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Canadian Press
8/29/2006 9:54:13 AM

Hockey's Southern California rivalry took on a new twist when Marc Crawford was hired as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings.

With Brian Burke running the rival Anaheim Ducks, the other club battling for the hockey dollar in La-La Land, it didn't take long for Crawford to hear from his former Vancouver Canucks boss after the Kings hired him.

"He left me a couple of funny voice mail messages and probably a few that we can't share," Crawford said with a laugh.

Burke was happy to elaborate.

"It was my hope that Marc Crawford would end up in the Eastern Conference," he said Monday from his Anaheim office. "That's the respect I have for him. And that voice mail he's talking about, I just told him that we're dear friends, our wives are dear friends, but we're competing now. And we might have to overlook some things that are said and done this season.

"I can see us going after each other in the hallways," added Burke. "That's how intense we both are. So I just said let's make sure our friendship gets through this."

Crawford's family of four moved to Los Angeles two weeks ago. That's when it really hit home for the 45-year-old native of Belleville, Ont. He'll be coaching in Hollywood this year after seven seasons behind the Canucks bench.

"It hits home just because of all the personal stuff that you end up doing when you have a change like this," said Crawford. "Moving is such a big thing.

"It's been a busy summer to say the least."

Crawford, 16th all-time on the NHL coaching ranks with 411 regular-season wins, drew attention from several other clubs but settled on the Kings. They intrigued him.

"I look at the challenge here in L.A.," he said. "I know that if we can win here and do the right things, it isn't only going to be great for the Los Angeles Kings but on a greater plane it's great for hockey and great for the National Hockey League and that interested me as well."

The Kings have been all about change. Head coach Andy Murray was the first to bite the bullet late in the season, their third straight out of the playoffs. GM Dave Taylor got the axe after the season ended, replaced by Dean Lombardi. Since then other front-office faces have come and gone as well as players. And of course Lombardi introduced Crawford on May 22.

Few clubs in the NHL have had more of a face lift.

"We looked at a team picture the other day that was done at the end of the year," said Crawford, who coached Colorado to a Stanley Cup in 1996. "We started counting guys that weren't here now, including front office and players. There were over 25 that aren't going to be here this year. So that means there's at least 25 to 30 new people. That's going to be the biggest adjustment for our team, just getting used to new surroundings and the new way we're going to do things."

The newcomers on the ice include forwards Alyn McCauley, Patrick O'Sullivan, Scott Thornton and Brian Willsie, star defenceman Rob Blake and goalie Dan Cloutier. Gone are forward Pavol Demitra, Mark Parrish and Jeremy Roenick as well as defenceman Joe Corvo.

One face that isn't new to the Kings is perennial bad boy Sean Avery, who was sent home by the team before the final three games last following an argument with an assistant coach. That capped an eventful year for the 26-year-old, who had 15 goals and 24 assists as well as 247 penalty minutes in 75 games.

He made headlines in April with an obscenity-laced tirade at Brian Hayward, the Ducks' television commentator. During a game against Edmonton in October, the Oilers' Georges Laraque, who is black, accused Avery of using a racial slur. Avery denied the allegation.

Last September, Avery made derogatory comments about French-Canadian players after then-Coyote defenceman Denis Gauthier hit Roenick in an exhibition game. Avery issued an apology after receiving a reprimand from the NHL.

The Kings re-signed Avery to a $1.1-million US, one-year deal.

"I've already had a couple of meetings with Sean. They've been pretty fruitful. But like Dean said, we've got him on double-secret probation," Crawford said with a laugh, citing a line from Animal House.

"But that's exactly what it is, we're kind of feeling it out. Everybody wants to get the most out of Sean. He's a very good player. He's got to be a great teammate. That's where the improvement has to be. It all comes down to being respectful of your teammates, being respectful of the league, being respectful of the referees, showing respect to the game."

Cloutier is looking for respect after the Canucks decided Roberto Luongo was a huge upgrade over him in goal. Crawford still believes in his former Vancouver goalie and that's why Lombardi went out and acquired him.

"I am very much a Dan Cloutier guy," said Crawford. "And I know there's a lot of criticism of Dan. The one valid criticism people can have of Dan is that he has been injured. We know that the injuries haven't been preventable.

"He broke his ankle in the playoffs against Calgary trying to make a game-saving save in Game 3. And his injury with knee last year he got crashed into by Rob Niedermayer. Those things are going to happen."

Crawford and Cloutier were together for five seasons in Vancouver and the coach still believes in the 30-year-old, who missed all but 13 games last year with a knee injury.

"I know how hard he works," said Crawford. "Those things are very attractive to me as a coach and also to our organization. The other thing I'll say about Dan is that he's a leader. If you can get a guy with leadership qualities in the goaltending position, that's so crucial.

"I saw it first-hand with Patrick (Roy). Whether you like him or you don't like him. Patrick demanded things of his teammates that made them all better. And I think Dan is very much like that."

Mathieu Garon was the starting goalie for most of last season in L.A., winning 31 games. But Crawford says Cloutier gets the nod as No. 1.

"Dan's going to play a little more than Mathieu but it may be 1a and 1b and a half," said Crawford. "Garon is a great goalie, too, and the real bonus in all this is that we've got a guy who's sitting there behind Dan who has won 30 games.

"We've got so many games out here where you're playing fatigued. Those third in four nights with travel, those back-to-backs with Dallas which is crazy because of the travel. We're going to be able to put in a goaltender that can win a game in the second night and that will hopefully allow us to get a few extra points."

Crawford's return to Vancouver, meanwhile, will be one of the bigger stories of the season but it'll have to wait until Jan. 26, the first game back from the all-star break.

"I get to spend the whole all-star break in there pondering ways to beat those guys," Crawford said with a chuckle. "But seriously, I'm very fond of the people in Vancouver. They treated me with class and dignity. We've got great friendships there.

"One of the reasons I chose to come to Los Angeles, for me selfishly, it allowed us to keep our ties with the West Coast where we've got so many friends now. It's not a hard commute to Vancouver."
 

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Maybe it'll bring some attention to the NHL if a rivalry happens to flare up here.

I heard LA wasn't going to follow the Kings in their Newspaper this year (LA Times?), so they'll surely be getting less exposure from the media. :(

You'd hope they'd start getting more this year, but when you look at Phoenix... well.

Well, well, well, well, well...
 
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