not the end of the world, it’s just water. For fans who are so invested in the rivalry, they bleed orange or bleed black, that’s grounds for war,” says Penner, who said that while playing the Kings earlier this season, the same thing happened to his glove.
Having played in both markets, Penner knows that each of the teams boast extremely passionate fan bases, but also acknowledges the advantage the Kings have in the size of their fan base, which was evident in the number of Kings fans who showed up for Games 1 and 2 of the series at Honda Center.
“It’s tough on the Ducks because they haven’t been around as long as the Kings. When I won the Cup with the Kings, I was impressed with how many Kings fans were in Orange County. There’s 45 years of repressed Kings fans down here,” explains Penner.
Being back in SoCal, Penner has been able to see firsthand how much the rivalry means to hockey fans in the region.
“Everyone wants to be in a social environment to cheer on their teams, and I walk around and see both jerseys and there’s an atmosphere that I haven’t seen before,” says Penner, who knows local bar and restaurant owners who are capitalizing on the Battle for SoCal.
While watching Games 1 and 2 of the series with buddies, Penner noted how intense and chippy the games were and couldn’t help but wish he were playing.
“I was kind of hoping it would happen last year,” Penner confessed about the playoff edition of the Freeway Faceoff.
When asked if he would have liked to participate in the first of certainly many more playoff series between the two teams, Penner didn’t hesitate, and in fact, nearly cut off the question:
“I would have loved to.”
Tonight, Penner will be watching Game 3 from the stands at STAPLES Center, but he certainly won’t be the only one wishing he were on the ice.
After all, it would just make the series that much more interesting.
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