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The Stadium Series: Why The NHL Is Losing Its East Coast Bias

Ben Ebert |
January 27, 2014 | 9:25 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Dodger Stadium took on a cooler look to host the Stadium Series (Facebook / Anaheim Ducks)
Dodger Stadium took on a cooler look to host the Stadium Series (Facebook / Anaheim Ducks)
Who would have ever thought of it? An outdoor ice rink in Los Angeles, at the famous Dodger Stadium, hosting a regular season game between two of the NHL’s elite teams. Now imagine a KISS concert stage in right field, a beach volleyball court in left, and the USC Trojan Marching Band performing during the pregame introductions of broadcast legends Vin Scully and Bob Miller as well as hockey’s “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. Yeah, sounds like quite a fantasy.

Fantastical as it may seem, this was the setting for the NHL’s Stadium Series game played Saturday night in Los Angeles. It was quite a spectacle as Southern California was able to watch its two beloved hockey teams, the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, go head to head under the California sky. Since the first outdoor NHL regular season game in 2003, which saw the Edmonton Oilers host the Montreal Canadiens in the Heritage Classic, outdoor games have been played each year in the northern midwest and eastern regions of North America. The LA Stadium Series was a new ambition by the NHL as it worked to expand on the concept of outdoor games by bringing it to the west coast.

So how was outdoor hockey possible in sunny Southern California? The technology used for the outdoor rink involves a unique refrigeration mechanism that is able to sustain the ice temperature necessary for a proper playing surface. Couple this process with thermal sheets to cover and protect the ice from sunlight, and you have a rink that is ready for game-time. Fortunately, the temperature at puck drop was 63 degrees, comparable to NHL arenas which range from 60 to 65 degrees. This avoided any drastic differences in maintaining the outdoor ice surface.

These specialty games began as events for Canadian teams, as the Heritage Classic, and Midwestern and Eastern teams, as the Winter Classic. The fact that one succeeded in Southern California supports the argument that the Pacific has risen up as one of the most competitive divisions in the NHL. As Vin Scully said, “[This was] the game that will set us on our ears ... a game like no other,” that featured two of the rising teams in the league. We can see the Pacific Division’s success (pre-NHL 2013 / 2014 realignment) just by looking at the past five seasons, starting in 2007 when the Anaheim Ducks became the first west coast team to win the Stanley Cup since 1925. That season, three of the Pacific’s five teams made the playoffs, which became a theme in the following seasons with the exception of ‘08-’09 (two playoff teams) and ‘10-’11 (four playoff teams). The Los Angeles Kings made NHL history in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, becoming the first 8th-seeded team to win the Cup. It is also worth mentioning that the San Jose Sharks have consistently made the playoffs nine seasons in a row, the second longest active NHL playoff streak behind only the Detroit Red Wings.

The Kings versus Ducks Stadium Series game proved that hockey has found its proper place in the United States, alongside baseball, football and basketball, spanning from the East to the West. No longer is it solely a “winter sport” or a “Canadian game.” This event also represented more than just the NHL’s ability to expand outdoor hockey; it proved that the “Original Six” biased mindset is irrelevant. The best hockey is no longer only east of Chicago. While the sun sets on the East and Midwest everyday, the Pacific continues to shine year after year.

Contact Ben Ebert here



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