SAN FRANCISCO - The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are going to take their rivalry outdoors next season.
The NHL announced Wednesday that the Pacific Division foes will meet at the 49ers' new home in Santa Clara on Feb. 21. The $1.2 billion Levi's Stadium beat out the San Francisco Giants' cozier confines at AT&T Park for the game, which is part of the NHL's growing Stadium Series.
This will be the second straight year the NHL has staged an outdoor game in California. The Anaheim Ducks beat the Kings 3-0 at Dodger Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 54,099 on Jan. 25.
Sharks Chief Operating Officer John Tortora expects the game at Levi's Stadium to attract a capacity crowd of 68,500 for a scintillating spectacle of ice in Silicon Valley.
"We think this will be one of the bigger sporting events the Bay Area has ever seen," Tortora said.
The NHL's first outdoor game in Northern California features a fierce and fan-pleasing matchup.
In the latest and perhaps most dramatic chapter of the playoff history between these franchises, the Kings eliminated the Sharks in the first round last season to become the league's fourth team to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games. Los Angeles went on to win its second Stanley Cup in three years.
"The growing excitement around NHL hockey in California, the intensity of last season's playoff series between these teams and the state-of-the-art setting at Levi's Stadium will bring a thrilling new dimension to the Kings-Sharks rivalry," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.
The NHL has been taking its game to iconic outdoor venues more and more over the last decade.
The new Yankee Stadium, Boston's Fenway Park, Chicago's Wrigley Field and Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor are just a few of the notable names to host hockey in recent years. The league previously announced that the Washington Capitals would host the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at a site to be determined.
The Sharks will be the 14th team since 2003 to host an outdoor game. The league has averaged 56,942 fans at each of those contests.
NHL Senior Vice-President of Events Don Renzulli said the outdoor games have been popular because they allow the league to do things such as flyovers during the national anthem and create a more festive atmosphere with large crowds that smaller, enclosed arenas can't offer.
"It's all kind of wrapped up into one big event and that's what makes it pretty special," he said.
Renzulli said the Sharks have wanted to host an outdoor game for years and the league began more serious discussions with the team last summer. He said the league waited until it saw how the Kings-Ducks game at Dodger Stadium played out.
The temperature for that contest in Los Angeles was 63 degrees, but concerns about ice conditions turned out to be unfounded.
"If we can make it in L.A., we can make it in Santa Clara," Renzulli said. "And then we just have to hope that Mother Nature plays well in the sandbox with us."
The weather in Santa Clara is typically warmer and drier than in the more scenic San Francisco, which is about 45 miles north, but Renzulli and Tortora said it was more of a competition between venues than cities.
While the Giants' waterfront ballpark offered dramatic backdrops of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco skyline for television viewers, the league chose the 49ers' digs because football stadiums typically offer better sightlines, more flexibility on the rink's configuration and the ability to host a larger crowd.
Renzulli said that AT&T Park, which holds about 42,000 fans, could still host an NHL game the next time the Sharks bid in a year or two.
Tortora said the larger Levi's Stadium will help lower the average price of a ticket, which he said will cost $150. He said 67 per cent of the tickets will be at or below that price and the team is not concerned about selling out the venue.
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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