As has been the case the past three seasons, when the Kings are eliminated from the playoffs, I go back into hibernation and sleep off a long summer.
This season, I was treated to a brief glimpse of the sun, as the Kings actually played meaningful games in April. Even though they failed to make the playoffs, I’ve been watching from afar.
With no real rooting interest, I just can’t get behind any of the playoff teams. The closest team that I could muster up some small support for is Chicago. And that’s because I’ve always felt that the Kings are following the blueprint the Hawks’ have implemented. Build from within, encourage your youth to blossom and sign worthy veterans as character guys.
But the NHL wasn’t the only hockey that caught my attention this spring. The World Championships were interesting, because the Kings had several players on the U.S. team: Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson and Peter Harrold, as well as former King Patrick O’Sullivan. Team Canada named rookie phenom Drew Doughty to the squad, and Alexander Frolov was named to Team Russia. Last but not least, Michal Handzus played for his home team of Slovakia.
I actually caught most of the semifinal matchup between the U.S. and Russia online with no play-by-play. Which was sublime. Not that I have a problem with announcers, but it was like watching a game at Staples by yourself, with highlights bringing up plays/hits/saves of note. I felt twinge of national pride to see the boys from the homeland take on the Big Red Machine. But that twinge subsided when Russia scored late to take the hard-fought game.
So now, other than the Stanley Cup playoffs, there’s one more hockey tournament that has my attention as well: the Memorial Cup. And the reason is simple: a kid his coaches and teammates call Jimmy Neutron, right winger Andrei Loktionov.
In case you have no idea who Jimmy Nuetron is, he is a character from an animated show on Nickelodeon of the same name. Jimmy is sort of like the character played by Gabriel Jarret in the 80s Val Kilmer cult film, Real Genius. Jimmy Neutron is a super-smart grade schooler who is far advanced mentally of everyone else. It is this characteristic that reminded many of Loktionov.
According to a story in the Windsor Star, Loktionov was given that name by the fans of the Windsor Spitfires.
“The fans started that because he’s such a smart player on the ice,” said Spitfires right-winger Dale Mitchell, often Loktionov’s linemate and always his road roommate. “They put the comparison together with the cartoon.”
Nelson Emerson, the Kings Coordinator of Player Development told LAKings.com a similar point of view.
“You know, he is loved by his teammates, by the fans, by the coaches…they call him Jimmy Neutron, after that cartoon (Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius) about the smartest kid in the world,” Emerson said. “He comes up with what seems like magic, he is just a marvel on the ice.”
Now I can picture you sitting in front of your computer, mouth agape, feigning interest as you read this. “Big deal. Some prospect has a nickname, whoopty-do.” But Loktionov’s emergence this season has been exciting, especially his arrival here in North America caused such a stir.
If you recall, it was the drafting and subsequent signing of both Loktionov and fellow Russian prospect Vjateslav Voinov by the L.A. Kings that caused the upstart Russia-based Continental Hockey League to cry foul. The KHL accused the NHL of “poaching” their players, causing a mild brouhaha and strained relations with the Communist country. But nothing came of it, and both players joined clubs here in the U.S.
Loktionov joined the Windsor Spitfires and has had a decent season (24 G, 42 A = 66 pts) but has had a great post-season, breaking out with 33 points in just 20 games, enough to rank second in the league in playoff scoring. He helped lead the Spitfires over the Brampton Battalion to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champions.
On top of that, Loktionov was named by RussianProspects.com as one of the top foreign-based prospects of the year, earning an honorable mention:
Prior the start of the playoffs, the season’s second best valuable player should have been considered Evgeny Grachev, but Loktionov’s stellar play in the post season is absolutely more worth. Curiously, the two players are facing each other in a tight OHL playoffs final series, which is seeing Loktionov playing solid, and Grachev losing a game because of a flu and not being that important. Plus Loktionov has been on the scoresheet in every match of the series. After a not easy start of the year, Loktionov has became a force in the OHL just to explode in the playoffs, in which he is the second overall topscorer.
Loktionov and the Windsor Spitfires now head to Quebec to play for the Memorial Cup in a round-robin tournament. And I can now imagine you, the reader, eyes glassy from reading this far, thinking to yourself “Why should I care about some secondary hockey trophy? The Stanley Cup playoffs are underway! We have two Game 7s on Thursday! Leave me alone.”
Fair enough, but the round-robin tournament starts on Friday the 15th, after all these Game 7s. The Spitfires actually play on Saturday at 1:30 p.m., when they battle the QMJHL champions, the Drummondville Voltigeurs. And while I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to actually watch the games (legally), I’m sure some of you are resourceful enough to catch a game or two. All the games are on the NHL Network, so good luck with that.
The Memorial has a such rich history that I won’t go into detail here to try and convince you to watch. (Click here for that…) But it is exciting to see one final Kings prospect battling for something this late in May. And maybe if the cards are stacked right, Kid Genius Loktionov will be vying for a spot on the big roster in the fall.