by Clark Groome
From the very beginning you knew this was going to be special.
When NBCSN began its coverage of the Los Angeles Kings/Anaheim Ducks match-up on Saturday, the voice-over intro wasn’t done by either of NBC’s top play-by-play men: Mike “Doc” Emrick or Dave Strader. Nope; that wonderfully familiar announcer was the legendary Vin Scully, for 64 years the voice of the Brooklyn and, after the move in 1958, Los Angeles Dodgers.
Why was Vin doing this? Because the game being played that night was not being played at the Kings’ Staples Center or the Ducks’ Honda Center. Rather this game – the first of the four-game Stadium Series staged to supplement the Jan.1 Winter Classic – was being played in Scully’s office – Dodger Stadium.
As the pre-game events unfolded, it was clear that this was going to be different from any of the Winter Classics played in cold-weather climes or those outdoor games in Canada called the Heritage Classic. This was being played in an environment that boasted temperatures in the 70s during the day. This posed as big a challenge to the NHL’s ice guru Dan Craig as he had ever faced.
There was a point on Saturday afternoon – the game was scheduled for 7 p.m. Pacific Time – when the temperature reflecting off the ice’s protective blanket was over 100 degrees. The ice, it was reported, stayed at 24.5 degrees. Twenty-two degrees is the ideal temperature.
Unlike the cold-weather venues that have hosted outdoor games before, this was a totally new experience for everyone – teams, community, fans and broadcasters. NBCSN’s Strader and Brian Engblom did their normally fine job reporting on the game.
The game itself was not the back-and-forth affair that many would have wished for. Ducks’ goalie Jonas Hiller pitched a 3-0 shutout against his team’s hated rivals.
All in all it was quite an event. What made this so special was that it was played in a warm climate where many felt the ice would be terrible. By all reports it wasn’t. In fact, the temperature conditions at puck drop were not all that different from what they are in most of the rinks around the NHL: low 60s with the ice at about 22 degrees.
Another treat for those in Chavez Ravine or watching on the tube was the presence of Wayne Gretzky, the man whose trade to the Kings 25 years ago changed the geographic face of hockey. The Great One has not only set a bunch of on-ice scoring records but has served as one of the sport’s greatest ambassadors.
Humble as ever, Gretzky noted that the outdoor game in Southern California has been something he wanted to see happen since he moved from Edmonton a quarter of a century ago. And in one of those almost-too-good-to-be-true situations that only creative storytellers could imagine, Gretzky’s son Trevor is a highly respected prospect in the Chicago Cubs’ organization, showing that baseball and hockey can intersect at many levels.
So there it was: Two of the best teams in the sport, both with Stanley Cups in their recent pasts, playing in one of the finest baseball stadiums anywhere.
The weather was perfect. The ice, according to the Ducks’ 43-year-old future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne, was fine. And, most astonishing of all, two legends, and two of the most beloved and important figures in LA sports history, Vin Scully and Wayne Gretzky, were together for a hockey game in Dodger Stadium.
Pretty cool, eh?