The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kimgs made history Saturday night by playing the first ever regular season outdoor NHL game in California. It provided a much different look and feel than the snowy sub-zero climates that have hosted outdoor games before it.
First of all, a nod to the great Vin Scully, who has been calling Dodger games in both Los Angeles and Brooklyn for 65 years.
Sixty-five years! Any Dodger Stadium experience isn't complete until the Scully's voice is splashed across the stadium. He is pictured here with Kings announcer Bob Miller. On CBC's coverage, Scott Oake did an interview with Scully in which the West Coast broadcaster told a story about skating with Jackie Robinson. I could listen to Scully tell stories all evening. Probably should have just given him the mic and let him talk.
Nearly 55,000 people were in attendance, burying any notion these outdoors games are tired and old. On the contrary, the outdoor game in California was a smashing success. Seeing players enter with tropical trees, green grass, a beach volleyball pit and people comfortably wearing t-shirts and light clothing in the background was surreal. At Dodger Stadium, there was a roller hockey rink placed in the infield, a volleyball court in left for intermission entertainment and a stage for performances by KISS out in right field.
Speaking of KISS… The rockers played into the night, a perfect complement to a hockey game. Rock and Roll All Night, Detroit Rock City: KISS's classics were about the in-game entertainment you can get these days. They weren't the only act. Jordin Sparks sang the Star Spangled Banner and Five for Fighting played to a video montage in the second intermission.
Here's that shot of the players coming into the game through palm trees. It's a feeling Canadian kids everywhere have, well, no clue about. No neckwarmers, to visible breath, this was unlike any other outdoor NHL game before it. Surely John Tortorella would have made this entrance a little more, shall we say, heated if he was involved. And not on suspension.
As much as you need Vin Scully to be part of any Dodger Stadium event for it to be complete, Wayne Gretzky also needs to have a presence at any major California hockey first. No. 99, the NHL's greatest ambassador to California, stood over the ceremonial puck drop in front of a baseball stadium full of cheers. More assists than anyone has points...
The temperature was 17 degrees Celsius at puck drop, which TSN's Gord Miller pointed out is about the temperature of an NHL arena.
The Ducks struck twice before the first 10 minutes of the first period had passed, but Anze Kopitar was looking to get the Kings on the board when he broke through on a breakaway with a burst of speed. He was hooked and given a penalty shot, but was clearly gassed and didn't get the best opportunity. The shootout has made penalty shots less special than they used to be, but seeing one in this outdoor game was kind of special again.
Beyond the spectacle, it was an important game between the two rivals. Anaheim, the best team in the NHL, had just beaten the Kings 2-1 on Thursday. The Kings sat third in the Pacific Divison, 17 points(!) behind the Ducks heading into the Dodger Stadium game. With the 3-0 win outdoors, Anaheim has now scored five unanswered goals against the Kings and nearly hold a double-digit point lead on everyone in their division - San Jose is nine back, with two games in hand. The Kings, meanwhile, still sit comfortably in a playoff spot, seven points ahead of ninth-place Phoenix.
There was even a fight! Well, what did you expect from these two heated rivals? Physical play was prominent all night long and boiled over here between Los Angeles' Kyle Clifford and Anaheim's Tim Jackman. It was a fight at a baseball stadium where actual punches were thrown. (Like Vin Scully and Wayne Gretzky, that joke is also required at these events.) The highlight moment of heat came between Kyle Palmieri and Jonathan Quick. The Ducks forward took the puck to the net and though he was nudged toward the Kings goalie by a Kings defenseman, Quick took exception to the contact. The goalie followed Palmieri into the corner after the whistle and the two exchanged words - and shoves - to draw a crowd.
In the end, the Ducks were victorious despite being outshot 36-21 by the Kings. Jonas Hiller was the game's first star, earning a shutout in the historic 3-0 win. It was Hiller's fourth shutout of the season, which is tied for second league-wide with Ben Bishop, one behind Boston's Tuukka Rask. His 2.34 GAA ranks 13th and .915 save percentage ranks 19th.
Outdoor NHL hockey in California. Let's do it again some time.
(All photos from Getty Images)
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