LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings stepped out of the home dugout and filed onto the fresh sheet of ice. Instead of a roof over their heads, helicopters hovered in the cloudy sky above Chavez Ravine.
Dodger Stadium isn’t a field of dreams for many hockey players, but the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks are thrilled by the chance to play the NHL’s most unlikely outdoor game on Saturday.
“We were trying to figure out how we could shoot a puck over the left field wall,” Los Angeles defenseman Robyn Regehr said. “Too many people around, though.”
Southern California’s NHL teams came away from Friday’s practices fairly impressed with the ice sheet in place for the league’s first warm-weather stadium game. The temperature was high enough to cause some slush and steaminess on the ice, but it was nothing two Sun Belt teams haven’t seen in actual NHL arenas before.
“It’s a different feeling playing outdoors,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “There are so many different aspects in the game that are going to make it more challenging for both teams — getting your legs moving, getting used to the ice, getting used to the boards. So instead of a skilled, high-paced game, I think you’re going to see a physical battle out there, and I think that’s something a lot of real hockey fans will appreciate.”
The teams skated with friends and family on the ice after practice while workers put the final touches on the unique accoutrements for California’s outdoor game.
The beach volleyball court in left field is ready, and so is the performance stage in right. There’s a ball hockey court between the mound and the backstop, and a cordon of palm trees just behind the open center-field fence.
“This is the crown jewel for hockey in Southern California,” Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. “We both live in a great part of the world, and this will be a great showcase for how far hockey has come in this area.”
The boards, benches and glass were trucked in from the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor, Mich., but the ice has been built up patiently over the last 10 days. The league’s ice-making crew covered the sheet in a heat-reflecting blanket during the day and worked through the night to establish a game-worthy surface.
NHL facilities guru Dan Craig’s improbable ice sheet actually has been among the smoothest aspects of this strange chapter in the league’s expansion of its outdoor slate this season. While Southern California’s growing hockey fan base embraced the novelty of the concept, the league overpriced tickets for the event, forcing reductions to avoid the embarrassment of a non-sellout.
But the hiccups likely will be forgotten when fans get a look at the ice in the middle of baseball’s third-oldest active park.
“I’ve been asking for an outdoor game here for a long time,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “I’m just glad I don’t have to go out and freeze my butt off at one of these.”
Dodger Stadium took on a carnival atmosphere, but the event is more than a mere sideshow. The Kings — the home team in this scenario — realize they’ve got two points at stake after losing 2-1 to the NHL-leading Ducks in Anaheim on Thursday night.
The game has been looming since well before Christmas, with players on both teams routinely facing questions about how they’ll adapt to the unusual atmosphere and unfamiliar ice. After talking about the game for weeks, players on both teams are grateful for the chance to play it.
“The lights are going to be different, and the glare is going to be a little different,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar, who grew up playing indoors in Slovenia. “But come game time, I don’t think we’re going to be worried too much about that.”