10:22 PM CST, January 26, 2014
Lessons learned Saturday from the Ducks' 3-0 victory over the Kings at Dodger Stadium:
-- It's possible to play an NHL game outdoors in Southern California without the ice turning into a swimming pool.
-- The Kings, who have struggled to score goals indoors, can't score outdoors, either.
The event was a roaring success, though it could have benefited from less volume on the constant, deafening music played during stoppages and less pregame activity around the rink. Beach volleyball and soccer and Frisbee and yoga and bands playing and street hockey? Give the NHL a minor penalty for too many men (and women) on the field, although veteran Ducks winger Teemu Selanne liked the beach volleyball court.
"That's awesome. That's what it's all about," he said. "How California is that?"
As California as a successful outdoor hockey game, apparently.
If the sightlines were bad in spots — especially field level — that's the downside to plunking a hockey rink in the middle of Dodger Stadium or previous sites Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. The attractions of outdoor games are the novelty and communal experience, not luxury or sitting within fist-beating reach of the glass, and an announced crowd of 54,099 made this a memorable and historic adventure.
To counterbalance that infraction, give the NHL a huge win for blending technology with the right touches of sentiment, highlighted by Wayne Gretzky's appearance for the ceremonial opening faceoff and the introductions from Hall of Fame broadcasters Vin Scully and Bob Miller. Their excitement and fans' respect for them created an electricity that launched this venture in just the right way.
Even Kings Coach Darryl Sutter, whose team lost its fifth straight game, was able to appreciate his surroundings.
"It was unbelievable from where we stood to be able to look out and see everything," said Sutter, who brought his mother, Grace, to Los Angeles for the occasion. "It was an incredible experience to see all that."
Some of the biggest compliments, though, came from sources that seemed unlikely: Canadian journalists.
It's their game, and their frequent refrain is how Americans — led by Commissioner Gary Bettman — have taken it over and ruined it. But some of our neighbors to the north seemed impressed Saturday, encouraging news for a league that sometimes precariously straddles two countries and two sensibilities.
Mark Spector, writing for the website http://www.sportsnet.ca, called it "a night for a Canuck to take off his hat and give SoCal the ol' slow clap." He also praised the high level of hockey being played in California by the Ducks, Kings and San Jose Sharks.
"And as if that doesn't sting a Canadian fan enough, these Frisbee throwing, beach-volleyball playing, electric-car driving Ken and Barbies have officially highjacked the outdoor game as well," he wrote.
"We've witnessed a few of these events, but this one, folks, was fabulously done. ... Hollywood took this production over, and the warm California night was epic, where these games tend to suffer under snowy, cold conditions elsewhere. It was what California does better than everybody else — put on a show."
Francois Gagnon, a commentator and writer for the French-language RDS TV network, had done a TV appearance in 70-plus-degree temperatures at noon and wondered if the ice would be playable. He was dazzled by what he saw.
"I thought it was the perfect event. I had my doubt, being from up north and coming to California," he said, adding that he had received many questions from Quebecers skeptical that the ice would stay solid.
"It was colder in the second and third period here than in the Bell Centre on a normal night," he said. "It was perfect."
Good enough, in fact, for him to forget an ancient sports disappointment.
"For me, even though they did what they did to the Expos many years ago, Dodger Stadium is still a mythical place. Vin Scully. Everything," he said of the Dodgers' 1981 National League Championship Series victory over Montreal.
"All the surroundings of the game were great and I was surprised to see that many fans. ... I think this was a strong message sent to people up north and people around the NHL that hockey is alive here."
Alive and well, indoors or out. Unlike the Kings' offense.
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