King, Nolan have formed their own support group
Dan Rosen, NHL.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dwight King and Jordan Nolan are two strapping 22-year-old professional athletes living in the shadows of Hollywood, a short drive from the beach, a freeway jaunt from the action. Talk about the dream, right?
Fun in the sun, parties, fine dining, celebrity lifestyle …
Uh, not so much.
"We don't do too much," Nolan told NHL.com prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals at Jobing.com Arena. "We're pretty easygoing guys, pretty simple people. We like to go to the beach, walk around. Our main thing is just finding a nice dinner at night or going to see a movie. Just grab a big bag of popcorn and hang out."
That doesn't sound very exciting.
"No, not very," said Nolan, the son of former NHL coach Ted Nolan. "It's the playoffs. We want to stay focused."
Among the plethora of reasons why the Kings are one win away from the Stanley Cup Final is the play of King and Nolan. Since getting called up together from the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League on Feb. 10, they have injected a youthful spark along with an abundance of size, speed and skill into a team that desperately needed a heaping portion of both.
King, whose brother is Capitals player D.J. King, is a third-line left wing checking in at 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds. He's been a breakout performer in the Western Conference Finals with four goals through three games, including the game-winner in the Kings' 2-1 victory Thursday, when he played a personal playoff-high 14:27. He also scored twice in Game 1 and gave the Kings a 1-0 lead with a goal in the first period of Game 2.
King has five goals in the last five games. The Kings have won them all.
Nolan is a fourth-line right wing checking in at 6-3 and 227 pounds. He hasn't found the same type of success against the Coyotes as his roommate, but he's been effective in the minutes he's gotten because he's used his size and speed to keep the Kings forechecking and attacking even when coach Darryl Sutter is giving the top three lines a breather.
"We brought them up because things were not going well; we knew we had to make changes," Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall told NHL.com. "We were concerned about our size. When you saw our team [before they were called up] and then you saw King, Nolan and [Jeff] Carter, we went from maybe an average-size team to, 'Holy, these are three big bodies.' We went from an average-sized or decent-sized team to a real good-sized team. That was the identity that we wanted to create -- a big, physical, gritty, strong team, and those guys fit right in."
Sutter went to see King and Nolan play in Manchester before they were called up to replace an injured Jarret Stoll and an ineffective Dustin Penner. He put them both on the second line with Mike Richards in their first game, Feb. 11 against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. They held the puck, played with intensity and energy, and generated scoring chances in a 2-1 overtime loss.
They cashed in the next night as they each scored in a 4-2 win at Dallas. King added an assist. Nolan scored the game-winner.
"We came up here to provide energy for the team, and Sutter put us with Richards, which was pretty scary the first time because you want to play your best hockey with him," Nolan said. "But things started to go pretty well, we got a few goals our first few games, provided a spark for the team and that's what we needed."
Soon enough they each got settled into their roles on their current lines -- King with Stoll and Trevor Lewis (the Kings' best line in Game 3); Nolan with Colin Fraser and Brad Richardson (it was Kyle Clifford instead of Fraser in Games 2 and 3).
King is averaging 11:33 per game in the playoffs while Nolan is 6:46 per game. They are not by any means stars or leaders on the team, but they are vitally important in Sutter's aggressive forechecking system that requires big-bodied forwards to hound the puck and keep it down low.
"They got called up in a pretty tough spot where we weren't scoring goals and the first game they played they were playing with Mike on the second line," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "That's not the easiest thing to do, to come in and be depended on for a lot of minutes and try to score goals. Things have settled down for us since, and they've been playing great for us."
"I think they've fit well because they have that youthful enthusiasm that so many teams need," Kings forward Justin Williams added. "They're excited to be here, happy to be here. They're great young men, not just great young hockey players. They just seem to fit in real well."
They have off the ice as well, even if it's not in the typical L.A. way.
"If you see us apart that is probably rare," King said.
They really are a package deal, and have been since Nolan moved up to Manchester from the Ontario Reign of the ECHL for the 2010-11 season.
"When I got to Manchester he was my roommate up there," Nolan said. "My first full season, we lived together. We were roommates on the road. We got called up (to the Kings) together. We're roommates on the road here. We live together at the hotel in L.A. It's pretty rare you don't see us together, but it's been a good friendship and we enjoy going through it together."
It helps both of them to have a partner to navigate this whirlwind first season and postseason in the NHL. Nolan said it's more fun this way; King stressed that it's good to have someone to talk to about the whole experience.
"You're staying in L.A., you're in the hotel, those are long days and it definitely makes it easier [to have someone else with you]," Hextall said. "They've been good friends so there is someone to talk to, someone to sit there and go, 'Can you believe we're in the NHL?' There is no question it helped them. I think it can be a hindrance for certain people, you've got a little bit of a cushion, a guy to vent on. But with these two it certainly has been good."
King said they don't talk a lot about hockey when they're away from the rink.
"Occasionally, but not a lot," he said. "We're both avid moviegoers, so we discuss movies, but not a lot of hockey. We're both going through this for the first time, and to do it with someone you know, that's great.
"We're pretty much in the moment."
The moment provides more than enough excitement for these two 22-year olds. They don't need the lavish L.A. lifestyle to have fun.
"I'm sure if it was the summer things would be a bit different," Nolan admitted.
- ontarioreign.com -