The classic image of hockey is a group of guys on a frozen pond in the middle of winter. This New Year’s Day at Wrigley Field the Chicago Blackhawks and the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings return hockey to that original state in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.
For some Los Angeles Kings, playing in that game would be a dream come true. Kings defenseman Kyle Quincey will be in front of the television Thursday morning to watch his old teammates battle in the Windy City, a game in which, four months ago as a member of the Red Wings, he might have had a chance to participate.
“It’s where hockey was born, outside” said Quincey, “it is how the game is supposed to be played.It’s just normal [for the conditions] to be snowy and rugged.That is how we used to play, so it would be nice to go back there one day and play outside at a high level like this.”
For right wing Kyle Calder, the game will be about watching the city he once called home for six seasons come alive in support for the Hawks.
“There are going to be a lot of people there,” said Calder. “I think the city is going to get super excited about it, it is going to be an amazing thing. I keep in touch with a few guys and they are sure excited.It is a good opportunity for them to get some national exposure.”
The Kings organization is no stranger to outdoor games, despite being located in one of the balmier climates of any NHL franchise.On Sept. 28, 1991 in the parking lot of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, the Kings beat the New York Rangers 5-2 in the NHL’s first ever outdoor game.In 80 degree heat, 13,000 fans packed in to the stands wearing shorts and t-shirts to watch the preseason matchup.
The weather itself did not provide difficulties during the game, but the conditions were less than ideal for creating the ice.Kings color commentator and former player Jim Fox was on hand to call the game with Bob Miller, but first he had to help out in preparing the ice.
“They had a sheet of ice in the back parking lot and they had put a tarp over it, elevated above the ice about six or eight feet to keep direct rays of the sunlight off the ice” said Fox.“But when they were taking the tarp down, they let the tarp hit the ice.
“That tarp was probably at least 100 degrees at that point, so there was some pretty significant damage to the ice, as far as the tarp and some wires had melted some huge gouges into the ice. They were really concerned about it, so they were hanging around trying to figure out what was going on and they asked me to go and check the ice.So I got a pair of skates from one of the players in the dressing room, and went out there to check it out.”
By game time the ice was fine, but other problems “jumped” in to the picture.
“There were these big giant grasshoppers jumping on the ice” said Kings President of Business Operations and former player Luc Robitaille.“They would land on the ice and freeze right there, so by the end of the second period they were everywhere on the ice and it was kind of funny.”
Fox, watching from the broadcast area, will never forget watching bugs litter the ice.
“If you looked directly down you would see hundreds of bugs.The bugs had fallen and either died or drowned from the water that was being put on the ice.So that was the weirdest part of that game, and I think most everyone remembers that.”
It would appear that the NHL learned a lesson or two from that game, choosing to have the next three games in Edmonton, Buffalo and Chicago. There should not be any bugs on the ice when the Blackhawks and Red Wings take the ice Thursday afternoon, just sixty minutes of good outdoor hockey.
Still, the Kings would like to play in another outdoor game sometime soon.“I certainly would love to do another outdoor game one day” said Robitaille. “But they put regulations that the temperature needs to be at least 35 or below.So I don’t think it will happen for us in LA.”
If it ever was allowed, Jim Fox has big plans.
“I think the ultimate Winter Classic game would be at the pier in Manhattan Beach” said Fox. “That’s my goal for 2016.If we can get 100,000 people there for a beach volleyball tournament, we could get 100,000 people there for a hockey game.”
Calder has his own ideas about where the Kings should hold a future outdoor game.
“Maybe we could play one downtown at the coliseum” said Calder. “It could be against the Ducks, with a beach theme.”
The Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will start Thursday, Jan. 1 at 1 PM EST on NBC.