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For 38 years as a professional hockey player, coach and scout, Robbie Laird's ultimate dream has been to win a Stanley Cup, and he finally has his chance.
The former Komets player and coach is the senior pro scout for the Los Angeles Kings who will start play in the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday against the New Jersey Devils. Laird, 57, has watched the No. 8-seeded Kings surprise almost everyone during their playoff run.
``This year was probably the most disappointing until we caught fire,'' said Laird, an all-time Komets great who continues to live in Fort Wayne. ``In the summer time I loved our team. Getting Mike Richards in a trade was huge. Our young guys were starting to hit their stride, and we signed some other guys to fill some holes. I thought making the playoffs was going to be really hard for us to do as late as early March because it's just so hard to gain ground.''
The Kings replaced Terry Murray behind the bench with Darryl Sutter on Dec. 22, and a 25-13-11 run helped them earn the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. Then Los Angeles beat the top three seeds in the Western Conference playoffs, going 12-2 in the postseason.
``You have to believe in yourself No. 1, your goaltender, your coach and your teammates,'' Laird said. ``I believe we have that going right now. It's great to be here. It's really about winning four more hockey games.''
Laird has watched eight Kings playoff games in person this season, and he was the advance scout for the second-round series between Nashville and St. Louis. The Kings then swept the Blues 4-0. After 18 years, he has the most seniority of any member of the Kings' hockey department. He's one of three scouts who focus on the pro side, covering the National Hockey League, American Hockey League and ECHL while also finding time to watch a few Komets games each season.
His main job is to find talent the Kings might acquire through free agency, waiver claims or trades. He'll usually focus on 12 players per game and can watch three or four players each shift. He concentrates on 10 NHL teams and will
watch them up to six to 10 games during a season. By the end of a season, he'll have at least two reports on every player in the league. The three pro scouts constantly collaborate on reports.
``Sometimes you get sent on a specific mission like maybe we're talking to this team and this player may be available,'' he said. ``When he's on the ice, I don't take my eyes off him. In the early part of the year we're trying to build a list of the top players at all their positions and then break it down by player type. Then the closer you get to the trading deadline, you're looking at specific players, and then after that you want to focus in more on free agent players.''
Laird estimates he flies more than 100,000 miles and drives more than 25,000 miles during a season, spending more than 100 nights in hotels. He tries to work his schedule so he's gone during the week and home on weekends when he can help his wife, Madeleine, with Humane Organization for the Prevention of Euthanasia for Animals where she is the executive director.
Currently, the Kings are working toward the NHL amateur draft, so Laird gets to mostly concentrate on watching the Kings play and hoping for something special.
``This time of year I'm more of a cheerleader,'' he said. ``This is the farthest that I've been.''
Despite his job description, Laird hasn't dug into a the series against New Jersey too much. The Kings' coaches are mostly using their own scouting reports from extensive video files. He says the biggest matchup could be the Kings' defensemen against the Devils' forwards, but he really just anticipates watching the games.
``When you are coaching a team, you don't get too emotional behind the bench because you don't want your players getting too uptight,'' Laird said. ``I try to remind myself when I'm watching games not to get too excited because it's out of our hands, but I'll be jumping up and down when we score a goal at this stage of the game. We are super excited. Deep down we're all nervous and ecstatic to be here and have the opportunity.''