From peasants to Kings – Five LA stories of perseverance and success

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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.

Auston Matthews keeps goal streak alive, gives Leafs 1-0 lead in third

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These are the moments Toronto Maple Leafs fans were dreaming about when they drafted Auston Matthews. At least those bold enough to picture such great things, so soon in his career.

Speaking of so soon … that’s not how you’d describe a 1-0 goal happening in the third period of a game in this Leafs – Washington Capitals series, but it took that long to break the ice in Game 6.

It took a very lucky bounce for the puck to find its way to Matthews … but the finish was pure skill. With that, the remarkable rookie now has a goal in four straight games (with an assist thrown in for good measure).

The lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Marcus Johansson scored to tie it 1-1.

Things could get awfully nervous for Toronto as they try to force a decisive Game 7 in Washington, but that was a huge goal by Matthews either way.

Clarke MacArthur, Craig Anderson made Sens win that much more emotional

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It could have been over for Clarke MacArthur plenty of times during his turbulent NHL career. Scratch that, his turbulent hockey career.

His team walked away from his salary arbitration award. MacArthur’s seen plenty of people give up on him. And then, when he finally found a home with the Ottawa Senators, concussion issues threatened to end his playing days.

Yet, there he was on Sunday … drawing a penalty in overtime and then scoring on the ensuing power play to help the Senators advance beyond the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t deny that he imagined very different possibilities during his darker moments.

And, as uplifting as his story was – seriously, just watch this interview and try not to root for the guy – it wasn’t the only emotionally charged moment from Game 6.

Nicholle Anderson was on hand to cheer on Craig Anderson in this one, and the two were able to embrace after the contest:

As violent and intense as the playoffs can often be, MacArthur and Anderson reminded us of the gentler human side of it all.

Erik Karlsson played through hairline fractures in foot to help Sens advance

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Remember when many were keeping an eye on Erik Karlsson after he was seemingly cramping up after logging more than 40 minutes in an OT contest against the Boston Bruins?

It’s possible he was also dealing with that sort of ailment, but he earned some “hockey tough” kudos on Sunday after word surfaced that the Ottawa Senators defenseman was dealing with hairline fractures in his left heel through the series.

Sportsnet’s Jason York refers to the issue as “two small fractures” while ESPN’s Joe McDonald went into specifics, noting that Karlsson explains that the injury happened on March 28 (and was why he missed some games late in the season).

There’s some optimism as the Senators ready for the New York Rangers, at least according to Karlsson.

Hmm.

Either way, that’s impressive stuff from the Senators defenseman, and the sort of information that usually only surfaces after a team has been eliminated. We’ll see if he’s hindered by such issues as the playoffs go along.

Gaudreau, Granlund and Tarasenko: 2017 Lady Byng finalists

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The NHL officially announced the nominees for the 2017 Lady Byng on Sunday, and they’re a star-studded bunch: Johnny Gaudreau, Mikael Granlund and Vladimir Tarasenko.

The PHWA determines “the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

(Did Tarasenko help eliminate Granlund’s team in a gentlemanly fashion?)

For more on the three finalists, click here.