• Chillin’ at Chavez Ravine

    As a boy growing up in North Dakota, Dr. Ron Kvitne – like most of his contemporaries – went to bed many nights hoping it would be colder when he woke up the next day, assuring better conditions for the regional recreation phenomenon known as “pond hockey.”

    “We would play in weather as cold as -20 degrees and maybe even colder,’” said Kvitne. “The pucks would hit the post and shatter into a million pieces it would be so cold. Everybody who grew up in Canada and the upper Northeast remembers what it’s like to lace up your skates in the snow and play hockey all day.”

    This reporter included, who a thousand miles to the southeast plied a similar trade on neighborhood lakes of Ohio, scarred shins, crooked nose and absent teeth to prove it.

    “Everyone should be able to experience twenty-below,” Kvitne said earlier this week. “They would appreciate this weather a lot more. I hear people complaining when the temperature gets down in the fifties and I think…wow!”

    Though transplanted to San Marino, Kvitne – an orthopedic surgeon and partner at the famed Kerlan-Jobe Clinic – still gets plenty of time on the ice, though now in the climate-controlled environment of Staples Center where he serves as a team physician for the Los Angeles Kings – a post he has maintained since 1987.

    Kvitne graduated from the University of North Dakota and the University of California San Francisco medical school. He ended up at Kerlan-Jobe which has catered to the needs of athletes since the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn.

    Co-founder Bob Kerlan was originally recruited to play basketball at USC, but was diagnosed with arthritis before he ever took a shot and ended up in sports medicine. He and partner Frank Jobe soon forged alliances with the Dodgers, Rams, Angels, Kinks and Ducks, among others, building a world-renowned practice.

    “Bob Kerlan grew up in Minnesota and knew the sport of hockey,” Kvitne explained. “He asked the Kings if he could work for the team. He and Jobe were driving down to Long Beach where the Kings practiced and Frank said ‘we should probably bring suture material – do you have any?’ They went back to the office to get some, but ran out before the end of the first period. The rest of the game they were picking discarded sutures off the floor and cleaning them with alcohol.”

    Kvitne laughs.

    Since those early days, Kerlan-Jobe has expanded to four locations in Southern California, including a satellite location on Lake Avenue in Pasadena.

    “The joy of being in sports medicine is our association with professional athletes,” Kvitne said.  ‘But we are full-time orthopedic surgeons. Only about 1% of our duty is covering professional sports.”

    But when they do “cover it,” they cover it very closely. An NHL mandate states that the attending physician must be located within twenty feet of the bench at all times.

    “We must deliver medical care on the spot,” Kvitne said, his tone more serious.

    And on the ice. When Wayne Gretzky – perhaps the best hockey player of all time – was injured during the Kings’ 1993 season, Kvitne was able to get up close and personal with ‘The Great One.’

    “We have pick-up games with the injured players and I was able to skate with him a lot that year,” said Kvitne. “It was a real thrill.”

    A similar description he offered for last Saturday night’s ‘Stadium Series’ contest between the Kings and Ducks, played on a temporary rink amidst the hallowed ground of Dodger Stadium, the temperature about eighty degrees above the minus -20 Kvitne prefers for such an occasion.

    “It would have been a lot nicer if we would have scored just one goal,” he quipped of the Ducks’ 3-0 shutout win. “But it was a thrill. It was something you wouldn’t have expected. You would never think you would see this in the middle of Dodger Stadium. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. It was fabulous.”

    Sort of stealing a line from Don Rickles: In the middle of a beach volleyball game, a mini skating rink for children, frisbee exhibition, soccer demonstration and KISS concert – a hockey game broke out.

    The NHL has six such events planned for the 2013-14 season including a New Year’s Day spectacular where more than 105,000 fans braved the cold and snow in Michigan Stadium to watch the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, while setting a record for the largest hockey crowd of all time.

    Kvitne said a game might eventually be staged near the Santa Monica Pier, Cirque de Soleil-style.

    “That would be the next step,” said Kvitne. “Could you imagine the view of the rink, then the sand and then the Pacific Ocean? The beach right above the boards? That would be pretty spectacular. Dodger Stadium was like a warm-up for that.”

    He called the Kings’ shocking road to winning the 2012 Stanley Cup “a fairy tale, a dream.”

    “After the final buzzer sounded and the Kings had finally won the Stanley Cup, there was not only instantaneous celebration, but also undeniable feelings of relief,” said Kvitne. “I would like to see if we can get back to that. The Ducks are for real. It would be great to have a seven-game series between the two teams, freeway style.”

    Kvitne and his wife, Kal, live in San Marino with their daughter Aliki, who is a senior at San Marino High School where she is co-captain of the Lady Titans CIF championship tennis team, cheerleader and Cool Kid. But family dog Princess calls all the shots…

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