The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks made history on Saturday night in the City of Angels, playing before a packed crowd at Dodger Stadium as the Ducks picked up a 3-0 victory in the opening game of the NHL’s Stadium Series.
The game, which featured performances by KISS and Five for Fighting in addition to a street hockey rink and a beach volleyball court, may not have been the most exciting game of hockey contested in the NHL this season, but it added a new wrinkle to the formula of outdoor games that the NHL has exploited with such success in recent years with the Winter and Heritage Classics.
Even though some pundits and fans have complained about the slate of six outdoor games this season as being too much of a good thing, the fact is that Saturday night showed that there is plenty to like about taking the game outside of the confines of an arena. The surreal scene in Los Angeles, complete with the USC marching band and legendary announcers Vin Scully and Bob Miller introducing the teams, was a reminder of just how powerful a spectacle outdoor hockey games can be.
In addition to the impact of showcasing the game in a non-traditional venue, there was the added exposure that taking the game to such an iconic landmark brings to the table. If you flipped on ESPN’s Sportscenter on Saturday night after the game ended, the ticker on the side of the screen featured a panoramic picture of Dodger Stadium, and the game was actually featured with a good number of highlights from the contest.
As any hockey fan can attest, the NHL doesn’t exactly get frequent play from the Worldwide Leader (at least on the television side, as the online team of Scott Burnside, Pierre LeBrun and many others do great work covering the sport), so to see it featured prominently on the highlight show was definitely an interesting sight.
As the Stadium Series carries on into the Big Apple on Sunday when the New York Rangers take on the New Jersey Devils at Yankee Stadium, the editorials and fan comments denouncing the series of games as overkill will likely continue to flow, but you might see a slight shift in perception with each passing game. Fans really respond well to the idea of playing games in these types of grand settings, and the 50,000-plus that showed up at Dodger Stadium are a testament to that interest.
When March 1st finally rolls around (and it’s shockingly only five weeks away), and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks duel under the lights at Soldier Field, the novelty may not be the same as it was in the Kings/Ducks tilt, but the marquee nature of the matchup should keep fan interest stoked to high levels. Seeing four of the game’s biggest stars all on the same ice in primetime is a tantalizing proposition, and the game at Dodger Stadium only serves to ramp up the excitement surrounding the post-Olympic showdown.
The temperature in the Windy City may not be 65 degrees at puck drop like it was in Los Angeles, but if Saturday’s game was any indication, the game should be the hottest ticket in town on the sports landscape that evening.