An innocuous Tweet the other day about the uptick of ticket sales in Los Angeles for the outdoor game prompted a minor backlash.
“And they hope to have ice, or something like it?”
“Have fun skating in soup.”
“I can’t wait until this disaster is over and done with.”
It is indeed the No. 1 question on people’s minds in regards to the game between the Kings and Ducks Jan. 25 at Dodger Stadium. How will the ice stay frozen and playable?
Dan Craig, the NHL’s long-time Facilities Operations Manager/ice guru, says not to fear, that he’s 100 percent confident the rink at Chavez Ravine will be up to standard.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t. You don’t go into Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final expecting to lose. We expect to be the best of the best.”
Craig understands why the critics are so vocal. Sunny Southern California averages about 70-to-75 degrees Fahrenheit this time of year, making it counter-intuitive that water can remain solid there without being on the inside of a freezer.
And the NHL’s first attempt at a warm-weather contest, in Las Vegas in 1991, did not end particularly well. The pre-season match between the Kings and Rangers was held in the parking lot of Caesar’s Palace. Temperatures hit 85 degrees and at one point grasshoppers swarmed the venue and bugs littered the ice.
A second sunbelt game, scheduled for Charlotte later that year, was canceled, reportedly due to poor conditions.
“That put a negative connotation on outdoor games in (warm weather),” Craig said.
So what’s going to make it different this time around?
“Very simply, we have the refrigeration truck to accommodate temperatures at this time of year,” Craig said. “And once the sun comes off the field, at about 3 p.m., the temperature drops about eight-to-10 degrees.”
Craig’s crew of eight in Los Angeles will also be putting insulated blankets on the ice surface when the sun comes up Jan. 25 and will remove them at sundown, which he says will keep the surface frozen. The rink, whose base is a deck, topped by plywood, topped by aluminum pans and the refrigerant, will take approximately five days to build. The opening faceoff is set for just after 7 p.m. Pacific time.
If the game is an artistic and logistic success, expect the league to hold more of them in other sunbelt regions. What previously had been thought of as a brand extension exclusively for the cold-weather hubs of the United States and Canada, would likely be rolled out to locales where snow is typically just a rumor.
“I’m not out to prove anything to the world,” Craig said, “but we all understand the significance of being here.”