LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Former Los Angeles Kings hockey legend Wayne Gretzky was at Chavez Ravine Monday in honor of the first-ever outdoor NHL game in California.
The former Kings captain and the leading scorer in National Hockey League history was expected to be on hand at Dodger Stadium to welcome what’s being touted as the world’s largest mobile refrigeration unit as the rink build formally begins for an upcoming match-up between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.
“I always said, you know it’s going to be something really special when we get to play an outdoor game in LA, when it’s weather like this,” Gretzky said.
After making a cross-country, 2,200-mile journey from Ann Arbor, Mich., and passing through eight U.S. states on its way to Southern California, the 53-foot “ice truck” trailer will be used to remake Dodger Stadium for the Jan. 25 game — the first outdoor regular-season NHL game played in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River and the southernmost outdoor game in NHL history.
While the venerable Dodger Stadium has hosted eight World Series and close to 4,000 regular-season games, it has never hosted a hockey game in its 51-year history, according to officials.
The Los Angeles Times reported Gretzky – who will end his four-year separation from the NHL in the wake of a financial dispute with the league – is expected to be honored during the event later this month, which will feature a beach volleyball court in left field and a skating rink near home plate in addition to the rink spanning from first to third base.
Gretzky was under contract with the Phoenix Coyotes as their head coach and head of hockey operations when the NHL bought the team after it entered bankruptcy in 2009, according to CBS Sports.
While it took almost four years for the league to find a buyer for the franchise, the remainder of Gretzky’s contract – an estimated $8 million – went unpaid until an apparent agreement was reached in December, CBS Sports reported.
Former Kings teammate and current team president Luc Robitaille and Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau were also expected to attend the event.
“I can’t believe we would have a game here, unless (for) the success of both teams in the last seven years, winning the cup,” Boudreau said.
The majority of the construction on the ice is expected to take place during night hours, when the temperatures are cooler.
Working with ice panels that weigh hundreds of pounds each, crews are reportedly paying attention to edges on the ice every day to be sure the rink will be ready for the puck’s drop.
“We have an insulated tarp that we’re going to be putting on the ice during the day, and it has a reflective topping, so it’s going to reflect the sun off of it,” NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations Dan Craig said.