The heat is on the NHL as it brings its outdoor Stadium Series to Los Angeles.
During the frigid, wind-whipped afternoons of winter in the Upper Midwest and Canada, young hockey players have been lacing their skates and hitting makeshift patches of ice in backyards and parks since the 19th century. Theirs is a rite of passage that signals the beginning of their devotion to the sport. “As a kid, I played outside quite a bit, and you fall in love with the game that way,” says New York Islanders center John Tavares, a native of Mississauga in Ontario, Canada, where the average January temperature is 20.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
The outdoor hockey experience is a critical element of the sport. Recognizing that, the National Hockey League traded on the nostalgia, enthusiasm and novelty of the concept and created the wildly successful Winter Classic, an annual outdoor game held primarily in a football stadium on New Year’s Day since 2008. “Every team has said, ‘We want to do this,’ ” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says. “The reaction from the clubs is, ‘We want one of these; we want one for our fans.’ ”
Thanks to the popularity of the Winter Classic, which led to the creation of the Stadium Series, this year there are six outdoor games, featuring contests in Vancouver, British Columbia; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Chicago; New York City (two games); and Los Angeles.
Palm trees and ice hockey will make strange bedfellows on Jan. 25, when the Los Angeles Kings host the Anaheim Ducks at the iconic (and warm) Dodger Stadium, where the average temperature on that day is 68 degrees. “It sounds goofy, and a little weird, to be playing outdoor hockey in L.A.,” says New Jersey Devils defender Andy Greene. Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler agrees. “I was asking, ‘How are they going to do this?’ ” he says.
Enter Dan Craig.