Throughout the winter, my Twitter timeline filled up with tweets about annual floodings of backyards and building of rinks. Growing up in Southern California, prior to the age of social media, I didn't even know that was possible. The closest I came to an outdoor rink was on the astroturf of ice, a synthetic material I'm still not sure how people skated on.
The flooding of the backyard always gave cold-weather climate hockey fans a connection to the game I never had. I didn't know what it was like to spend all day on the ice. My childhood was spent at the beach all day or in the grass running around. Even being a Mighty Ducks fan as a kid, I had no real desire to get on the ice. The closest ice rink to my parents house was 30 minutes away. None of my friends played hockey or wanted to skate in circles for hours. It just wasn't a major part of life in Orange County at the time.
I have watched every Winter Classic every game. Aside from laughing at the patrons bundled up in the cold, I didn't make a connection to the game because it wasn't my reality. The video montages of kids playing on ponds or backyard rinks were cute; watching players deal with the elements was interesting. Yet it was just another hockey game to me.
When it was announced Los Angeles would be getting an outdoor game, I was extremely skeptical. Even though the California teams are destroying the rest of the NHL, Sharks, Ducks and Kings fans are ALL maligned as a fan base for being bandwagon jumping, apathetic fans in a 'non-traditional' hockey market. My concern was the NHL creating an environment that poorly represented the California hockey fan and the development in hockey around our state; thus proving all those with an east coast bias correct.
I am thrilled at how wrong I was. Kiss notwithstanding, the NHL built a visual representation of what it means to be a California hockey fan.
Instead of frozen backyards and ponds, California kids got their introduction to the game on rollerblades on the streets. (Contrary to popular belief, there isn't much pickup hockey in South Central.)
When I was a kid, I had rollerblades and a hockey stick. I gave them up before hitting the rink because I continuously hurt myself stopping; by stopping I mean throwing myself into a bush or a patch of grass instead of pushing on my heel.
The volleyball court did seem a little weird at first but it actually kind of worked. This was my summer while school was out; at the beach, on the sand. I don't know how many articles actually referenced it but Kerri Walsh Jennings was out there playing with the fans. She and Misty May Treanor are the best women's beach volleyball players of all time.
When the teams made their walk in, the sound was deafening. I immediately had chills.<
At different times throughout the game, I felt I was in a dream-like state. The sensory-overload dulled the crowd noise so I could take it all in. I could barely communicate with other people during the game; I was overwhelmed by the moment and quiet (for once). I swear I wasn't on drugs. Wysh took them all.
With the game well in hand, the outnumbered Ducks fans began a loud 'BEAT LA' chant. (No cheering in the press box. It was killing me.) I had finally felt the connection to the game the 'traditional' hockey markets have had over the years.
This is California hockey.