01/25/08 3:06 PM ET
Lasorda drops puck, inspires Kings
Former Dodgers manager extends his winning magic to hockey
By Colin Gunderson / Special to MLB.com
Some have been fortunate to experience it, some have just witnessed it, and some have only heard about it in stories told around ballparks, arenas, gyms, and sporting venues of all kinds. It is a transfer of energy, a shot of enthusiasm. It is a demand for determination, and a test on your desire. It calls you out on your guts. In short, it is a motivational speech given by Hall of Fame Manager Tommy Lasorda.
The most recent recipients of the fire and brimstone were the Los Angeles Kings. The venue was Staples Center in Los Angeles. The occasion was twofold; Tommy was on hand to drop the honorary puck because of his status as a Los Angeles sports icon. Of equal importance, he was there to make sure the Kings beat their crossstown rivals, the defending champion Anaheim Ducks. The Kings went into the game with a record of 19-29-2 while the Ducks boasted a 27-19-6 record.
The dinner with Luc Robitaille, Kings' president of business operations, was lovely.
The meeting with Marc Crawford, Kings' head coach, and Crawford's staff, was jovial.
"I can't wait to get in there and fire these guys up," said Lasorda as he wound his way through the inner tunnels of the arena on the way down to the meet the team. The glare in his eyes was one of someone faced with doing the impossible.
After a few jokes were told and memories of Lasorda's days in Montreal were shared, it was time to enter the inner sanctum, the King's locker room.
"Tommy, would you mind saying a few words to the players?" asked Crawford.
Lasorda, followed by Crawford and his staff, walked in to the scene of men preparing to do battle. Players were strapping on shoulder pads and tightening skates, tape was being wrapped around hockey sticks with the same attention as other players wrapping tape around their wrists. The stale air held a haze of testosterone and nerves as the grizzle-chinned players tried to focus on the game.
Crawford called his players to attention and eyes perked up and heads lifted as he gave Lasorda an introduction. Half of the players are 20-somethings from Eastern Europe where baseball is as foreign to their culture as the word хоккей (the Russian word for hockey) is to ours. The other half of the players who have been with the Kings, or just grew up in America, knew right away that Lasorda was there to deliver a message.
Before he began Lasorda paced around the room like a caged tiger, and before you could blink he had launched into a vitriolic rave.
"How much of a price are you willing to pay?" shouted Lasorda.
"Who wants it more?" he demanded.
"Those guys are in the other locker room waiting to get out there and..."
The players stormed out of the locker room and onto the ice with an unquestionable resolve; it was a charge to victory.
While the Kings and Ducks warmed up, Lasorda did the FOX Sports pregame show. When the players were going back into the locker room, Lasorda was on his way to the Zamboni tunnel waiting to drop the puck.
Donning a Kings home jersey complete with his name, his number "2" and the "C" patch sewn on the chest, Lasorda gave the sellout crowd a bit of showmanship as he waved from mid-ice. He dropped the puck amidst camera flashes and applause and made his way off the ice to his seats.
The game started and was played with high intensity. The first period opened with a Kings goal and closed with two hockey heavyweights dropping their gloves.
Lasorda, sitting in his seats on the glass, smiled like a proud father at the sight of the duel.
Lasorda spent the second period in the FOX broadcast booth with Hall of Fame broadcaster, Bob Miller, retelling stories from his days in Montreal, when he hung out with the likes of Jacques Plante and Maurice "The Rocket" Richard.
In the elevator coming down from the press box Lasorda said, "When I'm driving home tonight, I want to rest in my chair with a smile knowing I've just tasted the fruits of victory."
Final score: Kings 3, Ducks 1.
Colin Gunderson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.