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Monday, June 11, 2012
Vindication sweet for former Flyers

By Pierre LeBrun
ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- The mad scientist was nowhere to be found.

As his players danced around the ice with the Stanley Cup, a media request had to be put in to get Dean Lombardi to come out and share a few words.

Never one to ever seek the spotlight -- he forgot to show up at his Western Conference finals pre-series news conference -- the Los Angeles Kings GM would no doubt have preferred to stay hidden in his favorite side room at Staples Center, where he likes to crack open a beer and sneak a cigarette puff.

But on this night, there was no hiding. The team that Lombardi painstakingly and patiently built over six long years was a Stanley Cup champion. Dean Lombardi has ended L.A.'s 45-year Cup drought.

"Let's get something straight here, whenever a team has won, there's some guys that don't get appreciated," Lombardi said as Staples Center rocked around him. "You have to give a lot of credit to [former Kings GM] Dave Taylor; I started out with three darn good players in [Dustin] Brown, [Anze] Kopitar and [Jonathan] Quick. Let's not ever forget what he did. And let's not forget [former coach] Terry Murray, too. He stabilized this franchise and gave us credibility. There's some unsung heroes here that need to be appreciated.''

The real hero, even if he'll never take credit, is indeed Lombardi, who took over the Kings in 2006 and completely rebuilt the team. This was his vision coming to fruition.

"It's hard to describe, it's one of those things I don't think you'll describe until about a week later," Lombardi said. "These players, I've said this all along, they really are a great bunch of guys. I just love the way they dealt with adversity this year, I'm so proud of them. They stuck together when everybody had them down. They just keep persevering. They're just a bunch of role models as far as I'm concerned. I'm proud of them."

Two months ago, Lombardi might have very well lost his job had his Kings not made the playoffs. They made it in by a hair, sliding in as eighth seeds. All along, however, was the belief he held that the pieces he had put together could contend for a championship.

Oh, but there have been doubters.

When he traded for Mike Richards last summer and gave up the likes of Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, eyebrows were raised. When he hired his old Sharks buddy, Darryl Sutter, to take over behind the bench in December, he was mocked in some corners. And when he pulled the trigger on a blockbuster for Jeff Carter in February, few people thought that was the missing piece.

"I've been trained pretty good not to let too much self-doubt creep in there," Lombardi said. "Don't get me wrong, you're going to make a lot of mistakes, and I've made a ton of them, but when you make a decision, you can't doubt yourself. That's good training by guys that taught me a lot, [Lou] Lamoriello, [Bob] Clarke and [Jack] Ferreira."

Standing a few feet away, Kings executive Jack Ferreira, a longtime friend and adviser, smiled as the Cup made its way around the Staples Center ice. His pupil, Dean Lombardi, was vindicated.

"I'm extremely happy for him," Ferreira said. "He's just done it the right way. He's had a lot of battles. But he's proved that he knows what he's doing."

"As management, you have to do what you think is right, not what people think is right," Kings assistant GM Ron Hextall added. "If you don't, you'll never get to this point. There's a lot of risk, we know that. But you have to go with your heart and make decisions that you believe in and not worry about what people think or say."

Easier said, of course, when the Cup is in your outstretched hands. Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli knows that feeling, too.

"What I experienced last year, and I'm sure Dean has experienced this year, the more success you have in the playoffs, the more in your mind it strengthens your resolve about the decisions you made and it also gives you more confidence about the decisions you're going to make in the future," Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Monday. "I'm glad for Dean. He's a very thoughtful guy. He's very patient. He analyzes things thoroughly. His decisions have obviously paid off."

Lombardi's fate was intertwined with that of Richards and Carter. Win or lose, Lombardi, Richards and Carter were going to sink or swim together.

The Kings GM, a former pro scout in Philadelphia before taking over in Los Angeles, gambled that both former Flyers stars had what it took to get his team over the hump.

Again, there were plenty of doubters.

"Dean showed a lot of faith in me," Carter said on a jubilant Staples Center ice. "A lot of people doubted us. A lot of people doubted me. This is a great feeling."

Carter, who arrived from Columbus in February, remembers what he told Richards after the center's shocking trade to Los Angeles.

"I told Mike last summer when he got traded here, 'They've got a team that can win,'" Carter said.

I remember being on that conference call with Richards a year ago, and he sounded like he was hit by a truck, he was so stunned by the trade. He thought he'd be a Flyer for life after signing that monster contract. Imagine his reaction that day if someone told him a Stanley Cup would be awaiting him in Los Angeles 12 months later.

"Well, I would have took it for sure," he chuckled during his team's celebration Monday night. "It was a frustrating year, there were ups and downs, but this is one of the best groups I've ever been a part of. The resiliency, the camaraderie that we had, the main goal of getting better every day. It was awesome."

For Lombardi, this was no gamble. He believed in what he was getting in the former Flyers duo.

"I knew those kids, there were quality kids, they came up in a great organization," Lombardi said. "Mike's not a player, Mike's a winner. And so is Jeff. They've shown it their whole careers. They're quality kids and they care. Good classic Canadian boys."

Moments after embracing Carter on the ice, Kings assistant coach John Stevens, former head coach in Philadelphia, was asked to put in context what it meant to see Carter and Richards win a Cup together.

"I love those kids, we won a championship in the American League, which they were a big part of," Stevens said. "To me, I always felt they belonged together. … When we were able to get Jeff here to go along with Mike, that really helped our hockey team. They're awesome kids, they love the game of hockey. To be able to win together, that's really special. I know it's really special to me."

And for Richards and Carter, they can put behind them that heart-breaking Cup loss to Chicago in 2010. That's old news now.

"This definitely makes up for it," said Carter, who tied for a playoff-leading eight goals. "We worked real hard to get here. It's a pretty special moment."

It's a moment few believed possible for Lombardi, Richards and Carter three months ago. And it's a moment ripe with vindication.