Dancing in the Reign: Great Day – Local Product
“Back-order my ass. Listen up hammerhead, my KingsCast Tee’s were supposed to be here three days ago.”
“You’re acting like there’s a Kings watch party at Hooters tonight or something. No man, because it’s f*cking August. That means McSorley’s on-call, buddy. How about taking one more look in that truck.”
Déjà vu, for you: Our guest from Part II of today’s THREE-PART SERIES commemorating Wayne Gretzky‘s arrival to Los Angeles on August 9, 1988 joins us again for the final segment. Daniel Kim, who walked us through the happenings at the Los Angeles Kings Valley Ice Center in his role as hockey manager, now talks about his hockey career which began in Los Angeles during Gretzky’s hey-day with the Kings, topping it off in the pro’s skating with clubs in the WCHL and ECHL. Kim’s timeline fits in perfectly with the Gretzky trade, a positive result of a successful hockey product raised in Los Angeles during the specific time period we’re shooting for. Gretzky can make you want to play the sport, but he can’t provide a shot in the pro’s. So really, Kim fits the specific example I’m looking for.
Kim (12) with the ECHL‘s Bakersfield Condors
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Backdrop: There are few professional hockey players that originate from Korea, very few. If we’re talking the number of Korean’s to ever play in the NHL, we’re talking two. Kim’s family moves to Los Angeles from Seoul, South Korea in 1982, Tinseltown not exactly a booming hockey market, either. Well, Koreatown. Nice choice on location though, Koreatown is fucking awesome.
Kim picked up the sport ten years after the move to LA, three years into Gretzky’s stint with the Kings. As a youth hockey player in Los Angeles, Kim skated with two Midget AAA travel clubs, the Anaheim Junior Ducks and the Ventura Mariners. After that, Kim spent some time at the Junior level with Bay City Bombers, and then went Collegiate with Santa Monica College and West Los Angeles College. Kim did indeed ‘Live The Dream’ according to the true hockey player, making his way to appearances in both the WCHL and ECHL over a span of four years. Let’s get to the talk, shall we?
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KingsCast: Daniel, you were born in Korea, where hockey is not considered a major sport by any means. Then, at the age of 3, your family moved to Los Angeles, a city where hockey isn’t a major sport for the locals. So tell us, how did hockey become such a major part of your life, and eventually your early career?
DK: “I started hanging out at the rink with friends during Public Session and I had a friend who played hockey and got me interested.”
KingsCast: Hockey’s a tough sport to get involved in if there’s little interest from your parents. Were they familiar with the sport when you started playing? Did they encourage it?
DK: “My Dad played soccer in Korea but didn’t know anything about hockey. My parents were very supportive when it came to sports and studies. My parents sacrificed a lot of time by driving me to pretty much every rink in southern California to get me on the ice. I remember my mom working all day, then having to drive over an hour in traffic to get me to a rink for practice. I didn’t realize the sacrifices that my parents made until I was much older.”
DK: “I was a Dodgers and Lakers fan growing up because of the coverage they had on TV. After Gretzky got here, the Kings were getting more coverage and I started to watch hockey on TV. I didn’t know how to play, but I was watching Gretzky and the Kings on TV. Once I started playing hockey, I became more of a Kings fan.”
KingsCast: Did you notice an overall change in the popularity of youth hockey once the sport’s icon played for the Kings? Was there an increase of youth programs instilled in the city?
DK: “It’s unbelievable, the numbers of rinks and travel hockey teams there are now because of Gretzky. He had an effect on roller hockey as well, there even used to be the Wayne Gretzky Inline center where kids can try to play hockey.“
KingsCast: To be able to play professionally, you need to develop your skills around other talent. Was it difficult to find skilled opponents in LA? Was there a lot of traveling outside of the city for games?
DK: We were the only AAA team out of Southern California at the time, we were traveling at least once a month to Colorado, Western Canada, Seattle, and all the way to Alaska to find competition.
KingsCast: When did you know you had a shot at playing in the ECHL?
DK: “I really never thought about it. I played in the WCHL prior to the league merging with the ECHL. Once they merged, I just focused on getting a job without giving it a try. I was working in Bakersfield as a Hockey Manager and the Coach of the Condors knew that I had pro hockey experience asked me to play a some games for them while I worked there.“
KingsCast: You were lucky enough to play with two California-based teams, the Long Beach Ice Dogs and the Bakersfield Condors. Take us through the overall experience of getting the chance to play pro in your local state.
DK: “The experience was awesome. I was lucky to have my Friends and especially my parents at every home game and some road games. Being born in Korea, a lot of the local fans didn’t know that I was from Southern California. Which was pretty funny because they wanted to know how the Hockey in Korea was.“
KingsCast: Best moment, story, you can share with us from your pro hockey career.
DK: “My first pro game was the home opener in Long Beach, I remember I was so nervous standing in the tunnel waiting to come out. During the first home game they announce the players and we skate out of the tunnel. My number was 2 and they announced the names in numerical order so I had to go first. I remember saying to myself “Just don’t fall or run into the referees and I’ll be fine.” The game itself was a blur, but that moment I will never forget.“
KingsCast: First Kings game?
DK: Against the Pens at the Ingelwood Forum. My dad bought tickets to watch Richard Park another Korean Native from Southern California.
KingsCast: All-Time Favorite Kings player.
DK: Wayne Gretzky and Ian Laparriere.
KingsCast: Favorite current Kings player.
DK: Drew Doughty
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Hoping Drew Doughty agrees to a deal soon, for both your sake and mine. However, I think I may have you beat here. Circa the IHL’s Cleveland Lumberjacks 1996-1997 season.
Richard Park and Jim Paek, the only two Korean’s to ever play at the NHL level, and on the same team. The Cleveland Lumberjacks were my team at a young age, skating in the city where I was raised, and playing at the highest level (IHL) within the city’s limits. Richard Park played in 50 games for Cleveland in ’96/’97, whereas Jim Paek dressed in 74 games during the ’96/’97 season. Considering my frequent viewings, and the fact that it’s mathematically impossible that those two never played together, I can more than probably say I’ve seen a pretty awesome part of hockey history. Ironically, Jim Paek played for the Los Angeles Kings. During the ’94/’95 season, Paek dressed in 18 contests for the Kings, racking up a goal and an assist, ten penalty minutes, and a -1 rating.
And there you have it, words from Daniel Kim, a prime example of success during the ‘hockey boom’ in Los Angeles. Contact today’s guest, information available in Part II, and check out the ice at the Los Angeles Kings Valley Ice Center.