- Last Updated: 1:18 AM, May 30, 2012
- Posted: 12:52 AM, May 30, 2012
Hockey’s most familiar voice was telling a story on himself to illustrate the impact the Kings’ second trip to the Stanley Cup Final, and first since 1993, was having on Los Angeles.
“I’ve been going to my son’s Little League games for the last four years and I don’t know if anybody knew who I was, but now, all of a sudden, people are coming up to me at the field and asking for my autograph,” Wayne Gretzky said with a soft laugh over the phone last week. “That should tell you how big hockey is again out here.”
Hockey is an overnight sensation again on Rodeo Drive, bigger in L.A. than it’s been since the glamour days when Gretzky, now 51, led a Kings team featuring Luc Robitaille, Tomas Sandstrom, Tony Granato and Kelly Hrudey to the finals against Montreal before losing in five.
“Maybe even bigger,” Gretzky said. “The way this team has come together and made this run so unexpectedly has really caught everyone’s attention, and with the Lakers and Clippers both eliminated right before the Kings clinched the Western Conference, the excitement level has just skyrocketed.
“It’s kind of like when no one expected us to get there in ’93, especially when we went to Toronto for Game 7 of the conference final.”
The Kings, of course, won that Game 7 against Toronto when Gretzky recorded a hat trick. This year’s team doesn’t have the name above the title on the marquee, but it’s a deep team with outstanding goaltending that is peaking at just the right time, going 12-2 in the tournament coming out of the eight-hole in the West.
“It would be a mistake for people to underestimate them,” Gretzky said. “Watching them play, I know how hard they work.”
A year ago, the Bruins featured a number of their most prominent alumni as franchise flag-bearers in pre-game festivities, with Milt Schmidt and Bobby Orr being accorded the honor for the last two home games of the final against Vancouver.
Gretzky plans to attend the games in Los Angeles, but as of last week No. 99 was not aware of any plans to include him in ceremonial events.
“The honest truth is that I’d like to stay out of the spotlight,” said Gretzky, content in his civilian life. “This is not about me.
“You’ve got two teams who have worked their rear ends off to get into position to win the Stanley Cup. That’s where the attention should be directed.”
The booing that greets Gary Bettman whenever he steps onto the ice to present the Stanley Cup has essentially become a scripted, albeit obnoxious, event. And if the Cup is presented to a team that’s clinched on the road, the commotion can obscure the ceremony.
There have been suggestions that alumni might present the Cup to the champions (e.g., Scott Stevens to Zach Parise or Marcel Dionne to Dustin Brown), but Gretzky has a different idea.
“When I was growing up and would see Jean Beliveau get the Cup from Clarence Campbell, or watch Denny Potvin be presented the Cup by Mr. [John] Ziegler, to me, that was what hockey and winning the Cup was about,” Gretzky said.
“What I’d like to see is the Conn Smythe Trophy be renamed the Jean Beliveau Trophy, and have [Beliveau] come onto the ice with the commissioner to present the award to the MVP and then stay by the commissioner’s side for the presentation of the Stanley Cup,” said No. 99, who received the chalice from Ziegler four times.
“You wouldn’t have anyone booing with Jean Beliveau on the ice, so I think that would solve the problem. I think the NHL is about the winning captain getting the Stanley Cup from the NHL president or commissioner. I would never want that to change.”Follow @NYPostsports