NHL Stadium Series: Upcoming Game At Dodger Stadium Is Already Bringing Back Fond Memories For Players

NHL STADIUM SERIES MEDIA DAY COVERAGE: Part 2 of Frozen Royalty’s comprehensive coverage of the NHL Stadium Series Media Day at Dodger Stadiun focuses on how the upcoming outdoor game at Dodger Stadium is a throwback to hockey’s roots, but is a very unfamiliar concept here in Southern California.

From left: LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, right wing Jeff Carter, Anaheim Ducks left wing Dustin Penner, and right wing Emerson Etem, shown here at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on September 26, 2013.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: David Sheehan/FrozenRoyalty.net
LOS ANGELES — With the National Hockey League’s Stadium Series coming to Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on January 25, 2014, where the Los Angeles Kings will host the Anaheim Ducks in one of six outdoor games scheduled this season, something that stands out in all this is the fact that outdoor ice hockey is a completely foreign concept here in Southern California.

Indeed, the fact is that the only outdoor hockey we know here is played on roller skates, or in a pair of tennis shoes in a park, schoolyard, or a neighborhood street.

But outdoor hockey on ice? With bitter cold? Snow? Winds? Feet gone numb? The risk of frostbitten toes? Hypothermia? We have no clue what that could possibly be like here in sunny Southern California. But for some of the Kings and Ducks players, the mere thought of the upcoming game at Dodger Stadium is already invoking some very fond memories that go back to hockey’s roots.

“It does kind of bring you back to when you were a little kid, growing up, and playing outdoors,” said Kings right wing Jeff Carter, a native of London, Ontario. “It’ll be a little different out here, where it’s going to be pretty warm—you’re not freezing out there. It’s exciting for all the players.”

“It’s almost like you are a little kid again,” added Carter. “It’s going to be a lot of fun”

In Canada, and some of the states just south of the Canadian border, kids often grow up playing hockey on frozen ponds in their backyard, or somewhere nearby.

“It’s great that we’re going to get to see a part of hockey that we, especially as players, grew up with in the northern states and Canada, playing pond hockey in your backyard—a pond that maybe, your Dad built for you,” said Ducks (and former Kings) left wing Dustin Penner, who hails from Winkler, Manitoba. “You spent a lot of time there, so to be able to do it here, in this atmosphere, and in an historic stadium like this, it’ll be a really unique experience.”

“You always want to play on outdoor rinks,” said Kings winger Matt Frattin, who is from Edmonton, Alberta. “[In Canada], everyone grows up [having played on outdoor rinks]. It’s going to be fun. It’ll be a fun day.”

Thinking about their outdoor hockey days brought back fond memories for several Kings players.

“You stay out there as long as you can,” Frattin noted. “You always go out there with your neighborhood buddies, and you got dragged off the ice [by your parents], when it was time to go.”

“I spent lots of time on the pond back home,” said Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin, a native of Woodstock, Ontario. “You’re playing outdoors, you’ve got the wind, snow is coming down, it’s cold, your feet are freezing, there’s so many things, [but] you keep playing. When you’re young, you just love it so much.”

“When we were younger, we’d stay out there until our feet were numb,” added Muzzin. “My parents would have to come and pull us off the pond, because it was dark, and we had to get to bed—we were still playing away. We would’ve stayed out there all night.”

In virtually every pond hockey game, players pretend to be their favorite NHL player, and, of course, they played that game to win the Stanley Cup.

“Most nights, when you get on the pond, you’re trying to be one NHL’er, and you’re trying to win the Stanley Cup,” Muzzin explained. “Sometimes, that wasn’t the player you turned out to be. You became someone totally different. Back then, it was always a guy you liked. But it was always for the Stanley Cup.”

“The winner—he won the Cup that night, but the next night, it could be totally different,” Muzzin elaborated.

Growing up in Milford, Connecticut, Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick got to play some outdoor hockey when he was young, but not as much as Canadian kids.

“[I didn’t play] as much as some other guys,” he said. “I did play, here and there. [The Stadium Series game will] be a cool experience. There should be a lot of fans there. It’ll be great for them. It’ll be something cool for them to experience.”

“It’ll be a great experience this year,” said Muzzin. “It’ll probably bring back some memories of when we were younger.”

While he was with the Philadelphia Flyers, Carter played in the 2010 Winter Classic against the Boston Bruins in historic Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.

“I played in Boston,” he noted. “We were hoping for the intermission to come a little quicker, because it was freezing there. But it’s fun. It goes by real quick. It was a two-day event, and it flew by. You definitely enjoy it. I don’t think there’s any way to keep the excitement down [about the upcoming game].”

The players expressed some concern about the ice conditions.

“A big concern for those kinds of games are the ice conditions, and making sure there’s no injuries because of that,” said Quick. “I feel like that’s the only concern. Aside from that, it should be a great day, especially for hockey fans in Southern California.”

“I wonder how the ice is going to be,” Penner asked. “But that means less and less as it gets closer to the game. It’s more about the venue, and the historical precedent that will be set here.”

“Everybody’s going to remember where they were when they played this game,” Penner added. “It’s a special feeling, I think. It’s one of those things where after playing the game, you’ll realize, one, five, ten years down the road, that you were a part of that. It’s going to make a nice picture frame on the mantle for the guys.”

So Cal Product Is Already A Role Model

Right wing Emerson Etem was selected by Anaheim in the first round (29th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, held at Staples Center in Los Angeles (see Frozen Royalty’s pre-draft story featuring Etem: 2010 NHL Entry Draft: Top Prospects Getting That Anxious Feeling). The fact that he is a product of Southern California’s rapidly growing youth hockey programs was not lost on anyone present at Dodger Stadium on Thursday.

Indeed, the 21-year-old native of Long Beach, California played much of his youth hockey in Orange County and in the Los Angeles area, and grew up as a Kings fan, only to be drafted by the Ducks three years ago.

During last season’s playoffs, Etem’s performance—many believed that he was the Ducks’ best player in the playoffs—may have pushed him high enough on Anaheim’s depth chart to secure a spot on the team’s 2013-14 roster.

Etem understands that his success to this point is something that younger generations of hockey players in Southern California will be looking at.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Etem. “To go back into some of the arenas, give back, see the smiles on the kids faces, and [for them] to know that a couple of kids in the NHL today have gone through what they’re going through right now—it’s possible to make it.”

“It’s awesome,” added Etem, who grew up as a Dodgers fan. “It’s awesome to be an example. It’s a dream come true, just to be in the NHL. Then, to come to an historic stadium like this, and to have something like this be possible, it’s quite amazing.”

Penner Holds Court

Since he returned to Southern California a few years ago, the local media has learned that Penner will often regale them with a joke or humorous story, and Thursday’s press conference was no exception.

Penner was asked for his thoughts on how to make the Dodger Stadium game an even greater spectacle than what is already in the works.

“There should be a beach scene…girls in bikinis,” he deadpanned. “We could have Ryback [his dog] out there in the sand.”

“I should talk to [NHL Commissioner] Gary [Bettman] about that. We need a beach—an aesthetic view.”

At that point, the media was left to decide what was funnier: Penner’s beach suggestion, or the fact that he referred to “aesthetics.”

Decisions, decisions…

Frozen Royalty’s 2014 Stadium Series: Los Angeles Coverage

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