LOS ANGELES — If you listen to a lot of hockey fans in Canada, back east, and in other cold climates, they not only wonder how an ice hockey game could possibly be played outdoors in sunny Southern California, but many claim that by game time, the rink will be a swimming pool, not an ice rink.
But thanks to the National Hockey League ice guru, Dan Craig, and his staff, the ice will be just fine by the time the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings face-off on Saturday for their Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium.
Nevertheless, skeptics and doubters abound. But all one has to do is look back in history to September 27, 1991, when the Kings hosted the New York Rangers in a game played on an outdoor parking lot at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Game time temperatures were in the mid-80’s. Despite that, the general sentiment among those who played in that game was that the ice was just fine.
22 years later, much has been learned about ice making and how to maintain an ice sheet, and the technology has advanced greatly. In other words, doubts about the ice at Dodger Stadium are unfounded.
“Anybody who has followed the game for awhile, looking back to when they played the game in Las Vegas back in 1991, if they were able to do that in temperatures that were a lot warmer than what it’ll be here on Saturday night, and when you look at the technology, along with what we’ve learned over the years, they should understand that the ice will be just fine,” said Kings radio color commentator Daryl Evans, who played left wing for the Kings from 1981-85. “If you look at what the NHL has done with the different venues that they’ve gone to, you know that they’re dealing with a lot of different climates. The coldest temperatures are not always the best, and obviously, if it’s too hot, that’s not the best. There’s a happy medium.”
“It can be done, and now we’re proving that we can play a regular season game [in Los Angeles], a meaningful game, where the guy’s intensity will be where it’s supposed to be at,” said assistant general manager Rob Blake, who played 14 seasons with the Kings.
The ice got its first test on January 22, when the media were invited to a free skate, which was followed by a game between Ducks and Kings teams that featured alumni, team staff, local broadcast media, and a handful of celebrities.
Blake and former Kings left wing Luc Robitaille, now their President/Business Operations, played in that game and they shared their observations on the ice conditions.
“It’s the same [as what the Kings skate on at Staples Center],” said Blake. “Same temperature, same feel, and everything. No better, no worse. It’s very similar.”
“[Craig’s crew] did a great job,” said Robitaille. “The ice feels great. We were the first group to get on the ice—they’ve done a good job, and I’m looking forward to Saturday now.”
Robitaille noted that the first time an ice sheet is skated on is an entirely different thing.
“This is brand new ice, and we were all talking—the pros—that this is pretty good ice, for the first time [that anyone had skated on it],” he said. “Normally, when you get on [an ice sheet] for the first time, it’s tough to break it in. It’s choppy, and it wasn’t at all. It felt pretty good. Considering that this was the first time, I think it was really, really good.”
Evans, who also played in the game, explained further.
“The ice wasn’t bad,” he noted. “I’ve skated on a lot of ice when it had been put in for the first time. It was very typical, in that it was very sticky. It needs to be skated on. That’s what ice needs. When you make fresh ice like that, it needs to be skated on. The more you can skate on it, the better it’ll be. The group that’s going on after our skate will find it a lot better.”
“The ice, being that it was the first skate that it’s had on it, was really cool,” he added. “Everybody had a lot of fun with it.”
Evans added that now that the ice has been skated on, Craig’s staff should get a better read on its quality, and how to maintain it.
“The more that the ice making people get a chance to work with it, they’ll have a better understanding—is it too hard? Is it too soft? The temperature of the ice, the amount of humidity in the air—all that factors into the way the ice is going to be,” said Evans. “But I have no doubt that, come Saturday night, when the guys have to play the game, the ice is going to be as good as it can be, as long as it stays dry, and there’s no rain, or anything like that. It’s going to be fine.”
With that National Weather Service forecast for Downtown Los Angeles calling for a high temperature of 78 degrees at the time of this writing, by the time the 6:30 PM face-off rolls around, although the ice should be just fine, the temperature will be on the warm side for the players.
“It’s going to be warm for the players, there’s no doubt,” Evans noted. “It’ll be a little different than what they’re accustomed to, but it’s no different from playing a playoff game in some of the old buildings in June, when it’s 90 degrees outside. You get the humidity outside, and that all factors in.”
“One thing that’s good is that both teams are from the same climate, and the same environment,” Evans added. “They both understand exactly the way it is. It’s not like you’re bringing a team that might have been sitting back on the East Coast, in sub-zero temperatures, and would’ve had to make a huge adjustment, so the playing field is even.”
With the ice conditions not expected to be a factor, the focus moves to the once-in-a-lifetime nature of this spectacle, and the reasons the NHL has brought an outdoor game to Los Angeles.
“It’s for Southern California hockey fans,” said Robitaille. “It’s for them. Our players, because of the way they’ve played over the last few years, us and the Ducks, they’ve earned this.”
“Our fans have been passionate for years,” added Robitaille. “They deserve this kind of event. They’re very passionate fans, and everybody knows now, around the NHL, because they’ve seen us in the playoffs. This is something they deserve. In a lot of ways, it’s for them.”
Just two seasons ago, the NHL was adamant about not playing outdoor games outside of NHL cities in cold climates. But now, they have done a complete 180 degree turn.
Why? The most obvious reason is money, as the league is trying to replenish its coffers after their lockout-abbreviated 2013 season. But Robitaille indicated that there is more to it, at least in the case of the Dodger Stadium game.
“The [ice making] technology is better, and the demand,” said Robitaille. “The demand is here. They’ve seen us sell out every game, and they’ve seen the Ducks do well. They believe now that the Southern California market is hot, and they believe in our team. That’s why they did it.”
Blake was in awe not long after he stepped onto Dodger Stadium ice.
“To think that we’re playing on an ice rink, playing outdoors in L.A., it’s pretty amazing,” he said.
Evans was not far behind.
“You hear all the hype building up to it, and you watch the way the ice comes together, but to actually go out there and stand on it, and look up from the ice, just to see the size of the stadium, you don’t realize how big it is,” he said. “Regardless, of how big a hockey [arena] is, maybe 20,000 seats, here, you look up, and all of a sudden, it’s more than double that. You get a different appreciation for the amount of people who are going to be at the game, so it was really neat.”
“This is going to be something really unique. People are going to be treated to a once-in-a-lifetime thing, something they haven’t seen before. When you look up and see the Palm trees, it’s just going to be wonderful.”
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