EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Willie Mitchell and Ben Lovejoy have played more than 900 games in the NHL combined. They've been through numerous hard-fought Stanley Cup Playoff series, and Mitchell won the Stanley Cup in 2012.
Somehow, the defensemen have had the misfortune of missing out on an outdoor game despite previously playing in cold-weather cities, Mitchell with the Vancouver Canucks, among others, and Lovejoy for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
That's why the smiles on their faces is quite genuine when the Jan. 25 game at Dodger Stadium is mentioned. Mitchell and the Los Angeles Kings will play Lovejoy and the Anaheim Ducks in the first outdoor game in Southern California as part of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series. The teams play Tuesday at Honda Center for the first time this season, with the outdoor game on the horizon.
For Mitchell, the outdoor game was on his radar after a potentially career-threatening knee injury sidelined him all of last season.
"To be honest with you, even in the summer [when] you think about coming back and playing, it was like you knew the outdoor game was [coming]," Mitchell said. "The thought crosses your mind. You'd be like, 'Yeah, come back and play and just get an opportunity to play in one of those.' You hear nothing but good things about it.
"It will be interesting to see. It's going to be a different outdoor game, for sure. You think of an outdoor game, you're thinking snow because typically they've been on the East Coast where all the snow's been, and colder atmospheres. It's going to be different, and we'll see how the ice is."
Mitchell's outdoor game is taking place during the latter stages of his career. Lovejoy will make his outdoor debut three years after he was scratched for the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field, when the Penguins hosted the Washington Capitals.
The disappointment is evident when Lovejoy talks about it.
"That was a tough day for me," Lovejoy said. "That was a game that, as a player, you want to be a part of. The buildup, the practices before … you know you're not going to play. That was very difficult. This was one of my goals coming back to Anaheim … to play in this game and to be a part of this, to earn a spot in the lineup where I can be an asset and a contributor here, that teammates and coaches want me on the ice for this game."
Mitchell has minimal experience at Dodger Stadium (which is a short drive on the Harbor Freeway north of Staples Center), outside of a baseball game here and there. Some of his teammates who are bigger baseball fans, like Drew Doughty, a Toronto Blue Jays follower, have visited the iconic venue more often. Lovejoy hasn't been to the stadium, and his downtown ventures involve visiting his in-laws near UCLA.
But each is looking forward to the stage, set against the hills in the Elysian Park neighborhood atop one of baseball's cathedrals, where Vin Scully's voice is the soundtrack to warm summer nights. The rink will stretch from first base to third base.
"I think we got excited about it during our fathers' trip," Mitchell said. "The fathers were talking about it … 'Are you coming? Are you coming?' We don't think about it because you're so engulfed in the season and the next game. They put a little taste in our mouth about it. It will be super cool. I've never played in front of that many people before, so that will be such a rush."
Dodger Stadium holds about 56,000 people. It will be a Kings home game, but interest is so widespread even non-hockey fans are expected to catch the spectacle. Winters in Los Angeles can be so mild it wouldn't be odd to see fans in shorts and sunglasses.
"It could be 75 degrees out and we're going to be playing a hockey game," Lovejoy said. "This is really exciting. Every outdoor game so far has been in a big market, northern city. This is a big market, but far from the north. Everybody in Southern California is very excited. I think this will be really cool for hockey in the area: Two good teams squaring off in an incredibly memorable venue."
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