ANAHEIM -- It's a memory that Ben Lovejoy would just as soon forget. Except now he can't, because now there's an outdoor game about to be played in Southern California -- so the Anaheim Ducks' defenseman has to face questions about not playing at in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field three years ago.
Lovejoy did just that following the Ducks' 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday at Honda Center, a prelude to the big event planned for Saturday at Dodger Stadium, where the rivals will again square off -- this time under the stars in the first game of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS2).
"It killed me to not play in the last game," Lovejoy said.
He was a rookie with the Pittsburgh Penguins and coach Dan Bylsma scratched him for the game against the Washington Capitals, a team that at the time was coached by Bruce Boudreau, now Lovejoy's coach in Anaheim.
"It was very difficult," Lovejoy continued. "I was a rookie. I was battling for my position in the lineup. I understood the decision, but when this game [at Dodger Stadium] was announced, this is a game that I circled on my calendar. I wanted to be in the lineup. I wanted to be playing well. This is a huge moment for hockey and everybody wants to be part of it."
Now the Ducks and Kings can talk about this major event without a twinge of guilt. They have been trying to put the Stadium Series game on the back burner, to leave the hype to the NHL, the media and the fans because they had work to do, indoor games to play, points to collect.
Now their job is to go and play an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium for two meaningful points in the standings. Now the hype is real.
The Kings and Ducks will practice at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
"The time has come," Lovejoy said. "We have had a mentality and it's almost kept us humble [that] we do want to play and just focus on just an individual game. You can't win eight games in a row and nine games in a row by just planning on going and winning eight games. You need to go out and win one at a time, and now this is fun. Everybody is excited to be a part of this game.
"This is such a big deal for hockey in Southern California. You can see from the game [Thursday night] that there is a huge rivalry and I think it'll be fun to showcase that to the rest of North America."
Lovejoy's love fest for the Stadium Series game was bolstered by a 2-1 win in which he played nearly 18 minutes, delivered six hits and blocked two shots.
The anticipation was slightly different in the Kings' dressing room, but that was only natural. Los Angeles has been scuffling and the loss Thursday did nothing to heal the Kings' bruised psyches.
They have lost three in a row in regulation and are 4-9-2 since Dec. 23. Forgive them if the Stadium Series game hasn't been the first thing on their minds lately, nor was it Thursday night.
Among the Kings' players, forward Trevor Lewis came the closest to giving his sense of anticipation for the game Saturday as he spoke near his stall in the quiet setting of the losing post-game dressing room.
"I'm excited to get out there and see it, see everything," Lewis said. "We've gotta take a little bit of the positives [Thursday night] and try to get them Saturday."
Kings forward Justin Williams talked about how the Kings will need to "have some fire in our belly and be upset" when they come out onto the ice Saturday night. He promised that they will have the fire, that they will be upset.
"We're there to win a hockey game," Williams said. "We're there to play a hockey game. Regardless of where it is, we're playing the best team in the League right now and if we have to win it 1-0 we need to win it 1-0. We're just not getting it done."
Lewis was quick to point out that the Kings need the points more than the Ducks.
He's right, considering L.A. is third in the Pacific Division with 64 points while the Ducks are first in the NHL with 81 points.
"Obviously with all the hype, guys are going to be pretty excited. But they got the two points [Thursday] so we need to come back and get the two points [at Dodger Stadium]," Lewis said. "For us it's our home game so we need to get 'em."
Back in the Ducks' room, it was clear that the feeling of business as usual can be put aside for two days because while the game is their business, there is nothing usual about what they will do Saturday.
Seriously, a NHL game outdoors in Southern California? Who would have ever thought that would happen?
"It's for the fans and for us too, our families," Anaheim defenseman Mark Fistric said. "It's a big thing. A lot of us haven't played an outdoor game and to have an outdoor game in California is going to be exciting for us.
"I've seen there's a volleyball court, KISS has a stage. I think it's going to be an amazing night."
It's one that Lovejoy has been waiting for since seeing his name on the list of scratches the night of Jan. 1, 2011.
"This is such a special moment, such a special game," Lovejoy said, "and I can't wait to be a part of it."
|Back to top|