February 10, 2012, is a date that will likely be celebrated annually by Los Angeles Kings forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan. It was on this date that King and Nolan were called up from the minor league AHL Manchester Monarchs to join the LA Kings on their drive towards their first Stanley Cup victory.
The moves to bring King, a Métis from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, and Nolan, an Ojibway from Garden River, Ontario, were neither heralded nor necessarily expected to last. At the time King and Nolan were called up, the Kings ranked dead last in the league in goals scored, and were in danger of slipping out of the hunt for a playoff spot.
Compounding this was an injury to third line veteran centre Jarret Stoll, which finally forced Kings’ management to make on-ice personnel changes that would both inject size and toughness into the lineup and kickstart the Kings’ offence.
Enter Nolan and King.
The two Native youngsters had an immediate impact on the ice with King scoring a goal and setting up Nolan’s game winner in a game versus the Dallas Stars – the pair’s second game with LA this season. But the Kings continued to struggle throughout February, falling out of the eighth and final playoff spot, leading to much hand wringing by fans and media alike.
It was at that point in the season when things started to click for the Kings, and for King. The club put together a 9-2 start to the month of March, which coincided with King’s stretch of seven points in nine games, including a game-winning goal against the Nashville Predators on March 17 – a goal set up by fellow new arrival and new linemate Jeff Carter.
While King was finding chemistry with his two superstar linemates, Carter and Mike Richards, Nolan was getting comfortable in his role on the team’s fourth line. While not quite as glamorous a role as that of a scoring winger, Nolan’s big body presence proved effective in defending against opposing scoring lines and adding spark to a lineup that was finally starting to click in the final games of the regular season.
Entering the playoffs, few fans or oddsmakers gave the eighth-seeded Kings much of a chance against the defending Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks. It was a classic case of glamour versus guts. The Canucks, with marquee players like Roberto Luongo and the Sedin twins, were expected by many to make a return to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in 2011 to the Boston Bruins. While the Kings enjoyed solid support at home, selling every seat to every home game throughout the regular season, few fans outside of Southern California had seen them play.
That all changed as the Kings defeated the Canucks in five games, followed by a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues and a five-game series victory over the surprising Phoenix Coyotes, earning the team a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1993.
Again, Nolan and King played key roles on a Kings team that was quickly evolving into a squad that could produce offence and lay a dirty beating on opposing players.
With five goals, including a two-goal performance in Game One versus Phoenix, King recorded the second highest number of goals ever by a Kings’ rookie in the playoffs. Equally important was King’s physical presence down low in the offensive zone, where he gave opposing defensemen little room to manoeuvre and was a constant threat in front of the net.
“I would not have believed them, that’s for sure,” said King when asked for his reaction to becoming a Stanley Cup champion by NHL.com.
“Crazy things happen in hockey. Just happy to be a part of it right now. … It’s a dream. You want to be part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. To be a contributor is even better. Everything is coming around.”
Throughout the playoffs, Nolan continued to play a key fourth line role, agitating opposing forwards and providing energy as required.
As he was being interviewed by Hockey Night in Canada following the Kings’ Cup clinching victory over the New Jersey Devils, Nolan’s father, former NHL Coach of the Year Ted Nolan was by his side, holding back emotion while Jordan took in the moment with awe.
“It’s definitely unbelievable,” said Jordan. “To come up from Manchester at the end of the American League and then to come here as an eighth-seed team and then to win the Stanley Cup, you can’t put it into words.”