In a Spector’s Hockey exclusive, FOX Business anchor Liz Claman offers up her thoughts on her beloved Kings Stanley Cup championship, Commissioner Bettman’s stewardship of the NHL, the upcoming CBA negotiations, and more.
1) Lyle Richardson: First of all, Liz, my congratulations on your Kings winning their first-ever Stanley Cup. Has it been a surreal feeling that they finally have their first NHL championship banner after so many years?
Liz Claman: Totally surreal but in a “I-can-now-die-happy” way. You have no idea how I have waited for this…enduring the taunts of my childhood friends who were not evolved enough to understand that Kings games were just as exciting as Laker games. They’d say, “Hey Liz, going to another Queens game tonight?” Kings games even had more stigma attached than Clipper games back then where people would only buy Clipper tickets just to see the other teams play. Who’s laughing now?
2) Lyle: I understand you’re a life-long Kings fan. You must have fond memories of Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, “The Triple Crown Line”, “The Miracle on Manchester” and the Gretzky years. Prior to this season, what was your favorite Kings memory?
Liz: There are a couple. First, the *early* years. We’re talking around 1969-1970. I was 5 years old sitting at a Kings/Philadelphia Flyers game, wrapped in a blanket my mom would bring for us 5 Claman kids. Probably a Tuesday night. Didn’t matter. My Canadian parents looked at it as part of our ethnicity. Some guy next to us had an air horn and a cigar. You could smoke in the Fabulous Forum back then. He kept screaming at the Flyers, calling them ‘bums.’ It was hilarious. We lost. When the Flyers left the ice at the end, they were all pointing at him. I thought Bobby Clarke was going to jump up in the stands and hit him. And yes, this is a ‘good’ memory even as a 5 year old so you know I’m die-hard. Later in the ’80’s, when it was time to introduce my new boyfriend to my dad, my dad said, “Let’s go to a Kings game with him.” It was a test. Thankfully, my boyfriend was from Connecticut, had grown up playing hockey and was a Hartford Whalers fan. He won my dad over during that game.
3) Lyle: Who was your favorite King growing up, and who is your favorite current King?
Liz: Rogie Vachon. How could you not love him? He was this hulking goalie who gave it his all every night for– at least in the beginning– a relatively scrappy and small audience. Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor are close seconds. Today, while Jonathan Quick is a rock star, my current favorite King is Dustin Brown. He’s got a sweetness about him and enough maturity even at such a young age to have captained this team to victory. Don’t underestimate the nerves of steel that guy must have. He’s a leader.
4) Lyle: You’re undoubtedly aware it’s been 14 years since a team last won consecutive Cup championships. How confident are you in the Kings ability to repeat as champs?
Liz: If they never win again while I’m alive, I’m still so happy I can’t stand it. That moment when the clock ran out and they all skated into each other moving like a huge, slippery pod of silver and black smack into the glass with fans banging on the separator was an out of body experience for me. I TiVo’d it and have watched it 4 times. Even made my husband, a Bruins fan, watch it just last night. He was less than thrilled.
5) Lyle: You now live in New Jersey, and I understand your children are Devils fans. How are they taking the outcome of this series? Hopefully, they aren’t holding it against you?
Liz: Actually the kids are New York Ranger fans but when the Rangers lost, it was time to choose. My 10 year old daughter immediately jumped to the Kings side. My 8 year old son who plays Mite hockey said, “Sorry, mom. Devils. It’s my hometown.” They both watched the final game with me but fell asleep before the end so I took a picture of my dad, Dr. Morris Claman, who was the biggest Kings fan of all, and held it. He died in 2007 but I propped up the photo to face the t.v. and we watched it together. Yes, I’m insane, but it was a great moment!
6) Lyle: Did you and your family have an opportunity to take in any of the Cup Final when the series shifted to New Jersey?
Liz: I spent a fortune on tickets to Game 5 in Newark. I dressed up in my vintage Purple and gold Kings ‘sweater’, held my head high and marched up to the Prudential Arena. I surveyed the sea of red, saw a little pocket of Kings fans and kind of hung around them for awhile. While on the turnpike driving there, my husband decided to root for the Devils so the conversation between us turned pretty chilly between us for the rest of the night. The best moment was when I saw a group of 6 Kings fans dressed in full royal regalia: crowns, chain-mail head dresses, red capes with fake white fur collars and purple sceptors. I ran up to take a picture. The rest of the night was annoying. The Kings lost. But in the end, I’m so happy they did lose. That way they could go home and win it in LA. So much better.
7) Lyle: The Kings play in one of the biggest sports markets in the United States, but are usually overshadowed by the Lakers and the Dodgers. What impact do you believe winning the Cup will have for the Kings to expand their brand in that market?
Liz: All you have to do is watch the Kings parade video and you can see that people from all walks of L.A. life were there. This has done WONDERS for the team and for hockey in general. Think about it. A Los Angeles team wins the Stanley Cup amid the palm trees and 80 degree weather? My cousins in Winnepeg and Saskatchewan are groaning but it’s terrific for the sport. It’s time L.A. supported the Kings. Our time has come. I hear season ticket prices have skyrocketed. Back when we had them you couldn’t give them away.
8) Lyle: As a Fox Business Network anchor, what’s your take on how the league has performed over the course of the current collective bargaining agreement?
Liz: NHL revenues have increases steadily but some teams are in financial difficulty. The Devils’ had a big chunk of debt due and the owners got financing just in the nick of time. Aside from that, it appears the league wants a give-back from the players along the lines of what the NFL and the NBA got, and the players are understandably upset. No relationship is ever perfect and this one has a few cracks showing.
9) Lyle: You recently had league commissioner Gary Bettman on your show. You’re probably aware he’s unpopular with many NHL fans. What’s your opinion of how he’s been running the league?
Liz: Bettman has expanded the game to areas where it has never been before and some of those efforts have proven successful. Rule changes under his leadership have made the game way more palatable for the non-traditional, newbie hockey fans out there. What remains ahead is how he and the league handle issues like the impact of fighting and hits to the head. The Derek Boogaard story of the Ranger enforcer who died of an apparent overdose after many serious injuries is just heartbreaking., The commissioner has to follow through with steps to ensure that such cases are the extreme exception. He has already taken an important step putting Brendan Shanahan in charge of clamping down on fighting and violence. Bettman could have hired a suit but was smart enough to put an ex-player in charge. Shanahan played for everyone from the Devils to the Rangers to the Detroit Red Wings to the Whalers so he has street cred with the players. Did you notice there were very few fights in the finals? Maybe it’s working, although the early playoffs were very rough.
10) Lyle: What’s your opinion of the upcoming CBA negotiations between the NHL and NHLPA? Are you concerned over the possibility of another work stoppage?
Liz: It is of some concern that talks have not yet begun. The other wild card is Donald Fehr, whose reputation as a tenacious negotiator precedes him from his work on behalf of the MLB players association. It’s hard to imagine that both sides would allow things to devolve to the point where another season falls in jeopardy, considering how healthy the league is looking right now as far as popularity of the game and improvement in revenues are concerned. If they lose another season due to a work stoppage, that will really kill the momentum the NHL has right now. Besides, if the under-dog Kings can win it, so could, say, the Columbus Blue Jackets.. and everyone loves to see a miracle moment. Let’s hope it’s next season.
Liz Claman is an anchor of the 3 & 4pm hours on FOX Business.