AT THE STANLEY CUP
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I didn’t grow up being a Hockey fan. Chris Rowles was the only kid in the neighborhood who followed the NHL that I knew. He was of course a fan of the “Broad Street Bullies”. Back in the 70’s, the champion Philadelphia Flyers had the most physical and most penalized team ever. Chris’ favorite player was Dave “the Hammer” Schultz, who was the record holder for penalty minutes. At school, Chris would come up from behind and slam you into the wall while uttering things like “Schultz checks him into the boards” like he was announcing play by play.
When I finally started going to Hockey games, it was because we received free tickets at the dealership that I managed. I had no Idea! Hockey is the greatest live sport that there is. When televised, most sports just follow the ball. In hockey the action is everywhere. The physical play, line changes, movement without the puck and fights are amazing to see up close. I was fortunate to get regular use of season tickets from Bob at the radio station. Really great seats too, third row from the glass. Hockey, up close and personal.
In 1988 “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky arrived in Los Angeles. Gretzky was amazing to watch. In 1993 the Los Angeles Kings made it to the Stanley Cup Championship. We had been to quite a few games that year and were really feeling it. We had tickets to one playoff game and loved it. I really wanted to see a championship game with the Great One leading the way. Stanley Cup tickets were just too expensive to buy.
Suzanne, our comptroller at work, heard me talking about missing the game. She called me into her office and told me that her cousin worked at the Forum. She said that I could take a friend, and that he would get us into one game of the series. I immediately told my pal Larry Krystal. Larry was a great salesman, a great hockey fan and fun to be around.
We arraigned the time and the place to meet Suzanne’s cousin. The plan was simple; just walk right in with the cousin. He said that all of the Forum employees and the players come in through one gate. He made that great statement, “they never check Id’s”. So we went for it. Larry and I just walked up to the gate. Right behind Gretzky.
We stop in a moment of awe. It’s really him. Right behind him, of course is Marty McSorley. The team’s enforcer and Wayne’s on-ice bodyguard. I walk right up to Marty and say hello. I am a little taller than McSorley, but he is thicker. We start talking about the physicall play so far in the series. We are talking as we walk past the gate. The next thing I know, I am in the Kings locker room. This is amazing. I am taking it all in when I realize that Larry is not around.
After a moment of hesitation I backtrack my steps. After I get all the way back to where I can see the gate, I view Larry. Security has Him. I am at the Stanley Cup finals, in the locker room before the game, hanging with the guys and there’s Larry. When I walked in, by the guy at the gate, I thought that he mistook me for a player. One security guy has a hold of Larry’s arm the other is calling on his radio. Time to act.
I walked right up to the them and pulled Larry’s arm away. “He’s with me” was all that I said. Larry and I walked quickley away. The two security men look at each other dumbfounded. As we are walking away I hear one say “wasn’t that….?”
Larry scolds me, “you didn’t have to do that, I would have been fine”. Larry continues. “but you were in”. “The Stanley Cup” he emphasises. “I came here to see a game with my friend and that’s what we’re going to do”, I told him. We went back to the car and drove to the nearest sports bar. Larry and I watched the game, had a few too many beers and some bad bar food. We cheered. We yelled. No one at the bar, believed that we were in the locker room when Larry told them. We just smiled.
After that there were more games. Larry and I worked together for a few more years, until he died of cancer. He had a loving wife and a cute daughter, that was a cheerleader. Larry was a valued friend to many people and a great car salesman. We both told stories, of the time at the Stanley Cup. We both knew, that it is the friends that you are with, that make the times that you have, so special.