Ducks & Kings — A Rivalry in the Making

By Rick Devereux

Rivalries make sports interesting. A good rivalry, in any sport, could sell out a stadium between two mediocre teams and turn a meaningless game into the most intense contest of the year.
When the teams are good or are in a game of some importance, either when the season winds down as teams are fighting for playoff position or face each other in a post-season game, it could get downright nasty.

You would think that a natural rivalry would explode between the Los Angeles Kings and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for the simple fact that the teams play less than an hour from each other, but let’s take a closer look at what creates a rivalry to analyze the feud between these cross-town foes.

Just because two teams play close to each other doesn’t mean a rivalry will ensue. The games must be closely contested affairs. Take the Lakers and Clippers for example. You can’t get any closer than playing in the same building, yet there is no rivalry between the two clubs because the Lakers are one of the elite teams in all of sports while the Clippers, well, they have Billy Crystal cheering for them. Rivalries are all about emotions, and emotions are at their peak when games matter most when battling for a championship in the post season.

The closest thing to a rival either team has would be with Detroit since the Red Wings swept LA last year and Anaheim in both the 1996-97 and 1998-99 playoffs. The only problem with that is Detroit’s rivals are Colorado since the Avs and Red Wings regularly face one another in post-season play. But even when Detroit and Colorado face each other during the regular season, sparks are sure to fly and a bench-clearing brawl is one cross-check away. Which brings us to point number two when discussing rivalries.

Any good rivalry should have broken noses and scarred knuckles after the two collide in any contest. Who could forget when the goalies for the Avalanche and Wings met at center ice to drop the gloves? Suspensions always fly after the Miami Heat and New York Knicks battle in basketball. The Kings and Ducks got into fights right away when the two met in October, but for hockey, a simple fight is not enough, you need an all-out brawl.

In the opening game of the season last year, Anaheim and Dallas fought like hicks over the last Blue Ribbon as Ruslan Salei sidelined Stars star Mike Modano with ligament damage to his neck and a concussion. Also dancing like boxers were Jim McKenzie and Darryl Sydor, or at least McKenzie was dancing while Sydor lay on the ice in the fetal position.

The fight is important because it shows the teams care about beating the opposition. And if that isn’t possible, at least beating them up. But after an early season loss to the Kings, Anaheim’s Paul Kariya basically conceded that the Duck’s were playing without any heart. “Usually, after a game, you analyze it and figure out what went wrong,” Kariya said. “We started OK. They just out-hustled us. They won all the battles. They wanted the game more than we did. I don’t know why. We stunk it up.”

Duck defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky agreed that Anaheim played its ‘cross-town rivals’ with zero passion. “Obviously there’s no explanation,” he said referring to the 6-2 loss to the Kings in late October at the Staples Center. “We played like we didn’t care. We played all right in the first period, and after the second Kings goal, we just gave up for some reason. We didn’t take it to them. They just killed us.”

That kind of effort, or lack thereof, rubs off onto the fans. Fights show the fans that the teams actually do not like one another, which creates a higher energy level for the crowd and brings up point number three …

A rivalry must exist in the stands as well as on the playing field. The Knicks-Indiana Pacers rivalry is all about New York backer Spike Lee and how much he jaws with the opposition. Because Reggie Miller talks back to Lee, and has also declared his hatred for the Big Apple, a rivalry exists. The Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raider fans are notorious no matter whom they are playing, but when those two teams butt heads there is as much action in the stands then on the field.

The fans might be where a rivalry between the Ducks and the Kings is most heated at the present moment. Los Angeles snuffs its nose at Orange County as O.C. residents laugh at the arrogance of Angelinos, and this carries over to sports in general and hockey specifically. Even though they play in different leagues, Angel fans are a little envious of the history of the Dodgers while LA fans laugh at the mediocrity of the OC organization.

The two hockey clubs are similar to their baseball counter-parts where King fans criticize the Ducks of being a “Mickey-Mouse organization.” It’s true that the Ducks are a Mickey-Mouse organization considering they are owned by Disney, but Duck fans point out that even though management spends money like they are bankrupt, at least they never had an owner actually file for it.

Duck fans used to be the best sport fans in Southern California until last year. The Pond is very proud of the fact that it sold out 98% of the regular season games from 1993 to 1999, but it had just eight capacity crowds last season and this year’s home opener only drew a crowd of 16,520, or 654 short of a sellout. It was the first time the Mighty Ducks didn’t sell out a home opener. When the two teams met in the first of a home-home stand that started in Anaheim, the announced crowd of 14,098, with the attendance actually considerably less, was close to being a majority of King supporters. Two days later the same two teams drew 18,118 to the 18,500-seat Staples Center in an overwhelmingly pro-Kings crowd.

The combination of all three, meeting each other in the playoffs, pummeling the other guy’s face, and rowdy fan participation, are what makes people circle dates in the schedule to remind them of “the big game.” The Kings and Ducks have a bit of a way to go for this to become a true rivalry, but it is definitely on its way.