By Bob Condor
LOS ANGELES AND NEW YORK -- Leave it to Vin Scully to melt all doubts about an outdoor NHL regular-season game at Dodger Stadium.
When Scully took a regal stroll onto the field at roughly 6:45 Saturday night to introduce pre-game festivities, the L.A. crowd went wild in unison (not easy when Anaheim Ducks and L.A. Kings fans are in the house). The NHL’s seemingly crazy idea was officially bona fide and fun.
The Ducks-Kings first puck dropped at 7:15 Saturday night. Eighteen hours later, the final horn sounded at Yankee Stadium in a 7-3 New York Rangers outdoor win over the New Jersey Devils. Those 18 hours of hockey included 13 goals, 100,000-plus fans in stadium seats, prodigious temperature drops, a red-eye flight, picture-perfect snow, beach volleyball and one Hobbit Wizard revisited. Here is a coast-to-coast timeline of top moments from a NHL weekend to remember:
Ducks-Kings, 1st Period, 8:12
Matt Beleskey scores Anaheim’s second goal. Sections 2, 4, 6 and 8 on Dodger Stadium’s Top Deck are full of roaring, chortling Ducks fans, including one happy dude lifting up another happy dude as a way to pat two more unsuspecting dude friends on the back. Weird, especially since the four 20-something guys confirmed this is their ritual at home games.
1st Period intermission
KISS performs to an appreciative if not fully attentive crowd. But Gene Simmons manages to catch some buzz when he touts the $99 season ticket plan for Southern California’s new arena football franchise, which is owned, ahem, by KISS. The team will play in Anaheim’s Honda Center but be called LA KISS. No word on the new team’s face warpaint plans.
2nd Period intermission
Anahem all-star center Ryan Getzlaf is interviewed on the stadium broadcast system amid a torrent of boos from Kings fans. When asked what the Ducks plan to do to keep a 2-0 lead going into the third period, Getzlaf says, “We’re gonna keep these guys quiet right now.” Guess that worked out.
Ducks great Teemu Selanne says the ice “held up.” NBC announcers praise the “very intimate surroundings” of a rink inside the ballpark. Media members talk to each other about the view of downtown L.A. from upper walkways. A cameraman stops to gaze at a trophy case filled with Gold Glove awards for past Dodgers, including Maury Wills, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Wes Parker, John Roseboro and Gil Hodges. Current Dodgers pitching ace Clayton Kershaw has a newer one in there. And, almost forgot, Kershaw’s Dodgers teammate Yasiel Puig was at the game sitting next to Fernando Valenzuela, another lefty who rocked this place mythically in between the Koufax and Crenshaw years. If you are geo-scoring at home, that’s Finland, Cuba and Mexico all in the same timeline entry.
NHL bus, post-game, Part 1
The NHL contracted with an airline to fly a late plane from LAX to Newark. Yahoo Sports landed a rez and rolled East with the league. Walking through the centerfield gate toward the bus offered a chance to compare Dodger Stadium and the Rose Bowl, where the NCAA football championship was decided this month. Both stadiums are downright bucolic. Then a group of long-haired, long-bearded Ducks fan walked past. That prompted a thought about Duck Dynasty, which wiped out all bucolic and quaint reflections.
NHL bus, post-game, Part 2
The bus is quiet, full of NHL executives and staffers rightly satisfied with the night’s work but keenly aware the next shift starts in mere hours. A massive traffic jam slows the process, but, hey, what’s a visit to LA without some extended freeway time? Nice touches on the plane: Pillows, mini-comforters and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches on whole grain bread.
Newark Airport, 8:19 a.m. ET
Travel time, traffic jam stand-still to the gate at the Newark airport: Six hours and 12 minutes. Buses on the snowy runway whisk everyone to midtown Manhattan. The bus LCD screen informs it is 15 degrees in Newark, then warms up to 29 degrees inside the Holland tunnel and back down to 22 degrees in Manhattan. See the things you learn in the Puck Daddy blog?
Rangers-Devils, D train, 10 a.m. ET
The subway is filling up with lots of fans in Devils and Rangers jerseys. Twice as many Devils than NYR. Lots of talk about who starts in goal for the Devils and some mentions about how cool Dodgers Stadium looked Saturday night. Exiting at 161st in the Bronx, the first “Let’s go Devils!” cheer breaks out.
Rangers-Devils, 1st period
Patrick Elias scores two goals and Jaromir Jagr’s two first-period assists puts him 10th on the all-time NHL list, displacing Pittsburgh great Mario Lemieux. Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist admits in the interview room that he was sleeping in the locker room when the delayed warm-ups were announced “in 30 minutes” and that his mental state was “somewhere else.” Lundqvist added that after the third goal he fretted about getting pulled from the game. Best way to sum up why Devils led 3-2 after first 20 minutes.
Rangers-Devils, 2nd period
The Rangers—and their fans’—revive in the middle period with four goals to take a 6-3, game-over advantage. Rangers forward Mats Zucarello scores the tying and go-ahead goals. Zucarello was a sensation at the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament, generating media coverage he was nicknamed the “Norwegian Hobbit Wizard.” Zucarello, not a big fan of the nickname and his supposed resemblance to Frodo in “The Hobbit” movies, lobbied that his Olympic efforts might afford a shot at the NHL. The Rangers obliged. Zucarello has 15 goals this season.
Rangers-Devils, 2nd period, 6:14
Snow starts to fall. NBC and CBC have money shots for the rest of the period.
Third period, ice level
Dan Craig, the NHL’s top expert on building outdoor rinks, is explaining why Dodger Stadium turned out the easier “ice build” than Yankee Stadium -- despite days in the 80s (Fahrenheit) and one 118-degree temperature reading of the rink boards. A major snowstorm hit the New York area earlier this month, requiring 14 hours of shoveling rather than the Yankee Stadium crew adding layers upon thin layers of ice to the surface. While Craig and his crew always add extra time to plans, this storm “took all of the extra time and then some.” Craig was no doubt already thinking about the frigid weather forecast for Wednesday night’s Rangers-New York Islanders game scheduled for this same Yankee Stadium ice. Craig allows he is already scouting the possible weather for a March 1 game in Chicago, especially “what happens around Soldier Field,” where the Pittsburgh Penguins will visit the Blackhawks.