Obama honors hockey and soccer champions at White House

03/26/2013 5:46 PM

03/27/2013 6:54 AM

President Barack Obama, a basketball devotee, displayed his soccer prowess and hockey knowledge Tuesday as he honored the National Hockey League Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and Major League Soccer champ Los Angeles Galaxy at the White House.

The president bounced a silver-colored soccer ball – a gift from the Galaxy, along with a white team jersey – off his head as cameras clicked to capture the shot.

“I hope you guys caught that,” Obama quipped. “That doesn’t happen very often.”

The president may have headed a soccer ball, but Darryl Sutter, the no-nonsense coach of the Kings, may have bent the president’s ear on a touchy U.S.-Canada border issue: the Keystone XL pipeline.

“I’m gonna ask him about it – damn rights I am,” Sutter told Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper before the White House event.

Sutter, who as a crafty, crusty player and later a coach was unafraid to get in the faces of opponents or teammates, owns a large ranch in western Canada’s Alberta province and is a staunch supporter of the pipeline.

So are congressional Republicans. They say the 1,700-mile pipeline that would move oil from Sutter’s Alberta oil sands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast would help dramatically to ease the United States’ dependency on oil from Middle East countries.

Obama has been under pressure from Capitol Hill and Canada to approve the pipeline, while environmental groups are looking to him to kill it. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner’s office happily emailed Sutter’s Globe and Mail comments to interested parties.

“It’s 20 feet underground,” Sutter told the Toronto newspaper. “How can we not keep North America (energy self-sufficient)? Why does the border have to separate that? It doesn’t make sense. For sure, I’m going to ask him.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said he didn’t know whether Sutter had brought up the pipeline issue. Earnest added that the White House wouldn’t comment on private conversations Obama had with the two teams before the celebration event.

The president and Sutter appeared all smiles in the East Room of the White House as the Kings stood next to a well-polished Stanley Cup and the Galaxy players by a glistening MLS Cup trophy.

For the Galaxy, it was a repeat visit to the White House as league champs. For the Kings, it was unexpected and newfound territory. They squeaked into the playoffs last season as the eighth and final seed in their conference and became the lowest seed ever to win the Stanley Cup.

“America found out that Southern California actually has some pretty intense hockey fans,” Obama said. “So I’m going to be a good sport – these guys pointed out that they beat my (Chicago) Blackhawks last night. I will also say that, given this season how rare it is to beat the Blackhawks, I want to congratulate them for that as well.”

Obama praised both teams for their involvement in the community, particularly with underprivileged children.

“They’re changing lives. They’re making a difference,” the president said. “As Coach (Bruce) Arena of the Galaxy says, ‘The soccer is very much secondary. If we can have an impact on the lives of young kids, we want to be part of that.’ ”

Witnessing Tuesday’s event were children from the NHL’s “Hockey Is for Everyone” programs, the MLS WORKS community outreach initiative, the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s Soccer for Success, the L.A. Galaxy Foundation, the Kings Care Foundation and America SCORES, a soccer-oriented after-school and education initiative.

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