California Cold Rush: The Stadium Game
The day nobody knew would come has finally arrived
*This is the sixth of a seven-part season series, titled ‘The California Cold Rush’ that will explore key points in the growing popularity of hockey in California over the last 25 years, which has ultimately led to the much-anticipated Outdoor Game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks to be played at Dodger Stadium on January 25, 2014.*
Unlike the previous stories in the series, this piece focuses on something that hasn’t happened yet: tomorrow’s game.
Words like ‘unreal,’ ‘incredible,’ ‘amazing,’ and ‘unbelievable’ don’t really even begin to describe the feeling and aura surrounding tomorrow’s Stadium Series Game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks at Dodger Stadium. Yes, this is a factual sentence, and that’s really happening.
The Stadium Game will ultimately become one of the defining moments in Southern California hockey, right up there with Wayne Gretzky and both the Kings and Ducks winning Stanley Cups, and about 55,000 lucky people will be there tomorrow to witness the grandeur in all its personal glory.
What started out as a crazy idea in someone’s head will become a reality tomorrow after months and months of hard, laborious work and preparation by the NHL, the LA Kings, and the Anaheim Ducks, among others.
“We’ve been asking the League for the last four years if we could be part of their plan,” says Kings President of Business Operations, Luc Robitaille. “John Collins from the League, last year after the lockout was settled, when they had some plans to maybe do a few more games, he and I talked and I said right away that we were on board. We knew our fans would get behind it, we knew it would be great for Southern California, and that’s how this came about, it was a discussion.”
“We want to make sure we take this event and use it as a platform to push the popularity of hockey in Southern California,” adds Robitaille, a Quebec native who now makes his home in Santa Monica.
Regardless of whether or not this event ever takes place again after tomorrow, the fact that there is a Stadium Game on the West Coast in such a warm climate speaks volumes about the hockey stage that SoCal is becoming.
“The West Coast teams do get a little bit of a disadvantage because of the time zone, people on the East Coast kind of lose track because they start so late, but to be in the national spotlight, even for one day, to have these two teams showcased – and they are two of the top teams in the NHL – is huge,” explains Sean O’Donnell, the Kings’ manager of fan development and alumni relations.
O’Donnell spent nearly half of his 19-year NHL career with the Kings, but won the Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007, and is no stranger to SoCal hockey.
“The Stadium Game is second to when they finally meet in the playoffs,” O’Donnell admits. “When they meet in the playoffs it’s going to be the coolest thing for the Kings and the Ducks rivalry. Until that happens, this is a really good exclamation point on hockey in Southern California.”
Lined up for the Game’s festivities is an all-star cast of musical talent, which includes the legendary rock band, KISS; chart-topping singer/songwriter John Ondrasik of ‘Five for Fighting;’ as well as platinum recording artist and American Idol winner, Jordin Sparks.
Ondrasik, a Los Angeles resident and avid Kings fan, will perform an edited version of his hit ‘100 Years,’ which will coincide with a video tribute to key moments and players in Kings and Ducks history.
The actual baseball field will be filled with creative and thoughtful intricacies, such as a sand volleyball court that will feature local volleyball players, a Kings sand sculpture, a Ducks pond, a roller hockey rink to be used by youth teams supplied by both organizations’ Fan Development departments, and of course palm trees. All of this is in addition to the actual NHL rink on which the Kings and Ducks will battle for two real points in the standings.
Prior to puck drop, from 3:30 P.M. to 6:30 P.M., Spectator Plaza will offer a free hockey and entertainment festival for fans to enjoy and celebrate the game, as well as shop one of the largest collections of Outdoor Game merchandise.
Although many of these details are geared towards fan experience and growing the game of hockey in SoCal, it should also be a memorable experience for the players, many of whom have family and friends coming in from out of town for the game, who will also have the chance to skate on the ice at Dodger Stadium following each team’s respective practice today.
“I had the pleasure of playing [an outdoor game] in Chicago, and it was a great experience, lots of fun, but a little bit colder than I think it will be here,” says Kings forward Colin Fraser, who chose the Colosseum in Rome as his ideal hockey game venue. “That’s what makes it even cooler, you’ve got palm trees and all that kind of stuff that probably nobody thought would happen is happening outdoors in California.”
“It’s going to be a cool experience – outdoor hockey in Southern California, never seen that before, so it’s kind of neat. It’s part of growing the game. Ever since I’ve been here I’ve seen how much more popular the game has gotten and obviously having an event like that is good for the sport,” reports Kings defenseman Alec Martinez, who is extremely excited to play at Dodger Stadium.
“I can’t imagine an outdoor game in California,” exclaims Kings forward Matt Frattin. “It’s a vacation for them for sure,” he says, referring to his family coming from Edmonton for the game.
“Even I’ve noticed how far [hockey popularity] has come since I’ve been here and it seems to me there are so many more kids playing and many more people are interested in the game,” says Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler. “All of us are very excited about it, even if the ice is terrible, we’re all excited to be there and play in front of all those people.”
For anyone who has grown up in Southern California as a hockey fan, this is an unprecedented event – a kind of rite of passage, even – that provides a sense of satisfaction from knowing that the sport previously regarded as the ugly step-child of sports, is finally making waves here in SoCal.
Soak it up like the sun.
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