Stockton downs Bakersfield in 'very successful' AHL outdoor game

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Photo via <span>Asvitt Photography </span>

Stockton

Photo via Asvitt Photography

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Rain in the air and fog on the glass of a makeshift hockey rink under the bright lights at Raley Field couldn’t prevent the AHL’s outdoor game between the Stockton Heat and Bakersfield Condors from running smoothly.

One day after a rain delay pushed the game from Friday night to late afternoon Saturday, moisture built up on the glass attached to the boards, hurting viewing sightlines for fans and television cameras.

To the players and the organizers, this was just a small occupational hazard for playing a game outdoors, and didn’t dampen the success of the game, a 3-2 win by the Heat. If anything it just added to the atmosphere, which included an announced crowd of 9,357 at the Triple-A baseball park and an appearance by Steve Carlson, who played one of the Hanson Brothers in the movie "Slap Shot."

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“It kind of put us in a little dome I guess.” Bakersfield forward Kyle Platzer said of the moisture on the glass. “It was a great experience. I didn’t know what to expect coming into it. With the weather we had yesterday it was tough to judge if we were going to play today. When we got here today and saw how it was two hours before, we didn’t know how it was, so kudos to them for getting ready for us.” 

After the game, team officials talked about more outdoor contests in the state of California. 

“I think this is the catalyst for future ones for sure and I think other teams, including us, should consider it and look to do them,” Calgary Flames assistant GM Brad Pascall said. “I think they’re unique events for the fans for one and then the players on both teams.”

Temperature at the 4:30 p.m. start time was 52 degrees, and dropped to the mid-40s by the end of the game.

A little over an hour before the game, players from Stockton looked at the ice in dismay. There were puddles of water on the surface along with patches of built up snow. By the end of the game, many players were shocked at how well the sheet played.

Raley Field
Raley Field

“It was actually great,” Condors goaltender Ben Scrivens said. “We were maybe a little bit surprised on how good the ice was. It obviously got chewed up near the ends of periods but by and large the ice conditions weren’t a negative factor for either team.” 

The Heat figured out the gameplay better than the Condors initially, throwing shots at the net and forcing pucks deep. After Bakersfield took a 1-0 lead at the 5:12 mark on a Platzer goal, Derek Grant, Oliver Kylington and Drew Shore scored three to give the Heat a 3-1 lead by the 10:59 mark of the third period. Platzer scored again at the 16:22 mark of the third to put the game at 3-2, but Bakersfield couldn’t cash in on a late power play to tie the game.

Scrivens stopped 35 of 38 Stockton shots on goal and Joni Ortio made 33 saves on the Condors.

“It seemed like they did a better job of keeping it simple by throwing pucks on net and winning some board battles,” Scrivens said.

The crowd was littered with fans wearing light jackets and hooded sweatshirts. San Jose Sharks jerseys were the most popular team attire choice. Some fans used their tickets from the previous night to get into the game, while others were part of the walk-up crowd Saturday. Overall, the actual total appeared less than the announced attendance at the near 14,000 capacity stadium, likely because of the weather issues. The city of Sacramento does not have an AHL franchise. 

“I’m pretty lucky because last night I worked til 10 p.m. I was kind of hoping for this to happen so I could go to the game today, which was awesome,” said Gregory Koslowski, a retail manager in Lodi, Calif. “I’ve seen (outdoor games) on TV before in the NHL. I always said, ‘this would be great.’ We went to the Sharks one last year (at Santa Clara). It was a great time and great experience.”

Mike Coen, a local state worker, was at his first hockey game. He had tickets for Friday, and came Saturday.

“It has been pretty exciting,” Coen said. “Following the puck is interesting, but we’re having a good time. With some good friends and enjoying a game.”

The condensation on the boards was a problem from midway through the first period, when the sun went down, onward. Some fans were upset – with a few chanting to clean the glass near the end of the game – with others understanding that such issues happen when you play in an uncontrolled environment.

Raley Field
Raley Field

“The important thing is it’s an outdoor game and that’s the uniqueness of it. If we were inside I’d be mad, but this is an outdoor game, things like that happen,” said local fan Richard Page. “You could be in Michigan in a 100,000 seat stadium and you still couldn’t see anything. It’s the uniqueness that matters.” 

The moisture on the glass and the rain were all part of a learning experience to help organizers better understand how to put on a game in California. For example there was less glass fog near space heaters.

“So the next one of these we do in this climate will probably have 25 space heaters around the glass,” VP of marketing for Rink Specialists – the group that helped put on the event – Mark Francis said. “You learn about that.”

Photo via&nbsp;Asvitt Photography&nbsp;
Photo via Asvitt Photography 

The American Hockey League didn’t look to compare this contest to other league outdoor games. Each had its own distinct style. But the AHL did say it believed this game was a success, which was important. 

This is the first year of the AHL’s Pacific Division and this game was supposed to be the first showcases of teams in California.

“I think tonight shows it can certainly be done successfully here,” said AHL executive vice president for hockey operations Michael Murray. “Regardless of where you have it there’s always going to be certain elements. In other places you have to worry about snow and extreme cold, but you look at the weather we have tonight and it shows that you can have a very, very successful outdoor game in the state of California.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

 

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