Wayne Gretzky, perhaps the greatest player to ever lace up a pair of hockey skates, never won a Stanley Cup in Los Angeles. However, he still played an important role in the team’s success during the 2012 playoffs – both on and off the ice.
In the early ’90s, defenseman Drew Doughty grew up in London, Ontario – some 2,400 miles from Los Angeles. Yet, because of Gretzky, he was a die-hard Kings fan and proudly displayed his loyalty on the walls of his bedroom. Outside the house, he played hockey with his friends and dreamed of one day skating in the National Hockey League. Then, in 2008, his favorite team selected him in the first round of the draft.
The year prior, the Kings had hired Jeremy Zager to work in their Communications Department. Unlike Doughty’s situation though, most of the kids in Zager’s childhood neighborhood weren’t big into hockey. He lived on a small cul-de-sac in Santa Clarita, about an hour from the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood. But, the sport’s popularity in Southern California hadn’t taken off yet.
Even so, after young Jeremy borrowed a stick and a few pucks from one of his neighbors one day, his love affair was quickly under way.
Eventually, Zager coaxed his dad into taking him to his first Kings game – January 30, 1990 vs. the Devils. While his dad Ken got a big kick out the fans screaming ‘New Jersey Sucks!’ in rhythm with a song played inside the arena, it was the action on the ice that mesmerized young Jeremy. In a 5-2 Kings victory, Tomas Sandstrom scored two goals, Gretzky had a pair of assists and Marty McSorley squared off with Ken Danyeyko. And so it began.
Zager went on to work for the San Diego Gulls (WCHL) and Bakersfield Condors (ECHL) after college. Like Doughty, he eventually made it to the NHL – where over the last five years, Zager has worked tirelessly doing anything the organization has asked of him.
Then, it all culminated on June 11, 2012 when he stood on the ice at Staples Center and had a chance to raise the Stanley Cup over his head. While Zager may have never scored a goal, the Kings ‘team effort’ extends beyond the players on the ice. They have a front office full of people just as focused and committed to helping the team.
Although they all brought something different to the table, the similarities between Doughty and Zager are striking. Both had a childhood love for the Kings, spent time in the minors (or juniors, in Doughty’s case) and continue to bring a relentless dedication at the pro level.
Earlier this summer, when Zager was told he could have the Cup for a few hours, he knew exactly what he wanted to plan – a party at his parent’s house. So, on Saturday afternoon it was back to the cul-de-sac. Back to where it all began.
Joining him were relatives who flew in from across the country to help celebrate his special moment. High school buddies came and reminisced about the good-ol-days, when they would terrorize the neighborhood with their all-day games of street hockey. Even the food had a connection to his past. Stonefire Grill did the catering, which is where Travis Hastings, his friend from kindergarten now works.
Zager was also gracious enough to invite MayorsManor along to share in the experience. The following video helps tell a little more of the story…