LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Palm trees, a beach volleyball court and pyrotechnics from American rock band KISS - Saturday’s ground-breaking National Hockey League (NHL) game at Dodger Stadium certainly delivered something very different.
For many people watching in the sellout crowd of 54,000, the result was largely academic as the Western Conference-leading Anaheim Ducks beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-0 after taking control with a double strike in the first period.
What really mattered to the average sports fan, whether a lover of hockey or not, was that Saturday’s ‘battle in the ballpark’ on a pleasant evening for the entire family to enjoy was the first ever outdoor NHL game to be played in California.
Outdoor games have been held by the NHL in some of baseball’s and American football’s best known stadiums for a decade but this was the first held in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River, and it was presented ‘Californian style’.
Fans were treated to a most unusual sight as they poured into the iconic baseball venue at Chavez Ravine where a hockey rink was set up in the infield, an in-line skating rink in front of it and a beach volleyball court in left field.
Palm trees lined the approach where the players made their initial appearances and a slice of Hollywood was served up with actors Jon Hamm and Alyssa Milano among those walking the red carpet shortly before the puck dropped.
Flamboyant 1970s rock band KISS, wearing their customary black and white face paint, wowed the crowd with a pre-game show that featured their trademark song, “Rock and Roll All Nite”, as fireworks lit up the night sky.
Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky, who more than anyone else popularized hockey in California after joining the Kings in 1988 and playing eight seasons with the club, was introduced to the crowd as deafening roars echoed across Dodger Stadium.
“This is a wonderful night, a spectacular event, only a positive for hockey and a positive for sports in California,” Gretzky, who will celebrate his 53rd birthday on Sunday, had said earlier on the red carpet.
“It’s an opportunity, too, to show people how great a hockey city this is.”
After both teams had made their way to the rink via the palm tree-lined avenue, Hall of Famer Gretzky accompanied the two captains, Dustin Brown of the Kings and Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks, for the ceremonial puck drop.
Moments later, Vin Scully, aged 86 but still the iconic play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, set the scene with the words: “And now... it’s time for NHL hockey!”
The Ducks, who beat the visiting Kings 2-1 at Honda Center in Anaheim on Thursday, made a fast start when right wing Corey Perry scored with a wrist shot on a rebound from Getzlaf just 2:45 minutes into the first period.
Left wing Matt Beleskey doubled that advantage when he struck with a wrist shot at 8:12 after the puck deflected off his own body before the Kings wasted a golden opportunity to counter just two minutes later.
Slovenian center Anze Kopitar, so often an ice-cool closer, was unable to score on a penalty shot at 10:14 after initially being stopped by Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, who ended the night with his 20th career shutout.
The second period was scoreless, though Ducks right wing Tim Jackman and Kings left wing Kyle Clifford gave the fans something to savor when they traded blows at 2:39, both men picking up five-minute penalties for the melee.
The Ducks, despite being out-shot 36-20 on the night, made it 3-0 with just 1:29 remaining when center Andrew Cogliano scored with a wrist shot into an empty net as their opponents’ fans were already heading for the exits.
The 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, who were handed a fifth straight defeat, slipped to 29-18-6 for the season while the Ducks improved to 39-10-5 with their 21st win in 24 games.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was delighted with the success of Saturday’s outdoor game, the first of the league’s four-game Stadium Series this season, on a night when the temperature never dropped below the low sixties.
“Hollywood could not have scripted a more magical launch,” Bettman said. “We’re thrilled we had the audacity to do this.”
Editing by John O'Brien