LOS ANGELES — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman didn’t need any elaborate verbiage or a long-worded statement when explaining why hockey in the greater Los Angeles area is viable. The credentials of the two teams, including two Stanley Cups in the last five seasons, speak for themselves.
“Hockey in Southern California – it works,” Bettman said Thursday at Dodger Stadium. Players and coaches from the Kings, the Ducks as well as hockey and Dodgers brass gathered with the media on the field to officially announce next year’s game between the two that will take place at the stadium as part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.
On the surface, it might seem as though the popularization of the outdoor games like the Winter Classic and the newly-created Stadium Series are based on bringing hockey to its roots of outdoor pickup games in the winter. But as we all know, there is no ice in Los Angeles or Orange County in the winter. You’re more likely to be ditching the shoes for a surfboard than lacing up skates.
But the Kings and the Ducks will lace them up for the first-ever West Coast outdoor NHL game Jan. 25, at Dodger Stadium. It’s a much-anticipated event that is expected to heighten the sport’s profile in Southern California.
“I don’t think California is a non-traditional hockey market,” Bettman said.
That said, Southern California is a non-traditional hockey climate. The average temperatures in January are around 65 degrees and the palm trees and San Gabriel Mountains will be a vastly different setting than the snowy locales seen in the past.
But that’s part of the appeal.
Bettman himself has never been to a Dodger game at Chavez Ravine but he can speak for the experience of the outdoor games. He knew that they would need an iconic venue in order to bring an outdoor game to the West Coast.
“I love this stadium. Clearly, Walter O’Malley was a visionary,” Bettman said. “When you’re up on the ninth level and you see the view it’s off the charts.”
The NHL plans to embrace the So Cal culture. A beach area is being discussed and Ducks’ wing Dustin Penner wants to see girls in bikinis along the ice. Dodgers’ CEO Stan Kasten, an influential figure in the process of bringing the game to L.A., lauded the experience as one-of-a-kind on several occasions Thursday.
Keeping the ice from melting in L.A.’s balmy temperatures might have been a challenge Bettman was concerned with in the past but NHL Senior Director of Facility Operations Dan Craig was finally able to figure out a strategy that Bettman was sold on.
“I spoke to Dan again, and he’s confident that whatever the weather is, he will be able to put down a sheet of ice that will provide for a competitive game,” Bettman said.
Dodger Stadium is expected to reach it’s 56,000 capacity, which will be by far the biggest crowd any of the players have ever played in front of, is almost assured the intensify the Freeway Series rivalry.
A unique event that will showcase West Coast hockey in a new light, it’s a bold new frontier for the NHL.
“This is going to be a different experience, but it’s going to be very Southern California,” Bettman said. “That’s going to make its own tradition, its own fun and its own excitement for people here.”