During the 1988-89 NHL season, a player came to the Los Angeles Kings that would set the town on fire during the playoffs. No, I'm not talking about Wayne Gretzky, I'm talking about Christopher T. Kontos. The re-vamped Kings were entering into their first playoff series during the Gretzky era… against Wayne's former team, the Edmonton Oilers. The series went a hard-fought 7 games and the Kings rallied from being down 3-1 to take the series. But the real story of this playoff series was the emergence of Chris Kontos, who scored an amazing 8 goals in the 7 games against the Oilers... 6 of them on the Power Play, an NHL record that still stands today. The Kings would go on to be swept by the eventual Stanley Cup winning Calgary Flames in the next round, but Kontos would finish his amazing playoff run with 9 goals in 11 games. Don't believe me? Well, there is video to prove it!
I was 12 years old when Kontos went on his record playoff scoring run and I've never been able to forget it. It made such an impression on me that I even adopted Kontos' name as my nerd-hockey-blogger moniker. So imagine the excitement one day when I received an email from Chris Kontos, saying that I kept popping up in his Google Alerts... and he really liked the blog. So with the Los Angeles Kings ready to make their return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after an 8 year drought, I wanted to get the inside story of that memorable 1989 playoff series from one of the all-time Los Angeles Kings playoff performers. Check out the interview after the jump!
Chris, can you describe what it was like to play in Los Angeles during that 1988-89 season? Being that Wayne Gretzky had just been traded to LA, what was the atmosphere like?
It was like someone had turned on the celebrity switch… celebs were everywhere. Bruce McNall had put a spin on hockey that was brilliant. Gretzky made hockey in California an instant success as far as the who’s who and hockey being in fashion. Stallone, Hanks and Candy just to name a few of the celebs seen at the games on a regular basis.
Yeah, I'd say John Candy was a hockey fan.
I was even leaving tickets for Tina Louise (Ginger from Gilligan’s Island) as she turned into a big hockey fan back then… heck I grew up watching her every day after school as I scarfed down Kraft Dinner and pork chops before heading out to practice.
Total puck bunny.
How did you become a member of the Los Angeles Kings organization?
I actually was traded to LA from Pittsburgh the season before where I was sent to the minors for not scoring enough. The tough thing to swallow in that demotion was the coach had instructed me that my role on the team that season was to be a defensive specialist like “Guy Carboneau.” I can remember my conversation with him at the beginning of the season… he had said in his thick francophone accent that some players could score in this league and others like me had to play a role if they wanted to stay in the league. As a player that would try to adapt to whatever was required to stay, I thought I was doing pretty good until the GM pulled me into his office midway through the season informing me that I was being sent to Muskegon for not putting enough points up on the board.
The man who brought Kontos to LA.
[In 1988] I was traded to LA where I got to play the last 6 regular season games and I put some good numbers up on the board. I had 12 points in 6 games with a highlight game where I had a 6 point night with a goal and five assists. I thought I had found a home but hockey is a tough sport in more ways than one. My year end meeting with Rogie [LA Kings GM, Rogie Vachon] didn’t go as I had hoped it would. I was told that even though I had played very well, the organization did not have room for me and they were not able to renew my contract at that time. Confusing to say the least… after proving Pittsburgh’s coach Pierre Cramer wrong and showing that I could produce given the chance… I was totally disappointed and immediately agreed to an offer to head back overseas to Switzerland. I played that season over there as a top scorer and when I returned from there to my home here in Canada, I received an 11th hour call before the trade deadline where Mr. Vachon had offered me a contract for the remainder of the season as an insurance policy since they were close to making the playoffs. Wayne Gretzky and company had turned things around and I guess it was a good idea to sign a seasoned player in case something happened.
Well, I'd say it definitely helped out. Talk about the 1st round series in 1989... 7 games with the Oilers. Did you know that you were in the midst of a NHL record setting performance?
When I got to LA after returning from Switzerland, I got into the lineup and started to put numbers on the board just prior to the playoffs. I was rewarded and started the series against Edmonton. The unthinkable trade that brought Gretzky to LA was a reality and now the Kings and Oilers faced off head to head in round 1, I guess I was at the right place at the right time in that everyone wanted to see how it was going to play out.
This photo is the only reason I miss the 80s.
