Picture 70,205 eager fans, a nail-biting outdoor hockey game, and… ice made in 70-degree weather?
That was the scene last Saturday at Levi’s Stadium, the home of the San Francisco 49ers and site of the 2015 NHL Stadium Series outdoor game between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. After last year’s inaugural Stadium Series featured four contests, this year’s game in Santa Clara stood alone. The event coincided with Hockey Weekend in America, a three-day celebration of ice hockey’s popularity in the United States.
Getting the stadium ready took 200 people and two weeks of hard work. “Head ice maker” Dan Craig and his staff shot 20,000 gallons of water — 85 percent of which was recycled — as mist onto the temporary rink floor, which was equipped with icing pads running with coolant. The mist was chilled to a below-freezing 22 degrees by the largest portable refrigeration system in the world.
“This is going to be a great battle, and it is my job to make sure that the ice is ready,” Craig said.
The staff worked at night and covered the rink with a reflective tarp during the day to keep it as cold as possible.
The backdrop between the glass and the stands had a California theme with mountains and the Pacific Ocean. For an added bonus, the water even included a shark fin.
But even with the California theme, the outdoor ice made players and coaches on the feel as if they were elsewhere. For many, the rink evoked childhood memories.
"When the players stepped out on the ice, their eyes just lit up," Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said. "It's like the first time they were out skating. A lot of them grew up further north, so they skated on ponds in their backyard and rinks in the community."
During the game, the two Pacific Division rivals battled fiercely for a potential spot in the 2015 playoffs. But four minutes into the third period, Kings winger Marian Gaborik scored a game-winning goal, giving LA a 2-1 victory. This bumped San Jose down to fifth in the division and positioned the L.A. to secure a final playoff spot. There are still more than 20 games left in the season, so there’s plenty of time for the standings to shuffle.
Despite the score, though, the game proved fun for all fans. The one-of-a-kind event attracted four to five times the number of people as a regular game.
“It is a chance of a lifetime. San Jose might never play another outdoor game,” said Myles B., 10, from Oakland.
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images, courtesy Manat Kaur