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Kings' Westgarth saddened by deaths of fellow enforcers

September 11, 2011 |  8:23 pm

Westgarth_250 Emptying the digital recorder after Sunday’s Hockey Fest event held by the Kings at Staples Center....

The deaths of enforcers Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak since May have stunned the NHL and resonated especially deeply with Kings forward Kevin Westgarth.

Westgarth, who has three assists and 114 penalty minutes in 65 career NHL games, said he can “empathize with the various struggles and the roller coaster it can be” to be a tough guy and said he felt sorry for the families each player left behind.

“I’ve been extremely lucky. It’s just an incredible tragedy,” he said Sunday. “I’m in essentially the same role as those guys. It’s not hugely different.

“It kind of makes you look in the mirror. It’s awful. And it does hit a little closer to home and it’s just really confusing.”

Boogaard’s death was attributed to an accidental and toxic mix of alcohol and the painkiller oxycodone. His family donated his brain to a Boston University study on the effects of repeated brain trauma.

“Examining those brains and injuries that they’ve had hopefully will yield some results and out of a tragedy some good will come,” Westgarth said. “Inevitably it is our choice and we all kind of know the deal. It’s impossible to say what the causes were and how much every little piece means. It’s just extremely sad.”
On a lighter note, left wing Dustin Penner said he feels better than he ever has after losing 10 pounds this summer. He wouldn’t disclose his new weight but did say he will also shed his long commute.

After the Kings acquired him from Edmonton last Feb. 28, Penner commuted to El Segundo from Orange County, where he had bought a house after falling in love with the area during his time with the Ducks. He will live closer to the Kings’ El Segundo practice facility this season though he said he will keep his O.C. residence.

He won’t miss the commute, but the folks who collect payments for traffic tickets might miss him.

“It’s very stressful driving in the carpool lane without someone in the passenger seat,” he said.

That breach of the law, he said, was noted by the California Highway Patrol. “We had a nice conversation,” he said. “You just pay the fine. There’s no demerits. It’s a slap on the wrist.”

And a windfall for financially strapped California.

“It’s good for the state, right, because of the budget crisis,” Penner said.

Fans came up with some interesting questions for Kings executives during the question-and-answer session that opened the Hockey Fest program.

General Manager Dean Lombardi, legal guru Jeff Solomon, assistant GM Ron Hextall and Coach Terry Murray assured fans that Dustin Brown will remain the Kings’ captain despite the team’s acquisition of former Flyers captain Mike Richards, Jonathan Quick will begin camp as the No. 1 goaltender, the Kings’ young players are developing nicely and the power play should improve with the addition of Richards and Simon Gagne.

A fan who criticized the power play -- and justifiably -- was asked by Lombardi to analyze the problem. “Predictable,” the fan said, to a round of applause.

Lombardi said the Kings’ collective priority will be to learn how to thrive under pressure and that he saw “some signs” of that last season but not consistently.

“The next step for this franchise is for those players to understand critical moments,” he said. In the playoffs last spring -- a six-game loss to San Jose in the first round -- he said, “There were critical moments and we didn’t get it done.”
Center Colin Fraser said he tried his best to ignore the feud that developed between the Kings and Oilers after he was traded to Los Angeles and the Kings contended his unhealed ankle injury was worse than had been represented to them.

That didn’t bother him. What got to him was waiting while the teams sorted through medical opinions, a delay that might keep him from fully participating when training camp opens Saturday.

To recap: According to the Kings, the Oilers said Fraser would be cleared to play within a week of being dealt to Los Angeles in the Ryan Smyth trade. But the Kings said their doctors found an unhealed fracture and other problems that would prevent Fraser from playing. Fraser sought an independent opinion through the NHL Players Assn. and was told to give the foot a few more weeks for the bone to knit. When tests showed it hadn’t healed, he underwent surgery.

“It was very frustrating. Not frustrating that whatever is going on between the two teams, that’s between them. The frustrating part is the injury,” Fraser said. “I broke it in March and here I am getting surgery at the end of July.

“Whoever’s right and whoever’s wrong, it doesn’t matter. I just wish I could have gotten it done a heck of a lot earlier so I wouldn’t be in this position of ‘Are you or are you not going to be ready for camp?’ I could put it behind me and just be ready....

“Now, coming down to the wire, it’s going to be tight. That’s the way it goes. That’s the way it went for me.”


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-- Helene Elliott

Photo: Kevin Westgarth in 2008. Credit: Los Angeles Times