We Three Kings

South Bay professional hockey players break the ice and pay it forward.

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    Zoe Alexander

If you’ve ever been downtown on the night of a Los Angeles King’s game, the fervor of purple pride rivals that of a Lakers game. Thankfully, this young team has a passionate city of fans behind them, because theirs is not a sport for the faint of heart. If you’ve seen hockey on television, you’re familiar with the brawls, blood and brawn. After sitting rink-side to watch them practice at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, one experiences the visceral thrill of watching these athletes master the ice. The soundtrack of blades against ice and the echo of flying pucks and bodies will pull you into the game and increase your heart rate. 

Three of the players, Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll and Anze Kopitar, share a lot in common: they call the South Bay home, enjoy a good round of golf and even build playgrounds in their spare time.

Team captain Dustin Brown and his wife, Nicole, enjoy the South Bay because of the lifestyle it provides for their three children. Dustin is from Ithaca, New York, and despite the change of weather, he feels right at home here. “I come from a small town, so it has a little bit of a small town feel—for me, that’s the main attraction.” In addition to the pleasures of a beach community, Dustin and his family particularly enjoy Pollywog Park in the summer, where they attend the music festival with friends. When new recruits call him for advice on where to move, Dustin pitches the South Bay.

Dustin’s teammate Jarret Stoll originally hails from a little further north—Melville, Canada—and also appreciates the South Bay’s sensibility. He notes, “It’s very casual, just easy-going. Everyone’s in a good mood, friendly.” Jarret enjoys the restaurants, golf, beach volleyball and takes advantage of the many yoga and Pilates studios. It is also an ideal location for an athlete because the community is so active. Jarret sums up a typical day on The Strand: “Everybody’s out rollerblading, biking, walking, running on the beach, playing volleyball, in the ocean—that’s what I like about it. Any day of the week—especially when the sun’s out—everyone’s out.” 

Anze Kopitar is from Slovenia and is the first Slovenian to play in the NHL. Anze’s younger brother is also a hockey player, so his parents relocated to the South Bay as well. Anze also enjoys the dining scene and playing golf. (Both he and Jarret have tried surfing and admitted that they prefer frozen water.) As for the perks of the South Bay, he echoes the sentiments of his teammates: “You really do have everything you need down here … it’s very low-key—what you want on your off-days and when you come home. You’ve got everything you need to relax.” 

What is distinctive about this team—given their rowdy line of work—is that they actively cultivate a softer side. As part of the Kings Community Corner, each team member purchases a number of tickets to give away, allowing children and members of the military to see live games at the Staples Center. And the team participates in many ongoing fundraising events, including involvement with the Make-A-Wish Foundation as well as smaller activities, such as decorating pet bowls for the SPCA. And while the team as a whole has an impressive list of good works, Dustin Brown truly embodies the phrase “pay it forward.”

Dustin has led the team—on and off the ice—with a notable dedication to children’s charities. He has won the Kings Community Service Award three years in a row and the NHL Foundation Player Award this year. The award recognizes an NHL player “who applies the core values of hockey—commitment, perseverance and teamwork—to enrich the lives of people in his community.” He has been a spokesman for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, and he also volunteered to be the spokesman for the club’s Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Night. He has used his social media presence for good, raising funds for the Japanese earthquake relief with a Twitter campaign.

Dustin has partnered with Nicole on many campaigns, specifically those that have impacted their lives as parents. Their appreciation for the Children’s Hospital (Los Angeles) led him to create “Hit Tracker,” which stipulates that for each on-ice hit, Dustin donates $50 to their NICCU (Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit). 

Dustin also used Hit Tracker to raise funds for the non-profit KaBOOM to build a new playground (with elbow grease provided by some of his fellow Kings) in Carson. When asked what inspires him, Dustin replied, “I’m in a position to give back … the one thing that comes to mind is the Children’s Hospital—whether you’re in a 10-game winning streak or a 10-game losing streak, going there puts things in perspective and makes a big difference for those kids.” 

Jarret and Anze share Dustin’s commitment to community service for children. Jarret has been able to merge his love of golf and interest in helping children back home in Saskatoon. The Jarret Stoll Celebrity Golf Classic 2011 (with many pro players participating, including the Kings) reached the $1 million mark in June, with proceeds going to the Jarret Stoll Patient Comfort Fund Endowment for Children. He enjoys every aspect of his role as sponsor, particularly the outreach with the children who, along with their parents, keep him apprised of their health. “I get emails all the time and updates from the parents … that’s why I do it.” 

As for Anze, he thinks strategically about his impact and is focused on motivating school kids to get healthy.

 “Hockey’s not very big here in the South Bay, so the sport’s got to be introduced to the kids. I know as a kid, if I didn’t have sports, I have no idea what I would have done—so that inspires me.” 

Anze and the Kings are launching “Kopitars 11 Club,” which encourages kids to eat healthy and get active. The club will reach out to schools and ask kids to make healthy changes to their diets. Each child who records and sends in a five-week food log will receive two tickets to a Kings game (purchased by Anze) and will also be entered into a drawing for Anze to visit their school and conduct a hockey clinic. This is an ideal endeavor for Anze, who wants to “do something that can get them busy—hopefully we can inspire kids to get active.”

There are LA Kings billboards all over Los Angeles that display their motto: Pride. Passion. Power. As I watched them practice, they exhibited all of those qualities along with extraordinary stamina, agility and speed. When it comes to raising awareness and money for a good cause, that kind of focus and drive is incredibly valuable. The city of Los Angeles is lucky to have such inspiring young men representing the city in the NHL. The communities of Los Angeles are lucky to have them as mentors. As for us in the South Bay, we’re lucky to call them neighbors.