Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people — Eleanor Roosevelt
Much like James Herriot’s critically-acclaimed All Creatures Great and Small, I’ll be taking on all comers with respect to this list of the five best and worst aspects of the NHL’s Stadium Series outdoor hockey experiment. Were she still with us, Eleanor might just shoot a snooty glance and go back to her knitting (yes, she really was a knitter).
Suffice it to say, there wasn’t much knitting going on amongst the 54,099 that crammed Dodger Stadium for the outdoor game between the Kings and the Ducks, a historic event which felt as much like a festival as it did a hockey game. Overall, the occasion received positive reviews from pundits, attendees as well as the players themselves. Could it have been better? That’s a matter of opinion, of course, but there are always tweaks that can be done to further improve the experience.
With that said, the following are the five best and worst things about the Stadium Series. Given that much of this is opinion-based, feel free to agree or disagree after you’re done reading. Don’t worry, the NSA probably isn’t paying any attention.
The outdoor setting is fantastic
When I walked into Dodger Stadium from parking lot P and caught a glimpse of the field from high atop home plate, my breath caught in my throat. The purist within me cringed, but my creative side appreciated the wackiness: the palm trees in center, the mountains in the distance, and the crazy quilt mixture of a volleyball court in left, a street hockey rink near home plate and a sound stage in right. Not to mention, of course, the hockey rink in the center of the field. Busy, yes. Bizarre, most definitely. And yet, both in a good way.
In Dodger Stadium, the game-time temperature was a placid 61 degrees. By the final horn, I wished I’d have brought my windbreaker, but that won’t get much sympathy from the Winter Classic crowd, who faced 13 degree temperatures and blowing snow. Regardless, one thing is certain: the variables of weather really added to the experience.
One gigantic outdoor party
The energy leading up to the game was palpable. Although there were clearly more Kings fans in attendance, both sides were well-represented. The event had the same atmosphere as a playoff game, as the crowd practically buzzed with anticipation. The game itself was another matter, with the hometown heroes falling behind quickly and eventually losing 3-0, but the party was still a blast.
Hockey in an outdoor stadium? That’s crazy talk! No, it’s not, and although there are pros and cons as a result (hence, these lists), you have to admit that until the Winter Classic started in 2008, you’d never have thought outdoor NHL games would become regular events in a million years. Just about everything outdoors since has drawn fans, both great and small, in droves.
We all know that hockey is Canada’s national sport, and is likewise avidly followed throughout much of the world. In the U.S., however, hockey still doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves, although most believe it has gained ground in recent years. With the huge crowds flooding into the various outdoor venues, it’s a metaphorical public relations home run for the NHL.
Man, you practically have to take a second mortgage out on your house in order to afford some of the ticket prices. The average price for a Rangers/Devils ticket was $253. At Dodger Stadium, the prices were a little bit lower, but still pretty hefty, with a median of $195. I hope you ended up with a good interest rate on your HELOC.
[Keep Score Big in mind for your LA Kings tickets]
Lack of intimacy
I know that I’m talking about of both sides of my mouth here, but despite the crowd energy being fantastic, you’re still really far away from the rink in an outdoor venue. In fact, in many of the seats you basically can’t see the game at all. I know from personal experience, as I had to watch it on the stadium screen. In an indoor game, you’re on top of the action. In a stadium, it’s like watching from the Goodyear blimp.
Yes, I purposely put it in both categories. Other than the ice conditions becoming a little slow and slushy, the Dodger Stadium game was virtually unaffected by the weather. However, Martin Brodeur called the ice at Yankee Stadium the worst of his career, one which spans over two decades. The Winter Classic saw snow drifts pile up on the ice, and the refs’ whistles repeatedly freeze over. The weather impact may be an overall plus for the fans, but isn’t necessarily so for the players.
The game becomes secondary
The outdoor atmosphere was so unique, so kenetic that one almost forgot that a hockey game was going on, with two points on the line. After all, Dodger Stadium saw KISS perform four songs, and Five for Fighting two. There was frenetic, intermittent beach volleyball and frisbee playing, fireworks, and other carnival-esque activities. Somehow, the game seemed less important. It didn’t help that the Kings laid a big goose egg.
The Stadium Series might marginalize the Winter Classic
That’s the fear, anyway. I don’t agree, but I do acknowledge the possibility. Detractors believe the Winter Classic should be the only outdoor game of the year, and that the brand will be diluted with multiple games. The NHL appears to be listening, as reports are there will be just four outdoor games next year. Still, with overflow crowds and a treasure-trove of marketing positives, the Stadium Series appears here to stay.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.