By Collin Insley
Sunny Dodger's Stadium is a long ways away from the backyard rink upon which young Wayne Gretzky learned how to play hockey, and yet there he was, standing in center field at Chavez Ravine, promoting The Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game to be held January 25th between the NHL-best Anaheim Ducks and their arch rival Los Angeles Kings. It was a fitting spot for the man responsible for so much of hockey's growth in popularity in Southern California over the last 25 years.
The holder of some 61 NHL records, Gretzky was flanked by former teammate and current Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille, Ducks bench boss Bruce Boudreau and NHL ice guru Dan Craig, who will be tasked with creating the ice surface for the game. The "ice truck," which will be responsible for regulating the ice temperature on the big day, arrived in Los Angeles Monday afternoon following it's cross-country journey from Ann Arbor, where it made possible the 2014 NHL Winter Classic at the University of Michigan's "Big House."
The NHL has been hosting regular season outdoor games in iconic baseball and football stadiums since 2008, and in fact recently set the worldwide hockey attendance record with over 105,000 fans crammed into the Big House this past New Year's Day (with temperatures in the teens, mind you). Never before, however, has a regular season outdoor game (which is to say, a game that matters in the standings) had such an unlikely location as Southern California. As the ice truck arrived amidst unseasonably warm 80 degree weather, one would be forgiven for wondering just how successful this venture will prove.
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau didn't seem worried, though. "I've asked a lot of questions today [regarding the heat], but Dan Craig assures me it's gonna be great." He continued, "If [the 50 degree weather] stays, I think the ice will be perfect. People forget, we play in stadiums where it's 60 degrees." The forecast for January 25th portends a high of 75 and a low of 54. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 that evening.
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Not exactly a historical hockey hotbed, the Southland has nevertheless experienced an explosion of interest in the sport over the past several decades, the seeds of which must be traced back to The Great One's arrival in Los Angeles in 1988 and crystalized with both the Ducks and Kings recent Stanley Cup championships (2007 and 2012 respectively).
This season has seen both franchises continue their winning ways with the Ducks currently sitting atop the NHL standings and the Kings not far behind in the eighth spot. Most impressively, all three California teams (the San Jose Sharks complete the triad) find themselves among the top ten League-wide through the halfway point of the season.
According to Robitaille, fifty thousand tickets have already been sold to the event. Dodger's Stadium seats 54,000. Tickets are still available.