SoCal on Ice

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

It's tempting to use this time to talk about the Paris Hilton legal drama. Very tempting.

But let's defer that -- the political storm around Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca won't be abating any time soon.

Baca's decision to let Paris go home to her West Hollywood pad after three sleepless nights in county lockup is the bonehead play of the decade. Especially for someone who needs votes to hold on to his job.

No, something even more strange and unexpected grabbed local headlines this week, something so foreign to Southern California that most people didn't know how to act. It left grown men weeping and hugging in public.

I'm talking about the Anaheim Ducks of the National Hockey League winning the Stanley Cup.

Even people who can’t tell icing from frosting and who long ago quit trying to like hockey -- and that is most everybody, I realize -- can appreciate the beauty of this moment.

For the first time, the most famous trophy in sports -- and the hardest one to win, judging by all the broken bones and separated shoulders -- was won by a California. Or west of Denver.

The Ducks play across the freeway from Disneyland and were named originally for a syrupy little Disney movie for kids. When they dropped "Mighty" from the name, the Ducks became a serious Stanley Cup threat.

They used quick feet, intelligent play and an abundance of grit to thoroughly dominate the best team that Canada had to offer.

Seeing the Cup skated on Anaheim ice validated the sport's gamble on the SoCal suburbs fourteen years ago.

Back then, the felonious owner of the region's other hockey team -- the hapless Los Angeles Kings -- was about to be caught defrauding his friends. To raise cash fast, Bruce McNall sold off his territorial rights to Orange County.

He had the sublime Wayne Gretzky skating for the Kings and probably figured he wouldn't need to worry about competition from Disney's upstarts for a long while.

Prognostication was never McNall's forte. On Thursday morning, the Los Angeles Times ran a photo of the Ducks' captain across the top of the front page. Above the fold ran a hockey column that dominated the news.

The Times' Helene Elliott -- the first female sportswriter in hockey's Hall of Fame -- noted that the Ducks sold out their last 34 games at home. By one count, there are 14,000 kids playing youth hockey in the L.A. and Orange County area. One or two graduates of local hockey played in the NHL this season.

There's even talk now of a franchise moving into Las Vegas. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer wants to own it. This is great for those of us who find no sporting event more exhiliarating than a good hockey match. But it's all fairly upsetting in Canada.

It has been fourteen years since a Canadian team captured the Stanley Cup. And it must grate that the past three champions of the national sport of the north have come from hotbeds of hockey culture like Tampa, Raleigh and -- finally -- Anaheim.

But if you think Canadians feel bad, imagine how this news has gone down with Kings loyalists. The Kings have played in the NHL for 40 years, starting at the old Sports Arena in Exposition Park.

Only once have they reached the final round of the playoffs. That was in 1993, when even Wayne Gretzky couldn't save them. This season's Kings were one of the league's worst teams -- done in yet again by pathetic goal-tending.

In their nightmares, the Kings faithful knew that this week was coming.

On a fan website one said, "It's embarrassing to see a team that is the result of breeding between Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck win the Cup before the Kings."

Another tried to be sanguine, but not convincingly.

"I'm a glass half-full guy," he posted. "But sorry, not with this. It's utter humiliation."

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images