Love of hockey isn't about geography

"Down in the U.S. here it's a little different, high school, just how important that is to kids and being connected to their high school in one way or another," Niedermayer said. "Sports gives you a way to do that and, if you were a hockey player, you never had that chance before and now you do.

"I know the kids are really excited about that. It means a lot to them and they're real proud of the fact they can represent their school in a game they love, so I think that's been a really good thing too."

Although the historic trade of Wayne Gretzky from Edmonton to Los Angeles in 1988 is often cited as the catalyst to the game's gaining a foothold in California, that was a long time ago. Gretzky's influence in California cannot be overstated, but he retired from the game in 1999. A new generation of young hockey enthusiasts has come along without ever having seen Gretzky on the ice. Instead, youngsters sport Teemu Selanne, Saku Koivu, Ryan Getzlaf or Corey Perry jerseys, and just up the road young Kings fans are devotees of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter.

Brad Sholl is the manager of the Kings' practice facility in El Segundo and a product of the California youth system back when you had to leave town to play at a top level.

As a teenager, Sholl went to Grand Prairie, Alberta, but now his children are part of a tidal wave of hockey that pushes his facility to overflowing.

The only ice time available for rent on any given day is at 11 p.m. or 5 a.m., Sholl told

Last year, the Junior Kings program placed more players in junior programs around North America than any other single club program, including well-established programs in Detroit and other traditional hockey markets.

"We're definitely on the map," Sholl said.

The hackneyed joke about teams from California being made up of guys taking a break from surfing has long since gone by the boards.

"People actually take us seriously," said Sholl, whose son is a Division I goaltender at Bowling Green State University, on a scholarship.

He said he recently talked to a hockey dad whose son also plays soccer and basketball, but the understanding is that if there's a conflict, hockey always trumps the other sports.

"From my perspective, it's just ready to burst," Sholl said.

Former players like Rob Blake and Nelson Emerson also have their children in youth hockey programs in the L.A. area, helping to further solidify the game's place at the grassroots level.

"I think it's really natural in the fact that the two teams down here, and up in San Jose for that matter, have been great teams and they've given fans something to be proud of and they want to be part of that, so I could see why people are a little bit more excited about the game and that type of thing," Niedermayer said. "So yeah, I would think it would be growing."

For the Ducks, that evolution peaked in 2007 with their Stanley Cup win over the Ottawa Senators. Five years later, the L.A. Kings won their first Stanley Cup on home ice at the Staples Center. This season, the Ducks boast the best record in hockey.

"The big jump started after we won the Cup," said Art Trottier, vice president of The Rinks.

Now the number of people playing hockey from youth to adults in the area grows every year, he said.

"Our rinks are filled to capacity now," he said.

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