Atascadero News photo courtesy of Anthony Hopper • Anthony Hopper, left, was able to score four tickets to the Kings’ big celebration at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, following the team’s first Stanley Cup win ever. He shared those tickets with his brother, Dave, and mom and dad, Virginia and Greg. His sister, Diana, couldn’t make it into the stadium, but she was there for the parade.
The Los Angeles Kings is an ice hockey team, founded in 1967. The team won its first-ever Stanley Cup — kind of like the World Series or Superbowl for hockey — on June 11.
Anthoney Hopper is an Atascadero family man, born in 1975. His favorite hockey team won its first-ever Stanley Cup on Monday, June 11.
“I didn’t think they would win,” Hopper said. “The playoffs is four different rounds. Whenever we make the playoffs, we always get eliminated in the first or second round. Only once in history have we gone past the second round. … So I’m not used to that. I’m used to losing. We’re the team that would take that two-game lead and then loose four straight. I’m just used to choking all the time.”
Hopper said his lifelong fandom of the Kings started when he was about 4 or 5 years old. It’s the subject of a bit of debate in his family. Did his parents take him to his first Kings game in 1979 or 1980? Nobody is quite sure. Despite the minor discrepancy, Hopper said what he remembers the most from that game is that one of his younger brother’s boots fell off his tiny little foot in the parking lot, and one of his parents had to go back out to get it.
Hopper said his father, Greg “Duke” Hopper, has been a fan of the team since its inception and, for many years, the family lived a mere half hour from the Great Western Forum, the Kings longtime home in Inglewood.
“We grew up with my father watching [the Kings] on TV,” Hopper said. “We never understood why my dad would jump out of his seat and cheer and yell and say things we weren’t supposed to hear. … And before you know it, a few years later, we’re all like him, maybe worse.”
The “we” in question is Hopper’s younger brother, Dave, and sister, Diana. It’s since expanded to include his wife, Stephanie. And fittingly, Hopper’s relationship to Stephanie was a relationship made on the ice, as it were.
He said they’d been polite coworkers, but it wasn’t until Hopper was talking hockey with another coworker in the break room and Stephanie broke in with a well-placed jibe at a player that the pair truly hit it off.
And it’s a good thing, too. Hockey isn’t a particularly popular sport on the Central Coast, Hopper said.
“Hockey? Nobody watches hockey,” he said with a laugh. “When you do find someone who does, it’s rare and you usually remember their names.”
Being a huge fan of the Kings, Hopper said it was an obvious move for him to play roller-hockey for years beginning in junior high. But, he pointed out with a laugh, he, like his favorite team, never won anything.
“A lot like the Kings, I never played for a winning team,” he said. “I went to the finals once, but never won the finals. I felt the pain of my Kings.”
He said that even after moving to Atascadero about 12 years ago, he and his family made it to about 10 games a year until his son, Preston, was born. At that point, he had to re-think his financial priorities a bit. Even so, he’s still made it to at least one game per year since the boy was born.
“I never wanted to back out,” he said. “I was never a fair weather friend.”
So when the team made it to the finals, he was pretty excited. Usually a clean-shaven man, he grew a playoff beard.
“It grew patchy and horribly slow,” Hopper said. “[Stephanie] said, ‘it’s your face, people are going to look at you, not me.’”
So when the Kings beat the first-, second- and third-place teams in the league, he was ecstatic. When the team actually won that sixth game, it was something of a dream come true for him. And because it had been a lifelong dream of his, he was given permission to do the unthinkable. He missed his son’s preschool graduation to go to the celebratory parade at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
“I don’t miss anything for my son and have never missed any of his preschool events,” he said. “No matter how cheesy anyone says they are, I love that stuff.”
Still, snagging tickets to the celebration and ceremony was something of a once-in-a-lifetime event, so when both his wife and son’s preschool teacher said, “you’ve been waiting for this your whole life. Go,” he went. His wife went to graduation in his stead.
He had four tickets. Taking his parents was a no-brainer. But should he give that last ticket to?
“The tough part was, it came down to my brother, my sister,” he said. “I told them to work it out and let me know, I don’t want to get in the middle of this one.”
In the end, his brother made it into the Staples Center, but his sister showed up for the parade in downtown L.A. So did a quarter of a million other people, and for Hopper, it was truly an experience of a lifetime.
“I’ve played for and cheered for the underdogs my whole life, so that made the Cinderella story come true,” Hopper said.