It was the day before Mother’s Day and my wife and I were sitting on the couch watching the Ranger’s game on TV. Playoff hockey is always great, but this year is even better than usual because the L. A. Kings had beat their first two opponents and had advanced to play the Phoenix Coyotes in the third round, which was set to start the next day. During a break in the action my wife says, “We should have looked in to buying tickets to see the Kings play in Phoenix.” I leapt off the couch so fast, there was probably a cloud in the shape of my body left behind. I grabbed the laptop and was shopping for tickets. To my absolute amazement, there were still tickets available for the game. We purchased a pair and then tried to contain our excitement. No chance. We were positively giddy!
We woke up early and made the quick (4.5 hours) drive to Phoenix. We stopped for lunch, checked in to the hotel and then headed to the arena. Of course, 95% of the people were wearing white, and here we come strolling in wearing our Kings colors with pride.
Walking in, grabbing some concessions and making our way to our seats, there was some occasional light hearted banter with some Coyotes fans. The people seated around us, more of the same. But really, most of the Coyotes fans were in high spirits because it was the first time their team had ever made it this far in the playoffs. When the Kings scored, we stood and cheered. When the Coyotes scored, we sat quiet. When the fans chanted “Let’s go Coyotes”, we countered with “Go Kings Go”. The mood remained upbeat and light hearted, even after the zings won the game.
Fast forward a week. The Kings had won the first 3 games of the series. The Coyotes then took game four in Los Angeles. Game 5 was set for Tuesday, back in Phoenix. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to catch another playoff game, especially at the relatively inexpensive prices in Phoenix, we bought two tickets and headed out Tuesday morning.
Game 5 and the Kings are up 3 games to 1. One more win and they are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 19 years. This is going to be awesome!
We got to the game and had a very similar experience as the first game as we headed to our seats. The crowd around us this time, however, wasn’t in as great a mood as before. Their team was on the ropes, and I think everybody was feeling it. As the game went on and the lead changed hands and the crowd had a decidedly more aggressive feel. The game went in to overtime. The atmosphere was already a bit tense. The refs made a couple calls that went the Kings’ way, and the crowd wasn’t pleased.
With only a couple minutes left in the first overtime, the was a bit of a controversial play. One of the Kings hit one of the Coyotes and it injured their player. The crowd wanted a penalty to be called, and when there wasn’t one, the got even more vocal. The tension in the atmosphere shot up.
Then, as if scripted, 12 seconds later the Kings scored to win the series. We jumped up and cheered as some of the fans near us started heading for the exits. The Coyotes fans began booing and throwing things on to the ice. A Kings fan in our section ran down to the glass and started banging on it and a guy in our row (big dude, I might add) starts yelling at the Kings fan and ends up throwing a half-full water bottle at the guy. Not hard enough to injure anybody, but, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how quick or how high this was going to escalate. As the guys next to us passed us to leave, one of them says to my wife “Piece of shit.” (she took it as being directed at her, while I think he was pissed at the Kings player who had injured the Coyote player)
We watched the handshake line and the presentation of the Western Conference trophy. By then a fair amount of the Coyote fans had left. As we made it in to the concourse, the tension was still pretty high. Just before we made it out the door we saw a security guard talking to a fan who had blood running down his nose. He was obviously in some sort of altercation and was NOT pleased. We walked to our car with no incident, got in and made our way to the freeway and headed back home.
What a difference between the two games. These were the first two games I had ever attended where we were rooting for the visiting team. I didn’t put too much thought in to it as we bought our tickets. I can’t say that I ever felt like we were in danger, but at the same time, there was definitely a chance that it turned in to a situation.
We have plans to purchase tickets to see the Kings play during the regular season in Phoenix next season, but I will think twice before purchasing playoff tickets in the enemy’s building in the future.