(photo: sports.yahoo.com)

By Jen D’Amico

While the Seahawks and Broncos are getting ready to face a possible Super Bowl in a snowstorm, Dodger Stadium was a warm 62 degrees as the sun went down last night over Los Angeles. Over 50,000 fans (and lots of celebrities!) flooded the stadium last night for what was possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience what normally only East Coast fans get to experience; an outdoor hockey game. The NHL played this one well, scheduling the series on the tail of the always popular Winter Classic on New Years Day. Following the game, there are 2 games at Yankee stadium within the next week to capitalize on the momentum of the Super Bowl, taking place in New York next Sunday. It also boosts interest in the upcoming Winter Olympic games, where rivalries run hot in both male and female hockey.

Prepping for an outdoor game in Southern California where “winter” is just a dream, was definitely a challenge. With temps in the 80’s during the day, keeping the ice the correct temp was not easy. “We’re hoping for a 55-degree night when we drop the puck,” said Dan Craig, senior director of facilities operations for the NHL. It had been an around the clock operation, shielding the ice with heat-reflecting Mylar blankets while the sun was out, and performing maintenance at night. Prep for this historic event included Craig studying 15 years worth of weather patterns. Even still, it ended up being about 20 degrees hotter than historical numbers showed. Even with unexpected setbacks, which included a critical missing part for the cooling pump, come time for Friday nights practice, the ice was the standard 22 degrees. The Ducks used that 45 minutes to acclimate to the new venue. “It certainly took some getting used to, but the whole experience is going to be great,” said Ducks Cam Fowler. “It’s such a great atmosphere, and something we’re definitely looking forward to.”

“The Great One” did the ceremonial puck drop while the Ducks and Kings, in their new Stadium Series jerseys , looked on with a “we’re not worthy” attitude. When Wayne Gretzky participates in the opening ceremonies, you know this is serious NHL business. “This is a wonderful night, a spectacular event, only a positive for hockey and a positive for sports in California,” Gretzky said. “It’s an opportunity, too, to show people how great a hockey city this is.” Gretzky, who spent 8 seasons with the Kings (1988-1996), was undoubtedly there to cheer on his former team. Unfortunately for him and tens of thousands of other Kings fans, last night wasn’t a fun one.

The Kings were looking to take down the Ducks after losing to them two nights prior, 1-2.  However, the Ducks came out strong and scored 2 goals within the first 10 minutes of the first, for which the Kings never answered back. “In a game like this, when there’s so much build up to it, when you come out and get two early goals, it’s beneficial,” said Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler. “It took the excitement out of the LA fans and we drowned them out a bit. You have to tip your cap to that team. They played really hard and they threw everything at us.” Pulling Kings goalie Jonathan Quick at the end of the 3rd caused an empty net goal to bring the final score to 3-0. Most Ducks tipped their hats to goalie Jonas Hiller, who had an impressive 36 saves, including a penalty shot. This marked the Kings 5th straight loss. The Ducks are now 7 points ahead of the Blackhawks and remain in first place, the Kings trailing 19 points behind them.

Even though the Kings suffered an embarrassing loss, both teams participated in the first ever outdoor game west of the Rockies, and that counts for something. “These games are so much fun to be a part of, but they’re not easy to get ready for,” said Ducks Saku Koivu. “But when you win, it’s an amazing experience. Every couple years would be fun to be a part of it. I don’t know how much they can do it better here. It was just a fantastic experience for fans, media and the players. When you come up with two points, you can smile after the game. It’s great.”

3 Stadium Series games remain. The New Jersey Devils versus the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium on January 26; the New York Islanders versus the Rangers at Yankee Stadium on January 29; and the Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field on March 1.

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