Behind the scenes at the NHL's first Stadium Series games
Behind the scenes (cont.)
Behind the scenes (cont.)
Behind the scenes (cont.)
For two frenetic days, the NHL took its game outdoors for a pair of games 15 hours apart in two iconic settings better known for baseball: Dodger Stadium, which hosted the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings on the night of Jan 25; and Yankee Stadium, where the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils clashed the next afternoon. SI was granted special access to go behind the scenes with the teams, officials and personnel who made this weekend unique. (Check out the photo spread and essay in the Feb. 3 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine) and the video above.
Here are some of the scenes, sights and sounds you may have missed during the games.
• Kings forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards played in an outdoor game as Philadelphia Flyers in 2012. This was their exchange as they left the Dodger Stadium ice after practice on Saturday:
Carter: "See, it [the rink] feels smaller."
Richards: "You're right. Same size."
Carter: "I know. It's an optical illusion. Distractions through the glass."
Richards: "So quit looking around."
• What is an event in Los Angeles without a red carpet? The members of KISS were filing through the backstage area, bumping into Tom Arnold, Alyssa Milano, Cuba Gooding Jr. (who can really play the game) and many other celebrities, including game show host Pat Sajak. When he isn't asking contestants on Wheel of Fortune to solve a puzzle, Sajak, a bi-coastal traveler and season ticket holder with the Kings and Washington Capitals, has been taking his son to see the outdoor games. "I missed [the Winter Classic] in Michigan because I knew I'd be here," he told us. "Otherwise, I've seen them all. I grew up in Chicago really admiring the speed and power of the game. But I don't skate. Well, actually, I can't skate. In fact, let me ask this man."
At that moment, Sajak hugged former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who is now 86 years old. "Tommy, do you skate much?" he asked.
"Never had them on in my life," Lasorda replied. "Boy, your son is a good looking young man. Got it from his mother, huh?"
Sajak wasn't done talking hockey. "I could watch Jonathan Quick all day," he said. "I mean the skill level to do what he does with pucks going a hundred miles an hour and all that equipment. It was so exciting watching that run. In fact, here's a quiz for you. Did you know the Kings almost played the fewest possible home games you could play to win that Stanley Cup? Think about it. They opened every series on the road and they only played two home games each time until they lost that fourth game to the Devils. Otherwise they would have won the Cup with eight home games in four rounds. Interesting, huh? Did you know that?"
We do now.
• Actor Jon Hamm shared a hockey memory. While working a side job as a waiter in St. Louis, he used to serve a number of Blues players who came into his restaurant to eat after their games. "We'd keep the place open for them," Hamm said. "It was a blast." In particular, he told of how Brendan Shanahan, now the league's chief disciplinarian, was a regular customer. "He was a good guy: polite, great tipper. But I mean he just ate so much food. One plate, another plate. He wouldn't stop."
I later relayed this story to Shanahan and he laughed as he patted his stomach. "Yeah, have to watch it these days," he said. "I'm not out there 22 minutes a night working it off."
• Singer-songwriter John Ondrasik is a native Californian and avid Kings fan best known as a hockey term. In 1997, before the release of his first album, Message for Albert, his record company told him he'd never get anywhere as a solo artist and strongly suggested that he bill himself as a band. Needing a name for it, Ondrasik attended a game in which former Kings enforcer Marty McSorley dropped the gloves and got sent to the box. Thus was Five for Fighting born.
Invited to play between the second and third periods at Dodger Stadium, the sometime contributor to SI.com was situated near home plate during rehearsals on Friday when he said, "Let's do it for McSorley. Hey, I feel like [former Dodgers catcher] Steve Yeager. I grew up as a kid in these seats, watching Tommy Lasorda, (Davey) Lopes, (Ron) Cey, (Steve) Garvey. I'd go to the Forum and the Kings would lose, 7-3, 8-4 every night. There were more fights in the stands than one the ice. I was here for the Miracle on Manchester. There were supposed to be 200,000 people at that game, you know. (LA) had Gretzky, Magic, we were truly blessed. Now we have (Anze) Kopitar, who gets overlooked. He's a great two-way player. So it's a special moment for me. I might get caught looking around tomorrow. I hope I remember the lyrics ..."
• Willie O'Ree, the NHL's first black player, has lived in La Mesa, Calif. since 1967. He could only shake his head at the sight of the teams practicing in the rink on the Dodger Stadium infield. "If you had told me 40 years ago, even 20 or just 10 years ago that we were going to have a game here under these lights in a place like this, I never would have guessed it," he said. "Look, I still have memories of pond hockey in Fredericton (New Brunswick). That was in 1954. They're talking about the ice conditions there. Well, we did fine with ice that was pretty beat up. This is the way to live."
