Outdoor hockey in California conjures images of the Mighty Ducks in plastic street hockey gear, shooting orange balls into overturned trash cans. Not the Anaheim team, the kids from the Disney movies that are the namesake of the Anaheim team. No, you are never allowed to forget that. Regardless, the thought of ice outdoors in Southern California at any time of the year is questionable. If you’ve ever tried to skate on the public rink at L.A. Live before or after a Kings game, you’ll know it’s a mediocre experience. So putting two points on the line for two NHL clubs was a head-scratcher.
Yet, on Saturday January 25th, 2014, the NHL proved outdoor hockey in Southern California was and is possible. How did the event go down? Let’s take a look at the particulars.
The experience. The NHL, the Kings and the Ducks really put together a spectacular event. The atmosphere was great, there was plenty of spectacle and it really seemed to go off without a hitch. While some of the individual choices were suspect, they did help create a uniquely Southern California atmosphere.
The ice. For all the worry about ice surviving in Southern California, it was quite successful. From all accounts near the ice, from the players to the announcers, the ice was pretty darn good, if not comparable to any other outdoor hockey game. From a fan just watching the game from afar, play wasn’t particularly sloppy with the exception of a few bouncing pucks here and there. It was likely no more difficult than dealing with a blizzard like in Detroit, and certainly better than the deluge of rain in Pittsburgh.
The Ducks. They are truly positioned to be the team to beat this season. What’s most impressive about them is their defensive play, which is not something you’d expect from a Ducks team that doesn’t have Pronger, Niedermayer or any real star power on the blueline. They do an excellent job of limiting quality chances and blocking shots.
The Kings. They coughed up two goals early in the contest and never could catch up. While the team will deny they were affected by the atmosphere or adjusting to the nuances of outdoor hockey, they didn’t necessarily look comfortable in the early going. The Kings did severely out-chance the Ducks, they failed to capitalize on several power-plays, a penalty shot, and a few good chances at Hiller’s doorstep. Unfortunately the team continues to make the little mistakes, give-aways, shots into player’s legs from the blueline, failure to get screens, put in rebounds and what looks like generally listless play. As Doughty put it after the game, “The bottom line is we’re not hungry enough to score.”
Beach Volleyball. It just seemed a little gimmicky and lame. It was just a way to fill an empty portion of the field.
The Ducks sweaters. The Kings uniforms were ugly and boring but at least they weren’t eyesores. Bright orange sweaters that looked remarkably like traffic cones weren’t the nest choice. Why not embrace the past? Why use the Kings logo that was just scrapped? Why not rock the old school Ducks sweaters with Mighty Wing exploding from the ice? Why not use the Burger King sweaters that the Monarchs were smart enough to use? It was a failure to either create something that paid homage to the past, nor create something lasting for the future.
The event exceeded expectations, which is great for the NHL. While it likely won’t be a yearly draw for fans to dole out hundreds of dollars to watch mediocre hockey and enjoy depleted refreshments, it was a great once-in-awhile type spectacle.
As for the Kings, they need some sort of wake up call. Maybe failing to even tally a goal in front of 54,000 fans will be it. Maybe losing twice consecutively to their hated and heated rivals will help ignite the flame that is so clearly missing. The Kings have been in a mid-season slump before and were jump started out of it by… a coaching change. That’s not likely in this case. Not many would expect Darryl Sutter to go, nor would many call him the problem. Could a trade be in the works? Perhaps for some help on the blueline? Or maybe for some scoring help?
If the Kings plan to dig their heels in and keep their decent spot in the standings, the time to do so is now.