Like most Canadian youngsters, L.A. Kings forward Wayne Simmonds' earliest dreams were of scoring the winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. The dream's setting, however, likely never included sun, sand and surf. "I figured I'd end up with a team on the East Coast," he says.
But the 22-year-old was drafted in 2007 by the L.A. team, and Simmonds, in his third year, hopes to someday make the coveted Cup a reality for his adopted city.
Like most Canadian families, Simmonds' home in Scarborough, Ontario, featured a backyard ice rink. By the time he was 9, he'd carved out his career path. "I told my parents that I wanted to play in the NHL. They just told me that if I worked hard, I could do anything."
The advice — and hard work — paid off. He was in L.A. the summer he got the call. In fact, the 17-year-old Simmonds was behind the wheel. "I was on the freeway when my agent called to tell me the Kings had drafted me. I missed two exits. I was, like, 'Holy shit,' excuse my language, but I'm gonna be playing in the NHL! I was so happy."
Settling into his SoCal home was effortless. "Nothing was hard. I liked living on my own, and I love L.A. weather." Simmonds pauses. "OK, I miss a white Christmas. It's just not Christmas without my family and the snow."
Simmonds has likely avoided feeling homesick by sharing a house with his Kings teammate, fellow Canadian Drew Doughty, and having two other Kings live on his South Bay block. "Yeah, we carpool in. Me, Doubts, [defenseman Alec] Martinez and Bernie [goalie Jonathan Bernier]. Just neighbors coming to work together."
While Simmonds' fans won't catch him hanging 10 ("I'm not a water guy — sharks!"), they might glimpse him on the 405. "I don't leave my neighborhood: It's the practice facility, Staples, and that's about it. We call it the Sepulveda bubble."
Simmonds is one of a handful of black players in his sport, but he's unfazed by that fact. "I don't notice, I don't care. I play my game."
He has a mentor in Willie O'Ree, the first black player to take the ice, in 1958 as a Boston Bruin. It would be another 25 years until another player of color skated as a pro, and Simmonds knows and respects that history.
"Willie opened the door and I'm grateful. We do NHL events together, as the league tries to attract not only black kids but kids in general to the sport. Hockey is for everyone."
Simmonds thinks it's the economics of hockey that push minorities away. "It's probably the most expensive sport. A lot of families just cannot afford hockey."
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The color of his skin hasn't affected his play or, he says, how the fans respond to him. "I've never had a problem. If fans are yelling at me, I don't hear them. And in L.A., we have great fans. They support us, they believe in us. I see familiar faces in the crowd. Yeah, the players absolutely recognize the fans who come out."