Daily News Kings travel Down Under before navigating other challenges


They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
Staff member
Jul 28, 2004
EL SEGUNDO — Having a practice rink just a stone’s throw from LAX can be convenient for the Kings, who log tens of thousands of miles in the air each season. Friday, they were just a day away from their longest voyage yet, all the way to Melbourne, Australia for a pair of exhibition clashes with the Arizona Coyotes.

Kings president Luc Robitaille dispensed with some stately formalities about growing the game of hockey, raising the profile of the Kings’ brand and how well the NHL and its players union handled the logistics of the trip. But that wasn’t the driving rationale behind the Kings’ first journey abroad since they met the Vancouver Canucks in China back in 2017.

“I do have this thing, as a player, I do know that in 20 years from now when you retire you’ll say ‘hey, I got to Australia to play a hockey game, that was pretty cool,’” said Robitaille, who played wing in the Kings’ first-ever outdoor game, a 1991 exhibition against the New York Rangers in Las Vegas.

Robitaille, who also confirmed that the Kings’ new local television agreement with Bally Sports has a three-year term, said that in addition to the attentiveness of the league, he felt players could handle the rigors of changing 17 time zones during extended flights.

“When it comes down to fatigue, I’m a little bit different than most people,” Robitaille said. “It’s only 82 days that you’ve got to go to bed and make sure you’re rested, and then, if you’re lucky, you play another 25 or 26 games. Out of 365 days, you just gotta make sure you’re rested for those.”

The Kings validated that theory when they returned from China to begin the 2017-18 season by reeling off nine wins and 19 of a possible 22 points in their first 11 games. This season, however, might offer novel challenges in managing freshness and fatigue.

Following a heaven-and-earth series of moves to re-sign defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov and acquire center Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Kings are grinding upon the salary cap in a fashion that might make an exotic dancer blush. That will likely entail starting the season and playing some portion of it a player or possibly even two skaters short.

“I’m not sure we’re going to be able to operate with 23 (players) to start the season, it’s no secret, you just go look online, you do the math,” Robitaille said. “We might be a man or two short to start. We’re prepared for it. We do know if there’s an injury, something could happen for a game and so forth. But we all knew we had an opportunity to get a great player in Pierre-Luc Dubois and we went for it.”

For home games, there might not be much issue given that the Ontario Reign, the Kings’ top minor-league affiliate, plays less than an hour from Crypto.com Arena. But let no one forget about those tens of thousands of miles in the sky each season, carrying the Kings far from their castles.

“We know there might be a couple games where a few things happen that are out of the ordinary,” Robitaille acknowledged.


The Kings won’t have to sweat the salary ceiling for their preseason games down under and are taking a robust delegation on the trip, including at least one player who will be having a homecoming, technically speaking.

Defenseman Jordan Spence became the first (and only) Australian-born player to compete in the NHL when he made his debut two seasons ago, though St. Louis Blues forward Nathan Walker grew up in Australia after being born in Wales. Spence moved to Japan with his father Adam and mother Kyoto when he was only a year old, well before his younger sister Kairi was born.

Spence said he was looking forward to “taking in” the trip and connecting with the culture, though he personally identifies more with his mother’s homeland, Japan, and his father’s, Canada, both of which he also called home during his life.

“I think (my parents) are more excited just because they lived there longer and they have some friends that they’re going to reconnect with when they’re down there,” Spence said.


While the Kings all try to dent the nylon with a puck, some of them spend their leisure time clearing it with tennis balls. When they take on the Coyotes, they’ll be playing in the principal venue for the Australian Open and one named for Australia’s brightest tennis luminary, Rod Laver Arena.

Winger Arthur Kaliyev, who spent much of his youth near the site of the U.S. Open in New York, is the brother of pro tennis player Elvina Kalieva. Winger Kevin Fiala grew up playing tennis in Switzerland with his sister Laura and another Swiss tennis pro, former top-five ranked star Belinda Bencic.

Despite the ostensible differences between a sport sometimes played in all-white and another in which equipment managers routinely remove blood stains from jerseys, Fiala elucidated common threads between a winning approach for either game.

“Be competitive. Be in the moment, stay in the moment,” Fiala said. “Even if you kind of chill out for a second or so, in hockey, that could be a goal against right there. In tennis, it could switch the momentum and you lose the match.”

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