Media day at Dodger Stadium yielded a few interesting truths about outdoor hockey in the past, outdoor hockey in the present, and the Kings’ and Ducks’ intentions for their contest on Saturday evening. It also allowed a bit of a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what’s being prepared for fans for the big day.
First, and of greatest concern, the ice. It was described by various players as workable, nobody having any great complaints, but soft. To compensate, several guys that IH talked to said that they would be sharpening their skates with less “hollow,” the net effect being a somewhat more dull blade than what they use normally, Amongst them, the Kings Jarrett Stoll and the Ducks’ Saku Koivu.
The game the Ducks play, speedy as it is, could be affected by these ice conditions.
On the matter of their team speed being less, Koivu commented by saying, “we do play a fast game, and that is harder to do on this ice.” He didn’t elaborate on what they might resort to as an alternative.
Ben Lovejoy was OK with a slow surface, though. “I don’t play a fast game,” he said. “So I guess you could say that my game won’t be much different tomorrow than it would anywhere else.”
Their goalie, Jonas Hiller, who relies on sliding from side to side on his knees, said that he will be moving slower on this ice than what he’s used to. That might make a difference in the score. Anaheim’s Nick Bonino said that the atmosphere might be like a playoff game, “Though the conditions might not let it be as fast as a playoff game.”
Another way the ice was described by some as kind of hollow, the sound it made different from what they are used to in the indoor arenas they play in. But Robin Regehr of the Kings said that after a few minutes, he stopped noticing that, further indicating that the crowd and its racket on Saturday will override anything like that anyway.
Teemu Selanne said that more a sheet of ice is used—that is, flooded—the better it is. “Ice that you skate on every day gets better,” he commented, noting also that buildings that don’t cover the ice for so many concerts often have a nicer sheet.
Cam Fowler commented that “there are some differences in the ice, but all in all it’s good. It won’t make much difference.”
In the end, most players resorted to the cliché that the ice is the same for both teams, and they claimed that they wouldn’t think much about it after the first few minutes. That of course, is not at all true, especially if the slow conditions tilt the game in LA’s favor.
Coach Sutter of LA said, “I think we know the conditions—we don’t play on great ice at Staples Center,” and then followed up by saying, “The ice will be great at the start of periods.” There, obviously, you have the strategy his team will be working—jump out as fast as they can and hope for the best.
A couple of players that IH talked to have played in outdoor games. Regehr was with Calgary in 2011, though he couldn’t remember the year exactly, when they played outdoors. Koivu played with Montreal in Edmonton in the Jose Theodore toque game. And surprisingly enough, Hiller said that some of the teams he had played against in Junior hockey (he is Swiss) had not had enclosed arenas, so that he played a handful of outdoor games every year.
Others talked about having played outside in the past. The last time for Dustin Penner was when he was fourteen. What does that tell you? That after that, he was so busy playing towards an NHL career—indoors—that he didn’t have any time for the pond.
Teemu Selanne was asked whether he had ever played outside when he was in Winnipeg. “Street hockey,” he said. “We played a lot of that up there.” And then he said that he last remembers playing outside on the Canal in Ottawa. Call it the Rideau.
Ben Lovejoy had no particular memories of playing outside in his native New Hampshire other than the cold. His contrasting of that atmosphere to the cool of Dodger Stadium was a reminder to those who think that 58 degrees at night is “cold” that that is hardly the truth.
Outdoor hockey was not restricted to the ice for Sutter any more than for Selanne. Sutter said that when he was in San Jose, “We lived on a cul de sac [deadend], and by the end of the year, our kids had all the kids there playing street hockey.”
The atmospheric conditions on Friday, for those of you who are in colder parts of the world, could hardly have been better for this ice. All week out here, it’s been 75 degrees and sunny. Friday dawned cloudy, and the sun never did come out. Without seeing rain, of which there is no chance, this is about as much shade as SoCal ever gets, and thus the ice, which was uncovered for much of the afternoon and evening, was not disturbed by sunshine. It was exactly what the league, and the ice Guru Dan Craig, must have crossed their fingers for.
That leads to another issue: glare. The lights in a baseball stadium, obviously, are much farther from the ice, and brighter, than in an NHL arena. The other difference is that in an indoor arena, there are seats right behind the glass. The tend to be dark. In these outdoor games, though, there’s nothing behind the glass. The lights and the signs also reflect off the glass.
Many players had eye black on as an attempt to absorb some of the glare. Jonas Hiller said that he felt that the lighting was “not too bad when you focus on the puck.”
The heat will also be a factor. The irony about the indoor arenas in Southern California, according to Sutter, is that they are very cold. Naturally, this is so that the ice can be as good as possible. Outdoors, gametime will be a bit chilly, with a slight breeze, if Saturday night is anything like Friday, but that still will put the temperature in the high 50s. As I write, at 10:30pm local time Friday, it’s 63 degrees, with a projected low of 50.
Hiller said that he felt the heat. “It’s been half an hour since practice ended, and I’m still sweating,” he commented before indicating that he’ll try to take his mask off whenever there is a break.
Nick Bonino said, “You’re sweating and it’s really hot out there, so we’ll just have to see how it works out.” He, Dustin Penner, and Lovejoy all commented on the need to “hydrate,” which Penner took as a joke, citing the clichéd aspect of it. “I have never been so hydrated,” he laughed.
The final factor of concern is the “bigness” of the stage and how that will affect the players. Corey Perry said that his approach was to take it all in on Friday and then concentrate on the game Saturday. His coach said that he thought his players would be “nervous on the national stage” and that “they will want to do well, so it’s good.” His opposite number, Daryl Sutter, said that “both teams have players who have won championships, and they know the importance of every game.”
Various players said that they were in awe of the spot they were to play, though only Jarrett Stoll of the ones IH talked to had actually been in the Stadium for a game. Dustin Penner cited “doing that thing when I was on the other side,” which translates into doing an event at the Stadium as a member of the Kings. That, if I recall correctly, was a team-building exercise that the Kings did at Dodger Stadium. It wasn’t much more than a photo op, in the end.
Others talked about having family at the place Friday for the skate, with the kids being the most excited. Koivu had his two, and Selanne his four. Koivu said that his children had been talking about nothing much for three or four days except this skate.
But aside from that, there’s a game to play. For the Kings, despite all the hype, this game means nothing more significant than getting the win. They have lost three straight including Thursday night in Anaheim. By their own admission, they are not playing a complete game, and so while it is yet another cliché to say that they have to ignore the hype and just focus on getting the two points, that’s precisely what they need to do. Otherwise, given that they’re playing a Division and Conference opponent, it’s the old four-point swing that they suffer if they lose.
The families skated after the Kings and then the Ducks did. It wasn’t until close to 9pm that the ice was vacated. At that point, KISS did its soundcheck. They’ll be performing before the game.
Coach Boudreau said after the game that he hated to have to sit three of his roster players, but that that’s the rules. When pressed to find out what his lineup will, be, he said, “Probably the tendency would be to go with the same lineup after a win, but I don’t go with the tendencies.
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