Puck drops at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25
Great One pumped for NHL's first regular-season outdoor game west of Mississippi
LOS ANGELES -- Since a 1962 christening for baseball, Dodger Stadium has also hosted the Pope and The Police, The Beatles and The Boss. Olympic baseball was played there, and once it even was the site of a ski-jumping exhibition.
On Monday, the iconic venue rolled out the red line for The Great One.
Wayne Gretzky headlined a news conference to advance the Jan. 25 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Kings and Ducks, set to be the first hockey game at Dodger Stadium, the first outdoor regular-season NHL game west of the Mississippi River and the southernmost outdoor game in league history.
Gretzky, whose arrival as a King 25 years ago took hockey in Southern California to another level, was joined by officials of both clubs, as well as the NHL's "ice truck," the technological trailer that will make it possible to play an ice hockey game where temperatures on Monday reached 80 degrees.
"This is a wonderful day, not only for Kings fans and for Ducks fans, but for the NHL itself," said Gretzky. "It shows how much the game has grown. I remember sitting and watching on New Year's Days the games in Buffalo and Philly, in cold and snow, and always said it would be so cool to see it played in Dodger Stadium in 65 degrees in shorts and T-shirts. The dream is going to come true."
While Gretzky, Kings president Luc Robitaille and Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau detailed how the concept of the game has become a reality, they shared the stage with Dan Craig, who will really be a great one if he can keep the ice from melting.
Craig is the NHL's senior director of facilities operations. Translated for this event, he's the ice man in charge of the world's largest mobile refrigeration unit that has traveled from its most recent assignment in Ann Arbor, Mich., and the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day.
There already is the outline of an ice rink stretching across the Dodger Stadium field, roughly from third base to first base length-wise and extending from the rim of the pitcher's mound to shallow center field. Gretzky said he'll be tempted to bring his kids out for a private skate-around.
In keeping with the hot-to-cold theme, there will be a beach volleyball court in left field with a Kings logo and a duck pond in right-center with a Ducks logo.
Beginning Thursday evening, Craig and his crew will begin building the rink with supercooled water pumped into ice pans. The work will be done at night with the forming ice protected under a thermal tarp during the day. The ice truck will maintain the ice at 22 degrees during the game.
According to Don Renzulli, NHL executive vice president of events, an exhibition game once was played in Las Vegas in 70-degree temperatures, but the warmest it's been when the puck has dropped for a Stadium Series regular season game is "about 50 degrees."
The puck will drop at 6:30 p.m. PT and planners are confident that during a Santa-Ana-wind-driven heat wave, temperatures will fall after sundown.
Robitaille, like Gretzky, has had a relationship with the Dodgers since his playing days. He recalled when former Dodgers Cy Young winner Orel Hershiser would skate with the Kings. Robitaille said he called Dodgers president Stan Kasten over the summer to test whether the Dodgers would be interested in hosting the game.
"Stan said yes right away. He said it would be great fun," said Robitaille. "[Dodgers general manager] Ned Colletti said if we have an alumni game, can I play? It's all been real easy. And it's been awesome for us and the game."
Kasten, who ran the Atlanta Thrashers NHL team while also running the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks, said the prep work for the hockey game won't conflict with the ongoing renovation of Dodger Stadium.
Colletti, who covered hockey as a sportswriter in his previous career, said it's been fun watching the game turn into a reality.
"I look out my window and see a hockey rink taking shape," he said. "It's pretty cool."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.