By Adam Brady
LOS ANGELES – It was hardly hockey weather on Thursday at Dodger Stadium, but that hardly dampened the enthusiasm for a highly anticipated outdoor game that is four months away.
Under a cloudless sky on a warm, sunny Southern California afternoon, members of the Ducks, Kings and NHL gathered to promote the 2014 NHL Coors Light Stadium Series game between the two rivals here on January 25.
“This is going to be fun and exciting, and it’s going to be a little different,” said commissioner Gary Bettman, who said he is “intrigued” by the possibility of his league holding an outdoor game in a warm-weather city. The other games traditionally take you back to notions of frozen ponds and cold weather. This one is going to be pure Southern California and it’s going to be a different experience. It’s going to be groundbreaking, and we think it’s going to be a lot of fun, particularly for our fans.”
Though the weather was in the 80s today, Bettman pointed out that the average temperature for late January in Southern California is closer to 64, acknowledging concerns about ice conditions in such a warm climate. The game will be held at night, so direct sunlight on the ice won’t be as much of a concern during play.
Dan Craig, the NHL's Senior Director of Facility Operations, has said the process for building the rink won’t differ much from outdoor games that have been held in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Buffalo. But there are variations, as his crew will build a thermal cover that will lie directly on the ice.
"This is a very unique setting and for us," Craig told NHL.com. "It's knowing 100 percent that your real work is [during] the day. Everybody that's coming on the crew knows they're working from six or seven at night through 'til six o'clock the next morning."
Bettman had admitted that at one point, “we weren't sure that it could be done. I spoke to Dan again, and he's confident that whatever the weather is, he will be able to put down a sheet of ice that will provide for a competitive game."
That sheet of ice, indicated by bannered barriers put up as part of the press conference, will run mostly along the infield from first base to third base.
Ducks forward Emerson Etem was among the four players in attendance at the press conference, including teammate Dustin Penner and Kings stars Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter. Etem, a native of Long Beach, saw plenty of Dodger Stadium as a kid going to games.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Etem said. “It’s a dream come true just to be in this situation, just to be in the NHL, first off. You come to a historic stadium like this, to have something like this be possible is quite amazing.
"It's kind of ironic. I started playing roller hockey, playing outdoors, playing at the YMCA. Seventeen years later, I'm playing in an outdoor ice hockey game. I didn't even know it was possible, to be honest. I don't know, scientifically, how this whole thing works out. But it's quite shocking, for sure."
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau was with the Washington Capitals when they played in the Winter Classic against Pittsburgh in 2011, and reveled in the outdoor experience.
“Everybody’s watched these games,” he said. “They’ve seen them in New York and in Canada. In Buffalo, with the snow. That’s what they seem to allude to. ‘Wouldn’t it be great to see the snow in an outdoor game as if you were growing up?' Well, this is a totally opposite scenario. We’re playing in Southern California, outdoors, in the lights, with palm trees and everything in the background. People are going to see if it’s possible.”
Ducks forward Dustin Penner was part of the press conference, and has experience with both sides of this rivalry. He was a member of the Ducks from 2005 through 2007, then with the Kings from 2011 through 2013. He won a Cup with both teams, and returned to Anaheim last season. He too is excited for the fans in Southern California, many of whom will witness hockey like they’ve never seen it before.
“It’s great. They’ll get to see a part of hockey that we grew up with as players in the Northern states and in Canada,” said Penner, a native of Winkler, Manitoba. “To be able to do it here in this atmosphere in a historic stadium like this, it’ll be a really unique experience.
He does have one concern, however.
“I think the only problem I’ll have,” he said, “is tickets.”
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