LOS ANGELES – A hockey game being played outside at Chavez Ravine? What a laughable concept.
Even Walter O’Malley couldn’t have dreamed this up when he turned his vision of some empty space on a hill into the iconic Dodger Stadium.
But with a bit of breeze in the air on a near-perfect Southern California afternoon, the NHL hopes to be laughing its way to the bank and prove that you can play outdoors in a warm-weather city.
The Kings and Ducks will play at the famed edifice Jan. 25 and it was decked out with banners forming the shape of the temporary ice rink that will ultimately sit atop the immaculately groomed baseball field.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty spent time imagining the unimaginable.
“I never really would have thought it was possible,” Doughty said. “To be able to play on good ice, without the ice kind of getting really scrappy, it’ll be tough for sure.
“But to be having this climate and this stadium especially, it’s going to be a lot of fun. I just can’t wait.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, along with other league executives and personnel from both the Kings and Ducks, offered up an official preview of what they believe will be a can’t-miss event for local die-hard and casual hockey fans.
Bettman initially was cool to the idea of having the enormously popular and successful Winter Classic played in a warm-weather city. But Dan Craig, the NHL’s senior director of facilities operations and resident ice guru, convinced him it could work.
It doesn’t hurt that the nation’s No. 2 television market contains its wealth of marketing and entertainment opportunities. The real test will be to see if the ice conditions will remain pristine during a time when rain could do more damage than heat.
Temperatures in the greater Los Angeles area average around 68 degrees during January days, but the game will have a 7 p.m. start, when it is typically in the 40s and 50s at night. January, however, is one of wettest months of the year in Southern California.
“When I made those comments, we weren’t sure it could be done,” Bettman said. “In fact, I spoke to Dan again and he’s confident. Whatever the weather is, he will be able to put down a sheet of ice that will provide for a competitive game as he needs to.”
Craig and his 12-person crew will arrive with a newly built refrigeration truck and ice-making plant about two weeks before the game to lay down the ice after about 40 people will assemble the boards in a first-to-third-base layout.
Silver-colored reflective blankets will cover the ice surface during the day and Craig’s crew will do the majority of its work overnight. The plan is have both the Ducks and Kings practice the day before the game.
“Every venue we go to go to has its own challenge,” Craig said. “We didn’t expect in Pittsburgh that we would be dealing with rain. … You watch the weather very closely. You monitor the truck and you just move things around that you need to.”
The Ducks-Kings matchup is part of the NHL’s Stadium Series as the league expanded it number of outdoor games this season, with contests also being played at Chicago’s Soldier Field, New York’s Yankee Stadium and Vancouver’s B.C. Place.
And the annual Winter Classic is taking place at the 107,501-seat Michigan Stadium. But the Dodger Stadium contest figures to draw additional curiosity from those in cold-weather cities who are skeptical that an outdoor game will work in L.A.
“I think there’s a curiosity level, a fascination every time we play outdoors,” Bettman said. “Because sports is the ultimate reality show and then you add in the elements. Unlike the other games where it takes the game back to its roots and the imagery of frozen ponds, this is going to be different.
“This is going to be special to Southern California. And I think people are going to be excited and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau echoed the sentiment.
“People are going to see if it’s possible,” Boudreau said. “How did we do this? Or how did Daniel Craig do this? There is going to be the curiosity factor. And then we’ll see the pace of the game and the people who don’t watch the Western Conference are going to finally get a chance to see two really good teams play.”
Ducks winger Emerson Etem grew up in Long Beach as a Kings fan and attended his share of Dodgers games. Etem said “there’s no words to describe what it’s going to be feeling like” to play a hockey game with palm trees and the San Gabriel Mountains as a backdrop.
“It’s kind of ironic I guess,” he said. “I started out in roller hockey playing outdoors, playing at the YMCA. Seventeen years later, I’m playing in an outdoor ice hockey game. I didn’t even know it was possible, to be honest.
“I don’t know scientifically how this whole thing works out. But it’s quite shocking for sure.”
Before the news conference, Bettman spent a few moments taking in the panorama from the stadium’s highest point.
“Clearly Water O’Malley was a visionary,” he said. “It’s magnificent. When you’re up on the ninth level and you see the view, it’s off the charts.”