• For Teemu Selanne, Anaheim's 43-year-old veteran sniper, this game had a different feel even if he'd played outdoor hockey before. "Ah, but you can't miss something like this," he said. "It's a game you'll remember long after you're done playing. Everyone has been building it up the last two weeks and you can see why. I mean how often in your life do you play a game that will be special regardless of the outcome? A seventh (playoff) game, yes, it's special, but if you don't win it, you don't want to remember it, right? I think having our families with us in the stands during the game, skating on the ice before the game, all of that makes this one that won't be like all the rest."
And if there are inconveniences due to the setting? "Sure, we expect some bad bounces," Selanne replied, "a few more things we have to do before the game, but you know, there isn't one guy here who doesn't want to be here. I mean you focus on the next game, right, but for weeks now, you know guys want to play in this game. It's one time. Maybe you never get to do it again in your career."
• I caught up with Wayne Gretzky as he walked out to the rink, making his grand entrance on the day before his 53rd birthday. His long-running dispute with the NHL over money owed him from his years as a coach of the Phoenix Coyotes had been settled and it was time to publicly return to the league's embrace. Could this event in Los Angeles have ever happened without him?
"I was a small part of it," he said, hitting all the right notes as the game's greatest ambassador. "But, you know, hockey is such a great sport and these fans really know about great athletes and great events, so the reaction is great of course, but it isn't that surprising."
Yet there was a telltale sign that this wasn't an ordinary regular-season game, even to him. "Goose bumps," he said, shaking hands and waving as he walked. "I don't get them every day, but today is one of those days."
• The Ducks were playing two-touch soccer behind home plate before the game when several protested that captain Ryan Getzlaf's balding head gave him a distinct advantage when heading the ball.
• Here's one we didn't see coming from the mutual admiration society. KISS put on a pregame mini-concert and we were told to head back to their trailer behind centerfield. It turned out that one of their fans was going to meet bassist Gene Simmons for a photo. In fact, the fan was a friend who goes by the name Gary Bettman. You may have heard of him. Simmons, in full makeup and regalia, greeted his old buddy, whom he has visited, we're told, at the NHL offices, putting the commissioner in a headlock from behind while declaring, "I love this guy!" Then he stuck his tongue out, like a long red carpet as Bettman flinched, no doubt aware that this photo would go viral somewhere. (Don't worry, Gary. It's safe with us.)
• During the first period, I sat in the Ducks' penalty box with off-ice official John Brock, a 17-year veteran of Kings games at the old Forum and now at Staples Center. An insurance adjuster by trade, he chatted and kept the time on his stopwatch as a backup just in case the main scoreboard clock failed. For the entire first period, there was never more than a one second disparity between Brock's watch and the clock that his fellow official was operating from a console between the boxes.
• In case you've ever wondered what else was in the box, there were three types of sports drinks, three towels, and an ice bag. "[The players| don't like to use it," Brock said, pointing to the bag. The extra five feet of space between his seat and the small door in front of him, plus the hundreds of feet between the glass behind him and the first row of seats in the stands made it a different experience than what he is used to in an NHL arena. "You can actually hear the whistles pretty well here," he said. "There is no ceiling here, but there are no fans on top of you, either."
Motioning at the evening's referees, Brock said, "Brad Watson and Chris Lee. Good guys." With 13 minutes gone in the first period, L.A.'s Colin Fraser and Anaheim's Patrick Maroon were whistled for roughing, the first penalties of the game. "I got face-washed," Maroon yelled through the glass at the officials. Meanwhile, Fraser gave him the business from the other box, saying, "You gotta do something to get on the score sheet, right?"
Maroon ignored him, tapping Brock, who was following the rule of not speaking first. "Pretty cool, right?" Maroon said.
As the penalties ran out, Brock gave Maroon time cues for returning to the ice: first a minute, then 45 seconds, 30, 15, 10 and finally five, four, three, two, one before opening the door. It all seems simple when a pro does it, but one slip could mess up the action, so you appreciate the people behind the scenes who make an NHL game work.
• Dan Craig, the NHL's Senior Director of Facilities Operations, is known in the hockey world as the great Icemaker, and his crew's management of frozen water allows these kinds of games to come off smoothly. Some people worried about the condition of the rink surface in the warmth of Los Angeles, but even with a game time temperature of 63 degrees, everything worked out fine, though officials had to patch some places where the Dodger Stadium ice cracked as the first period drew to a close. Craig walked over to Kris King, the league's Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations, and explained the situation, saying, "I can freeze over the whole thing and wait for it to set."
"You need more time?" King asked.
"If you can," Craig replied.
"Okay I can give you 22," King said, extending the first intermission by four minutes and receiving a thumbs-up from Craig.
