LOS ANGELES — When the Kings and the Ducks take the ice at Dodger Stadium in January’s outdoor game, the moment will undoubtedly be surreal for all involved but it will hold a little more significance for Emerson Etem.
As a Long Beach native, the second-year Ducks’ winger grew up a Dodger fan going to several games a year at Chavez Ravine. Even now, Etem still frequents Dodger Stadium during the offseason. And while playing near his hometown in Anaheim’s Honda Center has been a dream come true, the experience of playing at Dodger Stadium in front of more than 55,000 fans is one he’s still trying to grasp.
“To be honest, no words can describe what I’m going to be feeling,” Etem said. “You come to a historic stadium like this and to have something like this be possible, it’s quite amazing.”
Etem continued to shake his head in awe Thursday, standing near the interlocking LA behind the Dodger Stadium home plate. Several players from both the Ducks and the Kings and others involved with the six-game Coors Light NHL Stadium Series were on hand to announce Los Angeles as its first-ever warm weather site for an outdoor hockey game.
Friends and family are already knocking down Etem’s door for tickets, which are expected to sell out. As the only local, Etem himself is likely to be a feature player in the event for the simple fact of showcasing local talent in an area that is far from a hockey hotbed.
The recent successes of the Kings and Ducks have brought welcome attention to Southern California. January’s outdoor game is expected to bring more and Etem hopes it will help grow the sport at the youth and junior levels in California.
“We’re very proud of having Emerson as a local kid on our team,” said Ducks’ head coach Bruce Boudreau. “He’s going to help grow the game himself.”
He’s doing his best to do just that.
Etem went as far as he could with hockey in Long Beach before heading to Minnesota at age 14 to play for the famed Shattuck-St. Mary’s. But the growth of the game now allows for young players without similar options to get good training and face better competition. For his part, he frequently comes back to the area and works with kids in some of the same programs he was a part of growing up.
“It’s a good feeling,” Etem said. “I can know that a couple kids in the NHL today have gone through what they’re going through now and that they can make it, it’s awesome. It’s awesome to be an example.”
“The fact that we’ve had players getting drafted in the first round, including Emerson Etem, hockey has never been stronger,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. “And it continues to grow.”
Still, the growth is not a rapid one. Only a handful of active players come from California and even from warm weather states Arizona, Texas and Florida despite the presence of their professional teams. Bettman said Thursday that the NHL is considering other warm-weather sites for outdoor games like Arizona and the Carolina and feel strongly that those locations would draw.
“If you look at the spectrum in everything that has gone on it shows that hockey is doing fine in the non-traditional climates,” Bettman said. “The reaction of the fans and the intensity and the emotion and excitement is off the charts. What we’re hearing from our fans and from our clubs in the markets in which we play is that they can’t get enough of these.”
If just one fan walks away from Dodger Stadium wanting to play hockey, an impact will have been made. But Etem is sure that there will be more than just one.