When Luc Robitaille thinks back to an iconic photo of him, Bernie Nicholls, and Steve Duchesne stickhandling in the surf at Venice Beach nearly 30 years ago, the first thing he remembers was how cold the water was.
He wasn’t alone. Duchesne, who in 1989 was in the middle of his third full season with the club, immediately brought up the frigid water, which, given that the picture was taken during the winter, shouldn’t have been all that surprising.
“The water at Venice Beach is cold all the time,” Nicholls, the veteran of the group, was quick to point out.
The temperature of the water may not have been ideal for swimming, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm on the beach. “I just through it was pretty cool back then. We were really the only team in a place where it was warm,” Nicholls reflected.
For Duchesne, a French-Canadian youngster who hardly spoke a lick of English, it felt like a scene out of a Hollywood movie. “A lot of people at the beach were looking at us strange. When we started coming on the beach with our jerseys and sticks and put our glasses on, we kind of drew a crowd,” Duchesne said.
And rightfully so, with their skates slung over their shoulders, they certainly didn’t look like your typical beach patrons. When asked about who had the most fun that day, Robitaille, now the President of the Kings, did not hesitate before answering. “Bernie Nicholls, by a mile,” he said.
“No one had more fun at doing any of those things than Bernie. He was splashing people and the photographer with his stick. He was just one of those guys who would do a lot of that stuff just to have fun,” Robitaille added.
But it wasn’t just another day the beach. The photo shoot held a special meaning for the trio, who were actually there to celebrate their All-Star Game appearances. Duchesne remembers trying a number of different poses in the water, including one shot where they were there even holding a ballot box, a nod to the fans who voted them in.
That year, the Kings sent four representatives to the NHL All-Star Game. Along with Robitaille, Nicholls, and Duchesne, Wayne Gretzky, who just joined the club six months earlier as part of a blockbuster trade with the Oilers, made the trek to the festivities, which were being held in Edmonton of all places.
The spotlight was undoubtedly on Gretzky, who made the return to the city where he had become a legend, but it made no difference to his teammates like Duchesne, who were just happy to be there. “It was a dream come true being able to go to the All-Star Game,” he noted.
When the shutter clicked to capture that image on Venice Beach, hockey was just starting to take root in LA. “Everybody thought you should be playing on frozen ponds and snow, not playing in palm trees and sunshine,” Nicholls remembered. But as time has passed, that photograph has come to embody the beautiful collision of hockey and southern California.
Standing there in the surf in 1989, with the waves crashing all around them, none of Robitaille, Nicholls, and Duchesne could have predicted how popular the game would become in the coming years.
They might have looked out of place that day on beach, with their gloves, sticks, and skates, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long.
The South Bay communities of Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach have become home for most, if not all Kings players and staff. The beach cities have embraced the presence of their neighbors, as Kings flags and banners can be found hanging along several shops and houses.
When the Kings won the cup in 2014, the beach was the obvious choice for the celebratory parade.
The Kings’ marketing campaign for the 2018-19 season puts Anze Kopitar in the same scene that Luc Robitaille, Bernie Nicholls, and Steve Duchesne found themselves in nearly 30 years later.
Only this time, hockey has a more familiar home at the beach.