I personally didn’t know it was being watched with such intensity as I was once again trying to prove that I could produce if given the chance. I had a great offensive series scoring only goals, and was teased about winning the Cy Young [Kontos' 1989 Playoff Stats: 11 games, 9 goals, 0 assists] but if they had video replay back then, I would have had a great assist setting John Tonelli up where he snapped one under the bar to the back of the net, in and out so fast… but back then it was what it was. We were down 3-1 in the series… the experts had us left for dead, and we pulled off another little miracle coming from behind to upset the powerful Oilers.
I think we had used up so much emotion in that first round that when we faced the Flames… they were just too rested and had more jump than we did… beating the Oilers, coming from back 3-1 was a mini Stanley Cup accomplishment to the organization I’m sure… Calgary went on to win the cup so being beat by the best took a bit of the sting out of the loss I guess.
If you are going to lose in the playoffs...
then this is the dude you want to lose to.
Even after such a tremendous effort in the playoffs, you only played 26 games for the Kings during the next regular season. What happened?
Don’t really want to get into the politics in hockey, but once again being demoted to Phoenix at the beginning of the next season with a new contract and a newly hired coach was not a good situation. All I can say is I regretted signing with the Kings after coach Robbie Ftorek had been a big part of me getting my first and second crack at playing in LA. I signed my contract and within weeks of signing it, the coaching change was made… I loved playing in Phoenix…. Great city and really enjoyed my time there. Even though the Kings called me up for the playoffs, I can honestly say my heart was in it the same way it was before. I still wanted to do well in case I could get moved to another team… that’s part of the business and looking back… I had a great career for 16 years… we all can’t have Cinderella careers, there are ups and downs… hopefully the ups are what keep you going.
Later in his career, Chris Kontos found himself in another unlikely warm-weather hockey town, Tampa Bay. And on the opening night of the franchise, Kontos' streaky goal-scoring ways returned.
Chris, whats the better feeling? 6 power play goals in a playoff series or 4 goals on opening night for a new franchise?
You know they were both great feelings… but in 1988 in gold and purple, I go back to the game against Chicago where I had 6 points... 1 goal and 5 assists... I think I assisted on Luc Robitaille and Jimmy Carson’s 50th goals in the same game)… I thought I and died and gone to heaven that night.
That's right. Jimmy Carson was a 50 goal scorer.
Another game I had played in Pittsburgh was up there in euphoric feelings come to think of it… we were in New Jersey… I was on the 4th line with limited ice time… down 1-0 in the third period… both goalies standing on their heads, Mario Lemieux making unbelievable plays entertaining the sold out crowd… I get my fourth line ice time that night except I tip one in late in the third and tie the game up forcing overtime… that goal buys me a shift in overtime… I steal a cross ice pass and walk in and stuff the game winner five-hole to a great celebration with my teammates… here’s the best part… the 3 star selection… I had dreamed of a moment like this… 3rd star, New Jersey goalie, 2nd star, our goalie, first star… I get ready to take my first twirl of fame… Mario was picked first star… not to say I don’t think he was not worthy… it was a good joke in the dressing room the rest of the time I was in Pittsburgh. I laughed it off and kept trying to get to that next level. The guys would laugh about and kid me about “no respect” as the late Rodney Dangerfield would say.
Thank god he never made a hockey movie.
SO… all the goals in the playoffs were great, 4 goals opening night in Tampa Bay and 27 goals that season were great… winning Silver at the 1994 winter Olympics was great… heck I loved my career and wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now I get to watch my 16 year old son Kristoff try to match and hopefully surpass anything I was ever able to accomplish….
Ok, the playoffs are on. What's your Stanley Cup prediction?
No offence to the Kings but I think Detroit is healthy now and will get back to the finals against the Pens one more time… who really knows… there are always upsets and new heroes… that’s why we all watch, right???
Today, Chris Kontos runs two successful companies, one is a digital service company that manufactures CD’s and DVD’s, websites and printing. And the other is actually a revolutionary hockey invention called Edge Again. Edge Again is the world’s first hand held skate sharpening device that is used to fix a blade’s edge. Chris says it’s like a NASCAR pit stop on the bench as a player can have his blade’s edge repaired with the motorized sharpening tool while the skate remains on the foot. But you don't have to take my word for it!
Wow. I'd really like to have that black Kontos jersey.
Thanks so much to Chris Kontos for taking the time to indulge my Los Angeles Kings playoff memories. And tonight, in Vancouver, for us Kings fans... it's time to start a whole new collection of playoff memories. No matter what happens tonight... it will have been worth the wait. Kinda. 8 years is a long time.