One word best describes the two days I spent at Dodger Stadium, taking in as many of the sights and sounds of the Stadium Series event between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks as I possibly could.
Frickin’ surreal. The first doesn’t count since it’s not a real word.
You know the old line about going to a fight and a hockey game breaking out? Well, this was going to an iconic 52-year old baseball stadium that I saw Dodger games within as a kid and witnessing hockey and Hollywood break out all over the field. And not just on game day, but the day before as well, when I walked onto the diamond in the midst of some of the game’s past and present elite, all milling about hither and yon on the Dodger Stadium field.
Sure, I wrote about the event here as well as here, but what did I really know about it back then? Anything I believed at that point has been fully confirmed, clarified and/or debunked by being there, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The scene was oh-so-California
The setting was pure California, both in tackiness as well as in sheer entertainment factor. The event itself was highly unique: the first outdoor NHL game west of the Mississippi in the United States. The baseball diamond-turned hockey maelstrom could not have been more bizarrely eclectic, with a stage set up in right field, a beach volleyball court in left, a roller hockey rink placed between the foul lines, the pitcher’s mound and home plate, and — oh yes — the hockey rink in the middle of the diamond, appropriately placed at center stage. The purist within me may have been cringing, but was overwhelmed by the entertainer side, which loved it.
I walked much of the field the day before the game, while watching both teams practice. The players skated without incident on the new ice sheet, ringing shots off the boards and performing all of their normal drills. Watching the shade cross the palm trees in center field as the daylight waned, I imagined how things would look and feel 24 hours later when 54,099 fans crowded into the stadium. I’d know soon enough.
Big game, big names
For a few days, Los Angeles was the epicenter of the hockey universe. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made an appearance, as did COO John Collins. Wayne Gretzky was back where he belongs, under the bright lights of center stage. Marty McSorley, Kelly Hrudey (whom I met), Luc Robitaille, and other Kings greats were at the event. Legendary Dodgers manager Tommy LaSorda was there, along with former southpaw Cy Young winner Fernando Valenzuela and rookie of the year candidate Yasiel Puig.
A Los Angeles sporting event wouldn’t be the same without the requisite array of Hollywood stars. Cuba Gooding, Jr. was in attendance, as was (reportedly) Jason Bateman, Will Ferrell, Matthew Perry, Jon Hamm, Pat Sajak, Alyssa Milano and Hilary Duff. With rockers KISS revving up the crowd before the game and during the first intermission, John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting doing the same after the second, the USC Trojan Marching Band and Jordin Sparks (who did a great rendition of the national anthem), fireworks and fanfare, it felt as much like a gigantic stadium party as it did a hockey game. Maybe more.
Vin Scully and Bob Miller
I wish I could say the game itself was the highlight, but as a Kings fan, a 3-0 loss (the team’s fifth straight defeat) can’t qualify as that. In a couple of days, I’ll be writing about the game itself, as well as meeting Bob Miller and exchanging a very funny moment with Dustin Penner. Trust me, you won’t want to miss it, so check back on Wednesday or Thursday.
The crescendo of the evening came when two living legends of Los Angeles broadcasting — Vin Scully of the Dodgers and Bob Miller of the Kings — addressed the crowd. Seeing the two men with a combined 102 years with their respective teams introduce the event to the roar of the crowd sent chills right up and down my spine.
I can’t do it justice by merely describing it, so here it is for your viewing enjoyment:
A stadium game like no other
The stadium atmosphere was electric, almost carnival in nature. L.A. fans, who typically arrive late and leave early in order to beat the traffic, broke form and did the exact opposite for this game, packing Dodger Stadium to the rafters well before the ceremonies began. Although reports are the stadium series will be reduced in scope next season, the NHL no doubt considers the concept a huge success. Judging by the exposure the league is getting (not to mention the profitability of the Winter Classic), it’s likely to continue well into the future.
Regardless, for a few days, all eyes were on Los Angeles. As Vin Scully so aptly stated, it certainly was ‘a game like no other.’
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.