Hockey Ghosts

Empty Pressbox

I was working on the second game of a double-header last Sunday. I had just come from the Dodger game which went long and was capped with a triple play. I had arrived at STAPLES Center and just finished eating dinner in the media room downstairs, headed to the elevators to make my way to the press box.

And there I saw him. Or at least the back of him.

Decked in the classic silver-and-black Wayne Gretzky 99 sweater was Jonathan Moncrief. I had opened my mouth and taken a breath to yell out, “Hey Crief, what the fuck are you doing here?” Then I caught myself. Crief had passed away on May 19.

I closed my mouth, said hello to the elevator operator, got in and watched Game 4 of the Canucks-Kings series, wrote my story and went home. I didn’t bother to see his face. I didn’t want to.

Gann Matsuda wrote a very detailed version explaining the circumstances of Crief’s death. It was very sudden — I was supposed to pick him up at Union Station later that afternoon to cover that night’s Dodger game.

That night’s Dodger game was tough. I don’t remember the team, I don’t remember who won. All I remember was thinking that Crief was supposed to be there next to me. I didn’t lose it fortunately, but it was a somber night.

It’s been weird covering the Kings this season without him, without the booming sound of his voice. He and Gann and everyone on the “dark side of the press box” as our section has been dubbed have taught me a lot about hockey and how to cover hockey.

When I came to my first game in 2010, I had watched hockey casually on television. I had been to a couple of games and really enjoyed it. But really I was completely wet behind the ears.

I’m still learning a lot, but I’m much more confident two years later than I was midseason in 2010.

Watching the Kings win their first playoff series in 11 years by beating the Vancouver Canucks in five games last night, and seeing the ghost last Sunday, there’s just something a little bittersweet about it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving that I get to cover more hockey. I’m loving that the Kings next face the St. Louis Blues where it looks like there will be a lot of big hits, fights for space on the ice and a premium on every goal scored. But I do feel that Crief should be here with us. He would have certainly been loving this despite the fact his New Jersey Devils are on the brink in their playoff series.