LOS ANGELES — So many said that it couldn’t be done.
Just as many laughed derisively while insisting that the rink would turn into a swimming pool by the end of the first period.
Thousands upon thousands just shook their heads, muttering something about there being no real hockey fans in Southern California, and that Dodger Stadium would be mostly empty.
As evidenced by the sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium on January 25 for Stadium Series: Los Angeles, the naysayers were wrong.
Indeed, even with a 63 degree temperature at the start of the game, they did not switch to a water polo game. Rather, the two teams kept their skates on and played hockey, as expected.
The National Hockey League also made its share of mistakes along the way, starting with setting exorbitant prices for tickets. In fact, prices were so high that some tickets were barely selling. That forced the league to lower prices in certain price ranges, an embarrassing faux pas.
On game day, beer taps at concession stands ran dry, and it took some time before the Coors Light was flowing once again. Even worse was the Spectator Plaza, located just outside the left and right field pavilions. The huge mass of humanity was too great for the space allotted to the festival—it was a zoo, a complete mess. In fact, security guards often had to close the entrance to prevent people from entering the area.
But even if you factor in the league’s blunders, and no matter what the final score was, the NHL proved that all the skeptics and naysayers were way, way out in left field, and it wasn’t even close. On the contrary, they hit the ball (or puck?) out of the park with their Stadium Series: Los Angeles game featuring the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings.
All one had to do to understand this was to sit down in breathtaking, iconic Dodger Stadium, look slowly around at the packed house, and realize that over 54,000 people had come to see an outdoor NHL game in Los Angeles—many wearing T-shirts and shorts—even though, as reported earlier, tickets were drastically overpriced, not to mention tacking on exorbitant parking fees as high as $50.00.
Sealing the deal was seeing two of Los Angeles’ sports legends, Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play announcer Vin Scully and Kings play-by-play announcer Bob Miller, on the field together to handle the emcee duties for the pre-game festivities.
“Hi everybody, and a very pleasant good evening to you, especially to you hockey fans,” said Scully, slightly modifying his trademark opening to a Dodgers broadcast for the occasion. “Here at Dodger Stadium, we welcome you with open arms.”
“Some of the great moments in sports and entertainment have occurred right here in this iconic landmark, and tonight, we will present a game of hockey, the game that will set us on our ears, a game like no other,” Scully added, using another one of his trademark phrases.
“Good evening hockey fans,” said Miller. “Thank you for being here tonight. You are all a part of NHL history, the first ever NHL regular season game, outdoors, in California.”
In closing the pre-game ceremony, Scully ended with another of his trademarks, although he once again modified it, just a bit.
“It’s time for NHL hockey,” he exclaimed.
As tough an act to follow as Scully and Miller are, one man was able to pull it off. That man was non other than The Great One, Wayne Gretzky, who walked in from center field to drop the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off.
Scully, Miller and Gretzky. Despite the high standard set by these legends, the rest of the night did not disappoint one bit.
It was, in a word, magical, and both head coaches were struck by that magic.
“It was unbelievable,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter. “From where we stood, to be able to look out over everything, starting in left field, and going all the way around, it was an incredible experience to see that.”
“I thought the energy was fabulous,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “I can’t even talk now—the players couldn’t hear me five feet from me [on the bench] because I was screaming [over the crowd noise]. I thought the energy stayed pretty much to the end.”
“I’ll remember the atmosphere, 54,000 [actually 54,099] people, and where we were, you just look at where the main portion of the crowd was—when people say Californians are laid back, I thought they were pretty into it tonight,” added Boudreau.
The players had similar reactions.
“It was a really special experience,” said Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller. “I think I had more time to just enjoy it last night. Once you’re in the game, you’re focused on the game, and stopping the puck. But during intermission, TV breaks, you’re able to get the whole picture, and it was pretty unbelievable. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”
Reactions from the Kings were rather muted after suffering a 3-0 defeat.
“The experience was good,” said Kings forward and captain Dustin Brown. “The result was disappointing, but to be a part of a game like this is pretty cool for all the players, coaches, and everyone involved.”
“It was fun and it was exciting, playing on a stage like this in front of all those people, but it was definitely not the outcome that we wanted,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar.
Despite their mistakes, and even though it is obvious that the Stadium Series games are a huge money grab by the NHL, as evidenced by the sky-high ticket prices and outrageous parking fees for the game here in Los Angeles, the NHL got this one right, and in a big, big way.
“Tonight was a huge success,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “But more importantly, watching the crowd reaction, it’s clear that there are lots of enthused, excited hockey fans in Southern California, and that’s what this is all about.”
“What was fun to see was that there were a lot of fans from both teams,” added Bettman. “It reminded me of what we saw on New Year’s Day between [Toronto Maple] Leafs fans and [Detroit] Red Wings fans. This house was filled a lot of enthusiastic fans representing both teams.”
The NHL honored Gretzky by inviting him to drop the puck for the ceremonial opening face-off—a no-brainer, not only because he played for the Kings, but also because Stadium Series: Los Angeles was made possible by The Great One putting the Kings on the map. His presence stirred a nascent hockey market into one that added a second NHL team to the area in Anaheim, and spurred tremendous growth in hockey at all levels across Southern California, especially youth hockey.
“It’s a big thing,” said Ducks superstar forward Teemu Selanne. “The last ten years, hockey has really exploded here. The Kings and Ducks have done a great job to make hockey bigger here.”
“It’s a great step towards making hockey more prominent in the area,” said Ducks left wing Dustin Penner. “There’s a lot more draft picks coming [from Southern California]. I know Emerson Etem is one of them, and Bobby Ryan is from here. The game continues to grow, especially at the grass-roots level in Orange County and the L.A. area.”
Bettman expressed confidence that the game will help grow the sport in Southern California even more.
“Hockey in Southern California, at all levels, has been thriving,” he noted. “Look at the Kings and the Ducks, at how well they’re playing, their rivalry. Look at hockey, and it’s growth, at all levels, particularly at the lower, grass-roots levels. But this brought a level of tension and excitement to the game that I think is going to bode well for the future.”
“I think there’s a lot of people who may have given us a look-see, who weren’t hockey fans before, were intrigued excited and entertained by what they saw.”
LEAD PHOTO: Legendary hall of fame broadcasters Vin Scully and Bob Miller opened
the festivities for Stadium Series: Los Angeles on January 25, 2014, at Dodger Stadium. Photo: Eliot J. Schechter. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
Frozen Royalty’s 2014 Stadium Series: Los Angeles Coverage
- 2014 Stadium Series Los Angeles: LA Kings, Anaheim Ducks Test Ice During Practice While Teemu Selanne Takes Time To Enjoy It All
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- 2014 Stadium Series Los Angeles – For The Last Time: Dodger Stadium Ice Will Be Just Fine
- 2014 Stadium Series at Dodger Stadium: Media Free Skate and Game – In Photos
- Take Metro’s Stadium Express From Union Station To Dodger Stadium For Stadium Series Game
- NHL Stadium Series Media Day At Dodger Stadium – In Photos
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- NHL’s Gary Bettman On Outdoor Game At Dodger Stadium: “When You Look At Hockey In Southern California, It Works”
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