The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks clashed in an inter-state rivalry game a few weekends ago, and the reigning Stanley Cup Champions emerged victorious with a 2-1 victory over their enemy to the north.
However, the game had a different venue than usual. Rather than the Staples Center in Los Angeles or the SAP Center in San Jose playing host to the matchup, the battle took place at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, the home of the San Francisco 49ers.
The temperature during the day in Santa Clara was in the 70s, and the puck-drop temperature was 57 degrees Fahrenheit-- not quite typical hockey weather.
Although not completely commonplace, this is not a particularly new spectacle for the NHL. The most familiar locations for Stadium Series games are cold weather cities such as New York and Chicago. Recently, however, the NHL has experimented with playing regular season games in more temperate climates.
The successes couldn’t be better.
Bringing hockey to hotter outdoor climates is not the only enticing feature of the Stadium Series. Live intermission performances by California’s own John Fogerty and the Grammy-winning Melissa Etheridge kept fans entertained even when the greatest game on ice was momentarily paused.
The NHL has played 15 outdoor games since the 2003-04 season primarily to engage current fans and to create new ones. Levi’s Stadium filled beyond capacity for this year’s tilt with more than 70,000 people in attendance.
Yet, the memories made at outdoor games are not just owned by the fans. The players that compete in front of these record crowds will certainly never forget their experiences, either.
"It was incredible. From start to finish, what an atmosphere," said Sharks captain Joe Thornton after the game. "It was a once in-a-lifetime-type thing for us.”
Sharks coach Todd McLellan also enjoyed the experience.
“You talk about moments where the hair stands up on your neck," McLellan said, "and tonight was one of those moments.”
The fact that both teams are tied in the Western Conference standings and are currently battling each other for a playoff birth did not seem to matter that Saturday night. Getting the opportunity to play hockey outdoors in front of a large number of passionate fans is something that even professional players and coaches cannot take for granted.
"The fact we lost was disappointing," McLellan admitted. "But to be part of it, I wouldn't trade it for anything."