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MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup two years ago, the trophy’s first postgame trip was to a small bar near the beach, within walking distance of nearly every player’s home.
The Cup soon spent time touring nearby haunts, and when it came time for players to shed those unruly, two-month-old playoff beards, some put on their usual off-day uniform of board shorts and flip-flops and were shaved at local barbers and salons.
After Saturday night’s Game 2 in Los Angeles, the Stanley Cup finals head to New York, the home of the Rangers. Much will be made of Madison Square Garden’s historic, dazzling, center-of-the-universe setting in Manhattan.
But when it comes to Cup fever, Manhattan might pale to its sunny, cross-country namesake, Manhattan Beach, and that town’s next-door neighbor, Hermosa Beach.
All but one of the Kings players live there, as do the coach, Darryl Sutter, and general manager, Dean Lombardi. Most can walk or ride a beach cruiser to everyone else’s house. It is an unusual if not unique concentration that binds the team and turns a sleepy four-mile strip along the Pacific Ocean into an unlikely hotbed of hockey.
A sign on a surf shop near the pier in Hermosa Beach checks off the Kings’ opponents through the playoffs. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times
Think there is no widespread passion for the Kings among the sprawl of Los Angeles?
“I live here in Manhattan Beach,” Sutter said when a reporter wondered if the series in Los Angeles would help promote the game. “Everybody knows what’s going on with the Kings.”
Manhattan Beach, to the north of Hermosa Beach, is considered the tonier of the two, its high-end strip of boutiques and restaurants hugged by beach on one side and some of California’s most expensive real estate on the other. Its southern end blends seamlessly into smaller Hermosa Beach, which is similarly quiet but has a tight concentration of bars and restaurants near the town’s pier that attract bar-hoppers at night and sun-bleached dropouts during the day.
The Kings are scattered evenly across the two towns. Some are clustered within a block or two of several teammates; others sprinkled little more than a mile or two away. The only holdout is defenseman Willie Mitchell, who lives with his wife in Venice, about 20 minutes up the coast.
“It’s a little bit more eclectic, a little bit more going on, in my opinion,” Mitchell said. “But I get it pretty hard from the guys.”
The unique concentration of Kings players has turned a sleepy beach area into an unlikely hotbed of hockey fans. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times
After beating the Devils in 2012, the Kings immediately took the Stanley Cup to a locals’ bar in Hermosa Beach called North End. Defenseman Matt Greene lived across the street. (“A little bit too close, I think,” Greene said Friday. “I moved, but I’m still within walking distance.”) Players celebrated until close to dawn, when the party moved to center Jarret Stoll’s house.
Amy Howorth, now Manhattan Beach’s mayor, was at a hair salon a day or two later when several Kings players arrived to have their playoff beards shaved.
“They’re out and about — at restaurants, in our shops, our salons, they’re at our schools,” she said. “They’re very approachable, and people respond to that. It’s like a small town pulling for the high-school team.”
There are few obvious signs that hockey players live among the quiet streets; bombast and self-promotion are not beach-town traits. But Manhattan Beach’s City Hall has a “Go Kings Go!” banner, an urging repeated on bars, boutiques and surf shops.
“People are into the Kings more than even the Lakers or the Dodgers,” Howorth said.
A tribute to the Kings hangs on a wall at a North End bar where the players sometimes meet. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times
The attraction for players, beyond a place to unwind and blend in, is the proximity to Toyota Sports Center, the team’s practice facility in nearby El Segundo. It is no more than a 15-minute, no-freeway cruise for any of them. Staples Center, where the team plays, is about 15 miles northeast, near downtown Los Angeles.
Before the facility opened in 2000, the Kings practiced in Van Nuys, in the San Fernando Valley on the northern edge of Los Angeles. Players were scattered — some in Beverly Hills, some in Santa Monica, a few in the South Bay beach towns of Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo. The longtime star defenseman Rob Blake, now an assistant general manager for the Kings, was known as the mayor and King of Manhattan Beach, and he attracted several teammates and other N.H.L. players to the area. He still lives there with his family.
Kings players said the proximity to one another was a quiet key to their success.
“We’re together all the time,” Greene said.
While players on most professional sports teams tend to congregate near the franchise’s practice facility — they practice and meet more often than they play games at a stadium or an arena — there may be no team with such a close geographic bond.
“We have a really great, tight group here,” goalie Jonathan Quick said. “We do a lot of team things together. And when we have a couple of days off, a lot of us will go out together, grab dinner, go to a guy’s house for dinner. I do think it helps.”
Some Kings, like Quick, live in homes with small yards in northern and eastern Manhattan Beach. (Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, Kopitar said, are the only ones living east of Sepulveda Boulevard, a main north-south street.) Some live within steps of the beaches. Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Stoll are among those who could stroll barefoot to one another’s homes in minutes.
There are no obvious, ostentatious signs signaling where the hockey players live — just telling hints, perhaps, that hardly gain notice: an expensive sport utility vehicle, a privacy fence, a Canadian flag. But the players do not hide. They are seen often, with teammates or families as their primary entourage.
At North End, a customer, Brooks Hodnette, said he once played pool for hours with several other young men, having no idea they played for the Kings. Amid small talk, when asked, one of them mentioned playing hockey for a living.
Blending in, players said, is part of the appeal.
“It’s nice when you go out for dinner and people don’t want to talk the power play,” Kopitar said.
Should the Kings beat the Rangers, it is unclear how the celebration would unfold. If the fourth victory comes in New York, the immediate celebration would be in Manhattan. But the real party would occur far away, against the Pacific Ocean, in a place similar in name only.