Golden State Warriors

Steady yourself for an onslaught of Golden State clichés. 

The song California Dreamin’ will be front-and-centre.  You can pretty much count on Hockey Night in Canada to air that one over a montage of hockey highlights.

How about Come to California by Matthew Sweet?  That’s what the NHL Playoffs are doing this spring, as for the first time all three California-based NHL franchises are headed to the post-season.

That’s one more team than the entire country of Canada is sending, though the population of California is over 37 million, about three million more people than the entire Motherland of Hockey (C).   Maybe the NHL should move the Coyotes to San Diego, and the Thrashers to Fresno .

The Anaheim Ducks have enjoyed the most playoff success recently, having carved their name on the Stanley Cup only four seasons ago, while the Los Angeles Kings haven’t had the pleasure yet, only making the Final way back in 1993, when Kurt Cobain was still alive, OJ was just an ex-football player, and Wayne Gretzky was a young monarch.

The San Jose Sharks were born out of a divorce in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and for two decades plus they’ve been even less successful in the playoffs than the Kings.  The Sharks are one of the few NHL teams never to have placed a skate on Final ice.

This year, the Ducks are a trendy pick to do some damage in the playoffs, but that may all hinge on the health of their goaltending.  The Comeback Kid, Ray Emery, is always and forever one bad bump away from a lower body injury.

The Sharks may finally be off everyone’s expectation radar, after seasons of coming up small in the post-season.  General Manager Doug Wilson has copied the Stand Pat routine pioneered by famed baseball GM Pat Gillick, when he ran the Toronto Blue Jays in the late 80’s.  Gillick put together a number of talented teams during his watch, and was reluctant to make changes just for the sake of change, even when the Jays came up short time and time again in late September.

Then again, Gillick only won the Big One in baseball when he finally deviated from that plan, and made a big splash one off-season, trading a couple of star players (Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez) to the San Diego Padres for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.

Alomar joins Gillick in the Baseball Hall-of-Game this July.

Wilson should probably be in the hockey equivalent for his stellar work patrolling the blue line for the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1980’s.  He may get there yet, rewarded for his managerial skills, a resume that will only be taken seriously if he can add at least one Stanley Cup to the masthead.

The California Dreamin’ part, of course, really kicks in if two of these teams meet up in the playoffs.  Particularly the Kings and Ducks.  That could still come to pass, but the first round will feature the Sharks against the Kings.

When it comes to regional rivalries, hockey has the Rangers and Islanders, it has the Flames and Oilers.  It has the Maple Leafs and Senators, when both teams actually put a good product on the ice.  Maybe next season.  The Maple Leafs and Sabres are also a good regional matchup.

It had the Canadiens and Nordiques, but that’s history…for now.  Detroit and Chicago are close, geographically speaking, and certainly historically, so you can add that one to the mix. 

Boston and Hartford once had a thing goin’ on, but that was more like big brother Bruin endlessly beating up on Whale Boy.  Except for that 11-0 thumping the B’s took a long time ago at the hands (fins) of the Whalers.

The Hartford Whalers began life as the New England Whalers in the World Hockey Association, and they initially played out of Boston.  But that’s all dusty history now.

The Kings and Ducks would put on a marvellous show for hockey fans across North America.  The Freeway Faceoff Playoff Edition might even make a few front pages in Southern California.

The Ducks have their own modern day version of the Triple Crown Line.  The Mighty Mallards?  The Quack Attack?  Huey, Dewey, and Louie?

The Kings’ attack has been hampered by recent injuries, though their goaltending appears to be in better shape than the Ducks, unless Mr. Hiller can come all the way back.

The popular choice would probably be the Ducks in that matchup.  Especially considering how Anaheim handled L.A. during the final weekend of the regular season.  Try getting a ticket for that series.

The Boys from Northern California plan to have something to say about all that.  This is the first time they face the Kings in the playoffs, though there has been an All-California playoff series in the NHL before this.

The Sharks fell to the Ducks in six games during the first round of the 2009 playoff, the last time Anaheim has won a post-season series, having failed to make the playoffs last year.

Until a Kings-Ducks playoff battle finally ensues, hockey fans should be more than content with a San Jose – Los Angeles matchup.  Maybe Dionne Warwick can be coaxed into once again singing about all the stars in L.A. who are pumping gas.

 LA is a great big freeway
Put a hundred down and buy a car
In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star
Weeks turn into years, how quick they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parkin’ cars and pumpin’ gas

You can really breathe in San Jose
They’ve got a lot of space
There’ll be a place where I can stay
I was born and raised in San Jose
I’m goin’ back to find
Some peace of mind in San Jose…(C) Burt Bacharach and Hal David

The East Coast might have to get ready for a series of very late nights.

Come To California, indeed.

 come to California
come to California
baby let it all hang out
come to California
tell us what it’s all about
but watch your mind little bit
’cause the future is beginning now
come to California . . .
but watch your mind little bit
’cause you’re headed into the machine
come to California . . . (C) Matthew Sweet

 Mick Kern

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