NHL Sets Eyes on Hollywood With Dodger Stadium Game

Dodger Stadium
Dodger Stadium
 

ANN ARBOR, Michigan – The NHL has never played a regular-season outdoor game west of the Mississippi river, but the league will be front and center in Los Angeles when it partners with NBC Sports to take hockey to Dodger Stadium on Jan. 25. 

"What a perfect combination: the Hollywood stars, the hockey stars, under the stars. It is the perfect hat trick," NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network executive producer Sam Flood tells The Hollywood Reporter about the game, which will pit the Los Angeles Kings against the Anaheim Ducks.

The game is a gamble because the Coors Light stadium series matchup leaves out one of the things that's most appealing about outdoor hockey: cold weather.

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But Flood, a former college hockey captain at Williams College before becoming a TV hockey power broker, says mixing NHL brawn with Hollywood beauty promises an event over and above a typical regular-season game. "[Los Angeles] is celebrity. That is the scene. That is a place you want to be seen," Flood insisted.

Southern California has long been associated with inline-skate hockey played on tennis courts and beachside parking lots. But that was before the Kings and Ducks won Stanley Cups and Hollywood celebrities started showing up on the red carpet with NHL icemen.

League superstar Wayne Gretzky started the trend by marrying The Flamingo Kid's Janet Jones in 1988. Hilary Duff became part of NHL royalty when she married Mike Comrie. And American Idol winner Carrie Underwood tied the knot with Mike Fisher, who was traded to the Nashville Predators to be closer to the country singer.

The NHL will also bring glitz to Dodger Stadium by enlisting the support of avid Hollywood hockey players like producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Barry Josephson, sports agent Pat Brisson, and actor Cuba Gooding Jr.

Legendary rock band KISS, whose frontmen Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley are soon to launch the arena football team the LA KISS at the Honda Center in Anaheim, are already booked to perform at game.

NHL Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille and former AEG head Tim Leiweke, who now runs the Canadian company that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, are also getting behind the Dodger Stadium game.

"[Robitaille and Leiweke] have a good relationship with the Hollywood community, and that only grows," NHL COO John Collins said.

NBC Sports, whose current TV contract with the NHL runs through 2021, worked with Collins to create and launch the first Winter Classic outdoor game on New Year's Day in 2008. Now the network has teamed with the NHL to add the Coors Light stadium series to help showcase the game outdoors, including at two upcoming games in Yankee Stadium. The 2014 Winter Classic, played at the Big House, the University of Michigan's football stadium, captured a 2.9 overnight rating.

The logistics of playing the game in a warm-weather city are daunting. In Ann Arbor, the NHL's ice-making crew worked by day to spray a fine mist of water on the Michigan Stadium infield to create a perfect ice surface for the 2014 Winter Classic. But in Los Angeles, NHL ice makers will work through the night to lay down a sheet of ice and install a reflective thermal cover to protect the shiny surface from sun rays during the day.

On the other hand, the weather is likely to cooperate on game day. Frigid wintry conditions had NHL officials calling off a flyover of CF-18 fighter jets after the singing of the national anthems in Ann Arbor. Steadily falling snow forced players to keep it simple when moving the puck and, during commercial breaks, snow shovelers ran up and down the ice. 

That said, winter is when NHL players first discovered the joy of the game outdoors. "This is where the game began, on cold, black ice in the middle of the woods, on ponds and lakes, and it brings you back to your youth," Flood says.

Besides rink-side weather updates from Weather Channel meteorologist and storm tracker Jim Cantore, and bringing Mike "Doc" Emrick and fellow parka-clad announcers for the first time to ice level, the 2014 Winter Classic featured game analyst Eddie Olczyk and between-the-benches reporter Pierre McGuire recalling childhood memories of outdoor hockey to warm the TV audience.

The NHL's Collins doesn't envision a similar cold-weather rink of dreams in Dodger Stadium. It will be a glossier, richer game when the NHL descends on Chavez Ravine later this month, with the Kings and the Ducks on a winning roll as the second half of the NHL season gets underway. "Hollywood will want to be there because they'll be part of an event," Collins says.

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