Stadium Series Shows Culture Contrast between Coasts
Hockey's PR onslaught this winter began with a stirring World Junior Championship, followed by a spectacular Winter Classic on New Year's Day. Now, on the cusp of Sochi's Olympics, the NHL has introduced a rock-star-like arena tour with its Stadium Series.
The first two events are in the books, and they've delivered everything the NHL wanted in terms of headlines and increased fan interest. Unsurprisingly, each one was customized to reflect local tastes.
Eyebrows were raised when Dodger Stadium was announced as a venue. Some wondered whether the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks would be skating or swimming. But technology is a wonderful thing, especially in the hands of NHL facilities guru Dan Craig, who's been nurturing outdoor sheets since the league embraced both tradition and Mother Nature.
Amazingly, in spite of temperatures in the 70s (Fahrenheit), Dodger Stadium cooperated quite nicely:
LA being LA -- South Park's Eric Cartman is the head cheerleader at Staples Center -- it wasn't surprising that the featured pre-game entertainment embodied an extreme dosage of glitz:
For the record, the Ducks chose orange jerseys because Anaheim is located in Orange County. So it could well have been that the Kings chose gray to honor the city's smog. And with the moderate temperature, this became the first outdoor game where it wasn't too cold to fight. Anaheim's Tim Jackman dropped the gloves with the Kings' Kyle Clifford. Of course, that historic moment didn't make the highlight package:
A good time was had by all, even if the Kings took a bagel.
3000 miles away, the Gotham scene has an edgier image, with down-and-dirty gravitas trumping glitz, where the likes of Lou Reed and Joey Ramone are revered for keeping rock stripped down and approachable. Here's an example; Joey's brother, Mickey Leigh, bookended this video montage for Joey's post-punk anthem about New York City that was posthumously released:
So, after an ironic 30-minute glare delay, the tone at Yankee Stadium was set by the sound of the pipes rather than the flash of of the pops:
Technically, this was the Devils' home game, and with Bruce Springsteen apparently unavailable, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes filled in admirably. Still, it wasn't enough of a divertissement from looking at New Jersey's uniform colors and ignoring the urge to put the Christmas tree back up. In contrast, Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist was nattily understated for the location with his pinstriped goalie pads.
Stylish or not, Lundqvist was victimized by three quick goals, courtesy of slick passing by Jaromir Jagr and finishing by Patrick Elias and Travis Zajac. The Swedish netminder held steady after that, as the Broadway Blues roared back with six straight goals, one of which was a pinball banker by Carl Hagelin, whose wrister caromed off both defenseman Marek Zidlicky and the helmet of a surprised Richard Brodeur:
Brodeur opted out during the second intermission -- allegedly so Cory Schneider could soak up some of the atmosphere -- but he'd clearly seen enough. However, other observers were much more positive in their running commentaries.
Maybe the temperature was 40ºF lower than the previous night in Los Angeles -- that's not counting a wind chill that made it feel like 12ºF out there -- but both New Yorkers and Jerseyites were braced for the day and made their presence loudly known throughout the game.
In all, over 100,000 fans witnessed outdoor hockey in environments that confirmed how universal this once regional sport has become. Next up is the Rangers and Islanders on Wed 29 Jan, with the cappers happening after the Olympics in Chicago and Vancouver.
It remains to be seen how they'll adorn the hockey experience.