LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com/AP) — The Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks are skating on solid ice at Dodger Stadium.
Southern California’s NHL teams held separate practices under cloudy skies in Chavez Ravine on Friday, testing the ice sheet for their landmark outdoor game.
The temperature was significantly lower than on the recent 80-degree days leading up to Saturday’s meeting in the first warm-weather outdoor game in NHL history. The Los Angeles weather was practically ideal for this unlikely outdoor event — as long as no rain fell.
“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 rest of the preparations for the outdoor game also neared completion, including a cordon of palm trees just behind the open center-field fence. There’s a ball hockey court between the mound and the backstop, while a beach volleyball court is in left field and a performance stage in right.
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.
“This is Los Angeles. It’s an event,” said event coordinator Jim Steeg on the Ice at Chavez Ravine. “You know, it’s about the entertainment that’s going to go around it. It’s the things produced for the jumbotrons, about KISS performing, the national anthem and the fireworks. This is an event fitted for Hollywood.”
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.
“We should have some fire in our belly and be upset,” Kings forward Justin Williams said after Thursday’s loss. “You have a home-and-home with a team, especially a team in our division, and the top of the league right now, you better have some fire in your belly, and we’ll have that.”
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 hardest thing has been to focus on the task at hand for the last two weeks,” Getzlaf said. “Everybody wants to talk about it and build it up, and we’re grateful it’s finally here.”