Outdoor Hockey in SoCal a Huge Success

Hockey and southern California, they go together like… well, most people wouldn’t put these two together, or at least in any cohesive, harmonious way. But I would.  I am a native of southern California. I am also an avid hockey fan.

When I first heard about the Stadium Series game between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium, my first thought was, ‘that game is going to epic!’ It’s a classic rivalry being played in a classic venue. I’m sure this wasn’t a popular reaction amongst the world’s NHL fans. Actually, a more prominent reaction was probably close to, ‘Why would the NHL schedule that?’ or ‘Who cares?’

Colin Tempelis, a San Jose Sharks fan from northern California who has lived in LA for the last six years, was one of these fans. He stated, “I would have liked to see the NHL do this in a lot of other places before LA.  There are so many other cities that would have embraced this event more: Vancouver, Minneapolis, Toronto. I just don’t think LA is a great hockey town or sports town in general. ”

I won’t speak to other sports, but if you are a southern Californian hockey fan, chances are you are going to catch some flack. If you say you’re a hockey fan around other southern Californians, the most common response you’re going to receive is going to be a derivative of ‘How did you get into hockey and why?’  Just because it’s hockey, justification is a near requirement. As if interest in a sport really needs to be justified. There are two, statistically strong NHL teams in the area. If a person is truly a sports fan, why wouldn’t they be a fan? I mean really, there hasn’t been an NFL team in the Los Angeles area in twenty years, and yet, if you say you’re an NFL fan, people don’t ask you ‘Why?,’ they simply ask you ‘What team do you root for?’

And if you are a fan of either of the southern California hockey teams, whether you are from the area or not, chances are you going to catch even more flack. These fans feel that they have to prove themselves as true fans and in doing so, they not only learn the game, but become some of the most passionate fans known around the NHL even though Southern California isn’t typically revered or respected for its hockey, even by the hockey world itself. Despite both the Ducks and the Kings winning the Stanley Cup within the last seven years, neither team has seen much of an increase in nationally televised games, or even national news coverage.

In fact, out of the four Stadium Series games, three are taking place over a weekend. Out of those three, the LA game is the only one being televised on NBC Sports Network, as opposed to NBC. While the both stations are nationally televised, NBC Sports is an additional paid service, not basic cable like NBC, and therefore has less potential viewership.

However, while the widespread media coverage hasn’t changed much, some true fans of the sport are starting to acknowledge that the two SoCal teams are consistently making the playoffs and should be considered serious contenders.

As a lifelong Ducks fan from London (that’s England, not Ontario), Francesca Levine recalled, “When I used to discuss hockey with my friends from Chicago, Canada and places like that, they would make fun of the Ducks and West Coast teams, telling me to stick to surfing. But now that both the Ducks and Kings have won the Stanley Cup, I think that speaks volumes.”

And although there are legions of loyal transplant hockey fans who have come to southern California from more hockey-centric locales who are still die-hards for their hometown teams, there are also some of these displaced hockey fans that have chosen to adopt one of the southern California teams as their own.

“Growing up in Toronto, hockey was the one sport I really loved, and being able to watch hockey in southern California is a real treat,” reminisced Rob Dobier, a native of Toronto who now lives in Los Angeles. He continued, “Since 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a Stanley Cup, so being able to go to a Stanley Cup winning game with the LA Kings was pretty awesome. But the funny thing is, is that now the Ducks are my favorite team.”

The Ducks may only be in their twentieth season, but they have racked up a few division and conference titles in addition to their Stanley Cup during their relatively short NHL tenure. The Kings have been in Los Angeles since 1967 and have a couple of conference banners themselves in addition to their Cup-winning season. However, the Kings really started to stir up the hockey world by bringing Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky to LA in 1988. All of a sudden, Los Angeles became a legitimate hockey town and all eyes were on the Kings, waiting to see what they would and could do with the player who still holds the NHL point-scoring record.

While both equally great teams in their own right, the Ducks and Kings show nothing but disdain for one another on the ice. It is always an entertaining, edge-of-you-seat rivalry game when these two meet.

Earlier in the season, the Kings beat the Ducks in a game that went into a deep nine-round shootout. And just two nights prior to Saturday night’s contest, the rivals had faced-off against each other in Anaheim, with the Ducks edging out the Kings by a score of 2-1. The Ducks would be looking to continue to their dominance in Dodger Stadium, while the Kings sought to get back on top of the rivalry, commonly known as the Freeway Faceoff.

It was a typical SoCal seventy degrees when the puck dropped on the Stadium Series.

The Ducks scored two goals in the first, much to the chagrin of the prominently Kings-based crowd, but it elated the Ducks fans who had journeyed to LA.

The game was finished by a late Ducks goal in the third and a final score of 3-0 Ducks. However, the victory was just icing on the cake for the Ducks; the experience as a whole seemed to be the most rewarding part of the evening.

Playing in his 22nd NHL season, Teemu Selanne expressed, “It was unbelievable! Way more fun than a normal game.”

Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf added, “It was great. I thought they did a great job putting it on. It went off without a hitch.”

The fans seemed to enjoy the game as well. Despite a few Kings fans starting to leave about halfway through the third period, the majority of the 54,000+ member crowd stayed until the end of the game fireworks lit up the LA sky.

Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau observed, “When people say Californians are laid back, I thought they were pretty into tonight.”

SoCal resident Adam Wolf, who grew up as a Bruins fan in the days of Bobby Orr and is now admittedly a fair-weather fan, said earlier in the week, “There’s a rare beauty to winter sports, and hockey is the best team variety.  I won’t watch the Kings and the Ducks, but the people that do are the most loyal of fans.”

Other Postgame Game Quotes:

On the “Unbelievable” Outdoor Experience

Selanne: “I tried to enjoy every aspect. I don’t know how those games have been when it’s below 30 or 20 (degrees) but this was so much fun. There’s not one negative thing you can say about this. We should do it in Anaheim, San Jose should do it, everyone should do it. It was unbelievable.”

Jonas Hiller: “It was an unbelievable experience.”

Cam Fowler: “It was awesome. It was an unbelievable experience and something I’ll remember for a long time. It was really, really cool and I feel lucky to be a part of it.”

Icy Thoughts

Fowler: “The ice was perfect and I treated it just like any other game.”

Selanne: “I was surprised how good the ice was. It was way better than I thought. “

Getzlaf: “You know what, it wasn’t bad. You can only expect so much when it’s 70-degrees out or whatever it was. I thought they did an unbelievable job of getting the ice ready and it lasted throughout the game.”

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