LOS ANGELES – Dustin Brown would wake up early on mornings in November, step outside and feel air that wasn’t synonymous with life in Los Angeles.
It was crisp, cool, around 45 degrees. The stuff early morning hockey, not of the beach. It was weather that made his mind wander: What if the NHL could just hold an outdoor game right here, right now?
The Los Angeles Kings captain wasn’t sure if he’d ever get the opportunity to compete in a Winter Classic. The game has an Eastern bias, and caters to the Original Six; the Kings obviously don’t fit either category.
But what if, instead of the Kings going to an outdoor game, an outdoor game came to the Kings?
“Early on, you probably didn’t think about that, but each year you see them dial it in a little bit more. You start to see them get better with the whole outdoor ice thing, and you start to think,” he said.
In May 2013, the NHL confirmed that the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks would take part in a Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25 in Los Angeles, giving an experience to those players that many believed they’d never get playing in California.
“An outdoor game in California?” asked Anze Kopitar of the Kings?
“No. It’s one of those things where you’re hoping to be a part of one, but you usually have better odds to participate in one [in the East]. But there’s a slight hope in your system that you get a chance to play in one here. And it’s a dream come true.”
Jonas Hiller, starting goalie for the Ducks in the game, never thought he’d have the chance while with Anaheim. “It’s pretty amazing that they were able to do it. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that it’s actually happening,” he said. “Playing in Anaheim, your first thought isn’t playing in an outdoor game.”
Ducks winger Corey Perry said that players around the league want their shot at playing in one. “I think everybody wants to play in one. I think family and friends want you to play in one and experience it with you,” he said, right after the Ducks completed their family skate on Friday at the stadium.
“You never thought it was going to happen here in Southern California. You thought the ice would melt every night when they’re trying to freeze it.”
Perry has played his entire career in Anaheim, helping the Ducks to their lone Stanley Cup in 2007. California teams won two Cups in a 5-year span, and their success has helped push along hockey’s momentum in the region.
The Dodger Stadium outdoor game is, if nothing else, an acknowledgement of that progress with two California teams getting the spotlight.
“It should be like this,” said Mike Richards of the Kings, who played for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2010 Fenway Park Winter Classic.
“A lot has happened in California since 1988 or ’89. Two Stanley Cups, a lot of young fans and players and rink being built. It shows a lot, for sure, it does,” he said.
Dustin Brown said it’s an honor to play in the game, and to have it held in Los Angeles. But he’s still the captain, which means despite everything else surrounding the Dodger Stadium game, it’s still a battle against a fierce division rival.
“I think it’s a double-edged sword. It’s my first one, so I’m excited to be a part of it. But on the other side, we compete in the Pacific Division and it’s two points,” said Brown.
“Growing the game is great. But we gotta play the game.”