LOS ANGELES (Reuters) — "California
Dreamin'" brings to mind images of surf and sunshine but on Saturday at
Dodger Stadium a very different dream will be realized when the Golden
State stages its first ever outdoor National Hockey League game.
With a temporary hockey ice rink set up in the unusual surrounds
of the iconic baseball venue at Chavez Ravine, the Los Angeles Kings
will 'host' the Anaheim Ducks in the opener of the NHL's four-game
Stadium Series this season.
Outdoor games have been held by the NHL in some of baseball's and
American football's best known stadiums for a decade but this will
be the first one played in the United States west of the Mississippi
While hockey fans can look forward to the unique prospect of
watching two of the league's top teams face off under the stars in
Southern California, organizers hope the temperature dips under 55
degrees when the puck drops on Saturday evening.
"It doesn't matter what event we go to, we study the weather trends
that come through," said Dan Craig, the NHL's senior director of
facilities operations and the man responsible for creating the ice
surface at Dodger Stadium.
"We know when the sun goes down we are going to be in the 50s. So as
long as I can be at that 55-degree (Fahrenheit) mark or lower when
we drop the puck, we'll be in awesome shape."
Craig and his team have been working overtime at the home stadium of
the Los Angeles Dodgers for the past week making sure that the
temporary ice surface stays in the best condition possible.
For most of the day, the ice is shielded from the sun by an
insulated, heat-reflecting Mylar blanket which is removed at around
3 PM PT (1900 ET).
At that point, Craig's night shift crew takes over and the
refrigeration system housed in a huge truck parked beyond the
center-field fence kicks into action.
"The truck is running all the time until we cover (the ice) up," said
Craig. "We've been good. The truck has handled it. The sun has gone
down and it's totally off the ice by four o'clock."
JUST ABOUT PERFECT
So far this week, the weather has been just about perfect for Craig
with evening temperatures in the fifties at Dodger Stadium.
"This is good," he said. "That's what I am really looking forward to
is having the bottom drop out. I know people in the stands won't
enjoy it that much but if it gets below 55 degrees we are just going
to have an absolutely beautiful night here."
Fans will be treated to a most unusual sight with the
NHL-size hockey rink set up in the infield, an in-line skating
rink in front of it and a beach volleyball court in left field.
Palm trees line the approach where the players will make their
initial appearances, a small pond is positioned in right field
and flamboyant rock band KISS will wow the crowd with a pre-game
performance and another during the first intermission.
Most sports games in Los Angeles attract a Hollywood presence
and Saturday will be no exception with actors Will Ferrell,
Jason Bateman, Matthew Perry and Cuba Gooding Jr. expected to
walk the red carpet shortly before the puck drops.
For the NHL players, however, it will be business as usual with
victory in a regular-season game on the line.
"The Stadium Series is kind of for everyone else," Kings forward
Justin Williams said. "Yeah, it's cool, but we're there to win a
hockey game. ... They're the best team in the league right now
and if we have to win it 1-0, we need to win it 1-0."
The (38-10-5) Ducks, who beat the visiting Kings 2-1 at Honda
Center in Anaheim on Thursday, lead the 14-team Western
Conference while Los Angeles (29-17-6) occupy sixth place after
losing their last four games.
"We obviously need the points more than they do," said Kings
forward Trevor Lewis. "After a loss like this (on Thursday), you
always want to get right back after them, so it's good that
we've got them again."
The Ducks, however, will not be taking anything for granted
against the Kings, who are the best defensive team in the NHL.
"One game in January doesn't mean we're a better team than
them," said Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy. "We're two very evenly
matched teams, and we need to bring it on Saturday in order to
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes;
editing by Gene Cherry)