Professional sports can be inspirational as much as they are entertaining. After all, they’re made up of people with the courage to follow their dreams and the will to work hard through the good and the bad.
The Stanley Cup-winning 2012 Los Angeles Kings are full of such players, but five in particular stand out for sticking it out through the tough times.
Here are their stories:
Willie Mitchell — The Kings are, for the most part, a young team. However, they do have a few veterans and Mitchell is the most prominent of them. The fact that he’s won his first Cup at the age of 35 is significant enough, but it wasn’t long ago when his career was in jeopardy.
His 2009-10 campaign ended on Jan. 16 because of a concussion and, at the age of 33, he had to find a new employer willing to accept the fact that he was coming off of a head injury. Under the circumstances, the Kings took a risk when they signed him to a two-year, $7 million deal back in the summer of 2010, but it’s one that has paid off handsomely.
Dustin Penner — Earlier this season, Penner was a joke. A punchline. The guy that got hurt while eating pancakes. The guy that, in February, was taken out of the lineup because, in the words of Sutter, he “was horse(crap).” He was arguably one of the most overpaid players in the sport.
He’s also now a two-time Stanley Cup champion and not just because he was on a good team. Penner found redemption — in fact, he called it “vindication” — in the 2012 playoffs and became one of the Kings most potent offensive weapons. As Kings GM Dean Lombardi colorfully put it, “I kid him now; he went from BP — like the oil spill — to BP — as in Big Play Penner.”
Darryl Sutter — When the 2011-12 campaign began, it looked like his days in the spotlight were behind him. In December of 2010, he resigned as the general manager of the Calgary Flames after making a number of questionable moves, including the trading of Dion Phaneuf to Toronto for what ultimately amounted to nothing.
A year later, however, Kings GM Dean Lombardi offered to put his friend in a position he’d found much more success in: behind the bench.
“Oh, seems like a long time ago, middle of December, whenever it was,” Sutter said. “But you know what, you look at the big picture now, and I was right on how I thought about what type of players these guys were.”
He proved to be the missing piece of the Kings’ puzzle, leading them to a 25-13-11 record in the regular season and, of course, their first Stanley Cup.
Dustin Brown — It’s hard to believe at this point, but the Kings captain was seen as something of a disappointment earlier this season. It got to the point where, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Brown was “absolutely” being shopped by Los Angeles.
It just goes to show that sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make. Brown caught fire in late February and was a big factor in the Kings’ playoff run.
He got three points in Game 6 of the finals and became just the second American captain to win the Stanley Cup.
Jeff Carter — His story is perhaps the most popular out of those on this list. He’s a guy who, as recently as last year, probably thought he’d be a life-long Flyer. After all, you don’t sign an 11-year contract if you don’t feel a sense of loyalty and comfort with a franchise.
All the same, Philadelphia decided to go in a different direction and suddenly Carter found himself playing for the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets. He battled through injuries as well as a significant amount of shock and disappointment before he was traded again. This time he found himself in Los Angeles where he was reunited with former Flyers teammate Mike Richards.
Carter went on to play a key role for the Kings, scoring a number of big goals during their run to the Cup.