By Jon Weisman
Here’s a link to Jon SooHoo’s package on Saturday’s Kings-Ducks fiesta.
I met Brian Wilson in a flash for the first time tonight and never figured I was on exactly the same mental wavelength as the Dodger reliever, but shortly before the Stadium Series NHL game between the Kings and Ducks began tonight at Dodger Stadium, he said in an interview with NBC Sports Network precisely what I had been thinking.
“It makes me kind of want to start baseball right now.”
As much fascination as tonight’s successful notch on history brought — once the puck dropped on a material previously only seen inside beverage cups in the ballpark’s 51-year-history, the first outdoor NHL game ever in California began — it was the pregame that revved the engine. It was the sights and sounds of Dodger Stadium flying back to life.
Atmosphere is so much of the appeal of baseball, and tonight’s event brought a tremendous one, from the crescending anticipation, the marveling at the classic ballpark’s transformation and the roar of the fans of the Kings (the home team in this scenario) and their counterparts exhorting the Ducks. If you were a Dodger fan in attendance, you’d be hard-pressed not to be champing for Opening Day’s arrival (take your pick: Australia on March 22, San Diego on March 30 or Chavez Ravine on April 4).
Three months have gone by since Dodger fans have had the chance to go into full-throated cheer, and even if you were already antsy for the arrival of Spring Training, watching tonight’s extravaganza made you seriously stir-crazy.
A great regular-season hockey matchup in a pristine setting was plenty. And then, there was this:
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 26, 2014
“It’s time for … NHL hockey,” said Vin Scully.
Scully joined his peer, Kings announcing legend Bob Miller on the field, for the pregame introductions, and also narrated a special video shown on the scoreboard that mixed Dodger and NHL lore.
“Today, California’s best venture outside to a fabled playground,” Scully said. “Welcome, the boys of winter, to the place where dreams come true.”
* * *
Below, a look at the red carpet scene at Dodger Stadium tonight before the game.
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By Jon Weisman
Well, today’s the day. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are set to play their historic hockey game at Dodger Stadium tonight at 6:30 p.m. surrounded by extensive hoopla – or, to use a less basketball-friendly word, puckla. Dodger Insider will be on site, and of course you can also follow the Dodgers on Twitter to keep up.
Ken Gurnick of MLB.com posted a piece late Friday setting the stage:
… The forecast for Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. PT is 66 degrees. An unseasonably balmy winter, even for Southern California, has made for tough sledding in ice-rink management. The sport was never meant to be played in Santa Ana wind conditions, so NHL official Dan Craig has been sweating out the past two weeks of preparation, even though the 53-foot, 300-ton refrigeration truck has kept the sheet of ice icy, an elaborate system removing the heat to stabilize the temperature and ensure player safety.
Whether the ice is frozen or melted, the game already is a box-office hit with an anticipated attendance of 50,000. TV cameras will pan the expensive seats for Hollywood “A-listers,” while the Dodgers will be represented by stealth hockey aficionado Yasiel Puig.
Both teams gave the rink a test skate Friday, the “home” Kings emerging from the Dodgers’ dugout at 4 p.m. under hazy skies and a temperature of 72 degrees.
Forward Kyle Clifford described the ice as “slushier” than he hoped. Defenseman Robyn Rogehr said, “I’ve played on a lot worse.” …
… In addition to the ambitious ice rink, which runs from just past each dugout and out to shallow outfield, the field has been transformed into a multi-entertainment center.
There’s a beach volleyball court (of course) in left field, a “duck” pond in right-center, a concert stage in right field where KISS will perform, a roller-hockey rink between the mound and home plate, and a mini stage between home plate at the backstop screen that will feature performances from recording artist Jordin Sparks and singer/songwriter John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting. NHL Network has erected a studio on scaffolding in the Dodgers bullpen.
“It’s such an iconic stadium,” said Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy. “It’s so cool. Nothing I did as a kid was as cool as skating at Dodger Stadium. It’s crazy, nothing any of us thought would ever happen.” …
Gurnick also talked with Dodger team historian Mark Langill about where the game ranks in Dodger Stadium’s non-baseball history. Read the story to find out.
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By Jon Weisman
Above, Orel Hershiser talks about coming back to the Dodgers as a broadcaster for SportsNet LA.
At 5-foot-9, 185 pounds, Castillo is a righthanded hitter with experience playing second and third base in addition to center field, so his versatility could be intriguing to a variety of teams. …
So it’s pushing 80 degrees in downtown Los Angeles today and even warmer than that on the field at Dodger Stadium. I took a photo from the outfield that reminded me of the “Midnight Sun” episode of “The Twilight Zone.”
But the NHL Stadium Series game between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks on January 25 will be plenty cool, literally and figuratively.
It doesn’t even matter that the outdoor temperature will dip as the 6:30 p.m. gametime approaches. Doesn’t matter if you’ll be in T-shirt and shorts for the day or bundling up for the night. That rink crossing from third base to first on the Chavez Ravine infield will be 22 degrees, period, according to NHL Senior Director of Facilities Operations Dan Craig. (And no, there won’t be a hump in the middle where the pitcher’s mound is.)
“It’s a hard concept for anybody not in the field to understand,” Craig said today at the event’s media gathering, citing the proven refrigeration technology of the imported floor and the 53-foot mobile refrigeration unit, which arrived today from Ann Arbor, Michigan. “We have two very efficient systems that were married together.”
In short, you’re going to see first-rate hockey conditions, featuring — as a bonus — two first-rate teams. The red-hot Ducks have the best record in the NHL, while the Kings sit in third place in the Pacific Division and eighth in the league overall.
It’s an event unprecedented in Southern California, not to mention impossible to foresee when someone like Wayne Gretzky dominated the local hockey scene.
“Twenty-five years ago, I don’t think we envisioned two teams in Los Angeles, (let alone) playing an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium,” Gretzky said.
For the Dodgers’ part, they’re happy to provide the backdrop for the game and let the NHL worry about cooling that rink. When Kings President of Business Operations Luc Robataille called Dodgers President and CEO Stan Kasten in the spring, Kasten said it was a no-brainer.
“We’ve always wanted to expand the use of Dodger Stadium,” said Kasten, who was friends with Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau when both were plying their trades in Washington, D.C. “The NHL is so good at this. They know exactly what to do and how to lay it out.”
Joked Robataille: “We’re trying to get (Dodger General Manager Ned Colletti) on the ice, but he found an excuse to make sure he couldn’t skate next week.”
— Dodger Insider (@DodgerInsider) January 13, 2014
Just me goofing around while enjoying the embarrassment of riches that access to the official Dodgers’ team photography provides. (These were Jon SooHoo’s shots of Adrian Gonzalez during last year’s playoffs.)
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Dodgers at home: 1,028-812 (.558695)
When Jon attended: 338-267 (.558677)*
When Jon didn’t: 695-554 (.556)
* includes road games attended
Dodgers at home: 51-35 (.593)
When Jon attended: 5-2 (.714)
When Jon didn’t: 46-33 (.582)
Note: I got so busy working for the Dodgers that in 2014, I stopped keeping track, much to my regret.