LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Dan Craig and his crew have been at Dodger Stadium from dusk to dawn every night for the past week, patiently building a sheet of NHL-quality ice in the middle of the iconic baseball field.
They’re just about ready to drop the puck in sunny Southern California.
The ice is solid, the fans have bought nearly every ticket, and the two local teams are eager for their historic showdown under the lights and stars. Only a few tweaks remain before the Los Angeles Kings face the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday in the NHL’s first official outdoor game in a warm-weather climate.
“It’s hard not to get excited about it now that it’s almost here,” Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “It seems like everybody is talking about it.”
While the NHL raised plenty of eyebrows with the announcement of outdoor hockey in one of the nation’s hottest places, Craig has always been confident that this unorthodox game wouldn’t turn into a swim meet.
The NHL’s ice specialist is working a vicious schedule this winter with preparations for six outdoor games, but he’s most excited about the chance to do the improbable in Chavez Ravine.
“This is the challenge that everybody who works with me wanted to try,” Craig said. “The crew that’s in New York (for two upcoming games at Yankee Stadium) doesn’t want to be in New York. They want to be here.”
Even with daytime temperatures in the 80s and abnormal humidity in Los Angeles over the past week, Craig is quietly confident about the ice sheet created by his meticulous crew and the huge refrigeration unit in the 53-foot truck beyond centre field.
They work at night, building and grooming more than 10,000 gallons of water into a 1 3/4-inch sheet that stays cool under a heat-reflecting blanket during the day. The ice is out of the sun’s reach by roughly 4 p.m. each day, and that’s when Craig’s crew goes to work.
“We are very patient with what we do,” Craig said. “Our guys aren’t getting a whole lot of sleep. I know I won’t be getting a whole lot of sleep.”
Craig said he could have made NHL-quality ice just about anywhere in North America for several years now, but the league didn’t expand its outdoor exploits to a warm-weather city until expanding its series of stadium games this winter.
Glycol coolant is constantly circulated from the truck and below the rink, keeping the ice temperature around 22 degrees. The outdoor temperature is likely to be in the high 50s at game time on Saturday night, which would be plenty cold enough for Craig’s purposes.
“It’s a hard concept for anybody that’s not in the field to understand,” Craig said. “I’ve got two very efficient systems that we’re marrying together.”
Craig and Kings executive Luc Robitaille skated on the ice Wednesday, with Robitaille pronouncing it ready to go. The Kings and Ducks will hold separate practices at Dodger Stadium on Friday to get used to the rink’s peculiarities.
The boards, benches and glass were trucked into Dodger Stadium from the Winter Classic at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium, although they won’t need the heaters. The NHL is also embracing the unusual setting with a variety of amusements in the Dodger Stadium bowl—everything from a beach volleyball court and a pond to two performance stages.
The game will be the NHL’s first outdoor venture west of Alberta, but it’s not the first attempt at Southwest outdoor hockey. Robitaille and the Kings played an exhibition against the New York Rangers in Las Vegas in 1991, and everything went fairly well—except for the swarm of grasshoppers that jumped onto the ice.
“These guys know what they’re doing, and the ice is going to be great,” Robitaille said. “This is an incredible opportunity for these two teams to bring hockey to a new level in Southern California.”