It helped Robitaille’s appeal there is a strong hockey culture in the Dodgers organization. Kasten previously ran the Atlanta Thrashers and the Washington Capitals. Colletti grew up in Chicago as a fanatical Blackhawks fan and before becoming a baseball executive, was a former newspaper reporter who covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the early 1980s.
Kasten called it a “natural fit.”
“First of all, Dodger Stadium is such a fantastic venue. We can do everything here and I think we’re proving it,” he said. “When I was in Washington, we planned to do an outdoor game and now I see that they’re going to be getting one [in 2015]. It’ll be great to have it here and I’m really excited about the very real prospect of coming to a hockey game in T-shirt and shorts and seeing palm trees in the background. That’s just as cool as can be.”
“For me to look out my window and see an ice-skating rink go up, I love it,” Colletti added. “Growing up in Chicago, baseball was my spring and summer passion and hockey was my fall and winter passion. I’ve always followed it. As my career grew and changed, I found myself in a lot of different circles with people who do what I do – a peer group in a number of different sports.
“When Luc asked me, ‘What do you think about having an outdoor game at Dodger Stadium?’ I said, ‘Oh, my gawd, you’re asking the wrong guy, I’d say yes in a heartbeat.’”
The man in charge of making it work is Craig, who is used to working in traditional hockey markets, with traditional winter temperatures, to enhance the ice-making process.
“I’ve got guys who’ve been on this crew since 2005-06,” Craig said, “and every time we do another event, we look at each other and say, ‘One more chapter.’ Nobody would ever dream we were doing this.”
With one or two exceptions, the NHL usually tries to schedule the outdoor games during the day, but that wouldn’t work here, where they’re counting on the significant temperature drop once the sun goes down to keep the ice in place.
Craig’s crew works a graveyard shift and once the sun rises in the morning, they cover the ice with a reflective, insulated tarpaulin. Craig’s crew started putting the ice in last Thursday and needed five days to get it down. By Friday morning, they had the boards up and roughly 0.5 centimetres of ice down.
Weather permitting, they have tentatively scheduled a celebrity/media game to test it out Wednesday, and then the Ducks and Kings get to practise on it just once – next Friday, after the sun goes down.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau spent most of his childhood making ice in the backyard the traditional way – spraying water with a hose and then waiting for it to freeze. He, too, is flabbergasted at what is possible nowadays.
“They explained it to me … and I said, ‘Well, that’s cool. I’m glad you know what you’re doing,’” Boudreau said. “There’s no chance I could see how you could do it, on a day like today, when it’s [27 C] and sunny out. It’s not like it’s a windy, cold dreary day, where you could come out here and say, ‘See, that’s what it’s like here in January.’”
“Everywhere I go, people ask me all the time: ‘How can they have ice when it’s so warm?’” added Wayne Gretzky, the former Kings star who helped put hockey on the map in California. “I always say, people don’t realize it’s about [18 C] inside a hockey rink. It’s not that cold. These ice people know what they’re doing. They do a great job. The ice will be wonderful.”
Last September, when the game was first announced, Ducks forward Dustin Penner predicted the venue would be bigger than the game itself – and that could well be.