Ducks beat Kings 3-0 in Hollywood-style NHL game at Dodger Stadium

January 26, 2014

Los Angeles -- A sellout crowd of 54,099 gathered Saturday on a beautiful January day at Dodger Stadium of all places. Why Dodger Stadium in January? Not to watch a baseball game, but to see Vin Scully introduce the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks in the very first NHL regular season outdoor hockey game played in Southern California.

Although the Ducks earned a historic 3-0 win over the Kings, the game itself was only a small part of the story.

The NHL has promoted several of these Stadium Series games, but none has had the unique flavor, or the high temperatures, as this first-rate Hollywood production at Dodger Stadium. The 2014 Coors Light Stadium Classic was not just a hockey game, but rather Southern California’s way of bringing the sport to a whole new level of entertainment.

Appropriately, some Tinseltown stars were on hand to hype up the game and walk down the red carpet, including Tom Arnold, Cuba Gooding Jr., Alyssa Milano, and Jon Hamm.

The festivities kicked off at 3:30 in the left field parking lot at the Spectator Plaza, where the mercury reached a high of 72 degrees. The Spectator Plaza had something for the whole family to enjoy, with food, drinks, hockey-themed carnival-style games, and a DJ playing top 40 hits.

The official show then started off with a bang, as the band KISS appeared on stage in right field just before the start of the first period, playing their patented rock hits amidst an insane pyrotechnics display.

When KISS finished, the Voice of the Dodgers, Vin Scully, could be heard throughout Chavez Ravine. Scully first introduced the USC Trojans Marching Band as they marched past the palm trees in center field toward the rink, and then welcomed the Ducks and Kings.

As the two teams walked in from center field in unison and lined up at their respective blue lines, Wayne Gretzky welcomed the first outdoor hockey game to Southern California by walking in from center field and dropping the commemorative puck between Dustin Brown and Ryan Getzlaf.

With the crowd still on its feet over the introduction of "The Great One," singer Jordin Sparks punctuated the moment by singing the National Anthem.

In the middle of all this hoopla, a hockey game actually started.

When the first period began, the temperature was 63 degrees, making it immediately apparent that ice quality would be a factor.

The players looked very slow, and the puck seemed to have a tough time staying flat as it bounced all over the ice. The boards also seemed to have a lot of play in them, which did not help the players control the puck off of the boards.

"I think it was definitely not the prettiest game," said Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller.  "Like passing was pretty tough. Just the puck seemed to bounce. I think they did a really good job with the ice, but it was tough especially later in the period. Normally there was a lot of snow on it. The puck seemed to be a little slow, which I think threw the players off a little bit."

Because of the less-than-stellar conditions, one could not see the real talent that these players usually bring to the ice. Nevertheless, the Ducks dealt with the outdoor element much better than the Kings, as Corey Perry put Anaheim ahead early 1-0, on a rebound goal just 2:45 into the first period. His goal would turn out to be the game-winner, increasing his League-leading total of game-winning goals this season to nine.

One reason why that lead held up was the outstanding play of Hiller.

Hiller made 36 saves in the game, none greater than when he stopped Los Angeles forward Anze Kopitar’s penalty shot attempt at the 9:46 mark of the first period. For a Kings squad that has struggled to score of late, Hiller's save seemed to take some momentum from LA.

"It seemed like he wanted to go first on the breakaway," said Hiller. "He tried to go backhand and lost the puck a little bit. It kind of felt like he wanted to shoot. I was glad that it was a great shot and I was able to stop it."

Hiller's fourth shutout this year was the second in an outdoor regular-season NHL game since Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff did it in 2011.  He has won 15 of his last 17 appearances, and is 24-6-4 overall.

Anaheim's Matt Beleskey later would add a second goal in the period.

With the end of the first period and the Ducks leading 2-0, the entertainment continued during intermission, as KISS emerged from an explosion in right field to put on their second performance of the night.

Meanwhile, a group of families played beach volleyball on a court in left field.  Near the pitcher's mound another group of young kids played street hockey on a second rink.  Undoubtedly, this event was just as much about the atmosphere and experience as it was about the hockey game itself.

The second period was similar to the first in that the hockey was very slow and ugly.  The puck jumped around as if the game was being played on a freshly-shoveled pond rather than in a professional setting.  But given the beautiful surroundings, no one was complaining.

At the end of the second period the Ducks still led 2-0, and more entertainment was on the way, as the band Five For Fighting played on a stage at home plate.

In the third period, the Ducks added an insurance goal on an empty-netter by Andrew Cogliano.

With the 3-0 win, the Ducks improved their League-leading record to 39-10-5 for 83 points, seven ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks (32-9-12, 76 points).

Ultimately, the outdoor concept proved to be a great idea for promoting hockey in Southern California, as evidenced by the capacity crowd at Dodger Stadium.  Although the quality of the outdoor ice might not be conducive for high caliber hockey, the event overall did wonders for the sport.

If Saturday's game was any indication, the Ducks and Kings just increased their fanbase with a wide range of new hockey fans.

News and Notes
  • Anaheim forward Teemu Selanne recorded an assist on Matt Beleskey’s first-period goal. Selanne leads the Ducks in career scoring against the Kings, tallying 119 points (52 goals, 67 assists) in 105 games.
  • The game marked the 115th regular-season meeting between the Kings and Ducks, with the clubs posting nearly identical records in the all-time series. Over their 20-year rivalry, the Kings hold a one-point edge in points earned (LA is 53-42-20 for 126 points; ANA is 51-41-23 for 125 points).
  • Among the notable hockey fans in attendance were Jon Hamm, Jerry Bruckheimer, Zach Galifianakis, Matthew Perry, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Alyssa Milano, Taylor Lautner, Kevin Connolly, Kevin Smith, Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Joe Manganiello, Erin Andrews, Colin Hanks, Retta, Lisa Ling, Isaiah Mustafa, Pat Sajak, Joy Bryant, Tom Arnold, Neal McDonough, Michael Rosenbaum, David Henrie, Matisyahu, Brian Tee, Pia Toscano, Jason Thompson, Bailee Madison and Victor Micallef and Clifton Murray of The Tenors.

    Wayne Gretzky was joined at the game by his family, including Janet Gretzky, Paulina Gretzky, Ty Gretzky, Trevor Gretzky, Tristan Gretzky and Emma Gretzky; and Paulina's fiance, PGA golfer Dustin Johnson.

    Also in attendance were professional volleyball players Kerri Walsh, Phil Dalhausser and April Ross; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley; and past and present Los Angeles Dodgers, including Brian Wilson, Nomar Garciaparra, Tommy Lasorda and Fernando Valenzuela.

By Chris Graves
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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