By Joseph Beyda
On Saturday night, I’ll be in the stands to watch my beloved San Jose Sharks take on the Minnesota Wild. And for the first time in my life, I might feel like I’m missing out.
That’s because 350 miles south of SAP Center, another hockey game will be taking place between perhaps my two least favorite teams: the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. It’s not the prospect of Dustin Brown and Corey Perry beating each other to a pulp that makes me wish I could see the showdown; it’s the fact that the game will be played in neither Staples Center nor the Honda Center.
It will be played in Dodger Stadium.
Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. tilt on NBC Sports Network, part of the NHL’s Stadium Series, will be the first outdoor game in league history played west of Calgary. Unless, like The Daily’s resident Canada expert Ed Ngai, you know where that is, just consider the frigid locations of the league’s previous outdoor showcases: Edmonton, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh, Calgary, Philadelphia and Ann Arbor. Those cities’ average winter low in 2013 was two below zero; LA has been in the 80s for much of this month.
In light of everybody’s knee-jerk reaction regarding the weather, much has been made of the technology being used to keep the Dodger Stadium ice cooled during the day — and the fact that the game-time temperature will actually be a bit below that of an ordinary NHL stadium.
But that doesn’t take away from how awesome this all seems. People have been bubbling about the thought of an outdoor game in California for years. Case in point: Two years ago, when I wrote about the prospect of making ice hockey a Pac-12 sport, a reader and former minor league hockey player emailed me suggesting that the Sharks host the NHL’s annual outdoor game, the Winter Classic, at Stanford Stadium.
So I’m a bit upset that I can’t watch the Kings-Ducks game. I guess I’ll catch it next time, right?
Well…maybe not. Chances are that the greatest state on Earth will host an outdoor version of the greatest sport on Earth in the future, but I’m not so sure it will have the same appeal.
The only reason NHL fans are excited for Saturday’s game is its novelty. The Winter Classic, on the other hand, is an annual showcase for the sport, and drew millions of viewers and a crowd of over 100,000 fans three weeks ago. It’s lasted six years because of its spot in the national spectacle and its focus on youth hockey. And don’t forget HBO’s 24/7 series, a reality show that tracks the two teams leading up to the event and gives fans an unprecedented look into NHL locker rooms. By contrast, 60 minutes of skating under the Hollywood sign feels a bit hollow.
This game shouldn’t have been lumped with the rest of the Stadium Series, which features four outdoor games (not counting the Winter Classic) this season. It should have been a unique tribute to what makes California hockey special: its exponential growth for youth over the last 30 years, the Stanley Cups won in the last decade by Anaheim and LA and the role that The Great One played in bringing the sport out west. Instead, all anyone cares about is the refrigeration system behind the center field fence.
This game should have highlighted the state’s three rich hockey rivalries and inspired an annual outdoor series on the West Coast. Instead, the event’s organizers plopped down a beach volleyball court in left field.
This game should have become a tradition. Instead, it’s going to be a flash in the pan.
Joseph Beyda was trying to get the Sharks-Wild game moved to AT&T Park but was vetoed by the NHL because it was worried that the players from frigid Minnesota would melt in the sunny California weather. Send Joey your support for his cause at jbeyda ‘at’ stanford.edu.