• Heading for the officials' room in between periods, I was guided by Stephen Walkom, the NHL's director of officiating, who warned his men that an SI reporter and photographer would be visiting for a few minutes. For them this game was different, too. "It's like playoffs or Olympics," Brad Watson said. "There's a difference in depth perception," Chris Lee added. "The rink feels smaller." Linesman Don Henderson said he figured that Anaheim's Tim Jackman and L.A.'s Kyle Clifford were going to fight at the opening whistle. He wasn't far off. The two players scrapped two-and-a half-minutes into the second period. Seasoned officials just know these things.
• Walkom later talked about how the officials prepare before a game. "They'll review things about which goalies like to play the puck, which ones like to freeze it, how teams forecheck, who goes to the net hard. It helps them keep on top of the game, but also stay out of the way." He also described how the officials publish internal papers about the importance of being consistent with their calls. "These guys never call in sick," Walkom said. "They love what they do. The only time one of them is disappointed is when he isn't working the playoffs ... It's different from baseball or football, because those games have a lot of stoppage in between plays. We have 60 minutes (of action)."
• John Ondrasik played his hit song 100 Years between periods, but he changed a lyric to accommodate the occasion. Instead of the line "I'm 15 for a moment," he sang "16" as a video of Marcel Dionne, the Kings Hall of Fame center who wore the number, appeared on the scoreboard screen. The line "I'm 99 for a moment" naturally drew the loudest applause.
• During the third period, we sat with Dan Craig as he kept an eye on the rink conditions. "I watch for the way players skate," he said. "Are they looking down at the ice?" Craig held what looked like a flashlight or thick thermometer with numbers going on and off. He was checking them against a printout of pages with numbers that indicated dew points. Tempetarture too high? Too low? Craig will try to adjust. This can mean some serious changing on the fly. The numbers and readings register on his iPhone and if they are out of range, he may get a warning buzz. Before the Winter Classic game on New Year's Day, he trudged out to Michigan Stadium twice at three in the morning. There were no such warnings in Los Angeles, where the ice might could have become slushy. Things seemed to be going well. "Our goal is to make sure the players don't have to make a decision based on the conditions of the ice," he said. "If a player has a breakaway, for example, and he has a move he wants to make, I want him to be able to make that move, and not have to compromise because of the conditions."
• The Ducks triumphed, beating the Kings, 3-0, behind Jonas Hiller's 36 saves. In Anaheim's dressing room, coach Bruce Boudreau congratulated his team before the media gaggle entered, telling his players, "Hey, big buildup to this game and it's hard to play in this game. You guys did what you had to do sacrificing and blocking shots. All of those things are what make teams win. When I see guys wincing and blocking shots, that's pretty impressive to a coaching staff."
• After a quick departure and overnight flight, we arrived at Yankee Stadium. Many NHL employees worked both games, so they had to function on a nap rather than actual sleep. The weather in New York was biting, the temperatures in single digits with a bitter wind chill. Word filtered down to the rink that the start of the game would be delayed due to the sun's glare in the eyes of the goaltender on the left field side of the ice. Craig expressed concern about the safety of the players to Kris King and NHL hockey ops VP Colin Campbell, and the public address announcer soon told the crowd that the puck would drop at 1:38 p.m. instead of 12:30.
• King, a former NHL enforcer, had a different vantage point for the game at Yankee Stadium. In Los Angeles, he'd sat in one of the announcer's booths with phones, video screens and consoles, overseeing the management of the game from up above.On this day, he sat with Campbell at ice level, next to one of the penalty boxes. He wore a headset and a fairly light jacket, but didn't seem cold. Chalk it up to his days playing in Winnipeg. "I was traded there in '93," King recalled [from the Rangers along with Tie Domi in exchange for Ed Olczyk] and when I got there it was something like 35 below. [Head coach] John Paddock picked me up and I remember his hood completely covering his face. I wasn't sure he could see me. The next day my car wouldn't start. I thought, 'What in the world did I get myself into?' You know what? It was the best four years of my career. I had a great time there." He paused to point into the freezing air before saying, "So this is nothing."
• We asked Campbell about whether he would have liked to play outdoors during his NHL career. "Oh, sure," he saod. "We didn't have those types of events. Nowadays the teams do fun things together. They go to West Point, they bring their dads on a road trip. They play here. We never had anything like this. It's good."
• "I would say most guys take up officiating because they were players at some level and they wanted to stay close to the game," Stephen Walkom says before the first puck drops. "These are guys with a strong feel for the game, a dedication to the game, a love of the game, and this is a way to remain a part of it."
Does a game like this feel like any other?
"No, it doesn't happen every day," he replied. "You're used to 20,000 people or so and you look up and you see 50 or 60,000. The guys do their jobs. They're pros, like the players. But they're human, like the players, and I think there's that moment when you first walk out and it takes your breath away."
• In between the second and third periods, we visited the officials room with Walkom. Inside were referees Paul Devorski and Wes McCauley and linesmen Tony Sericolo and Steve Miller. It's a talented group. Sericolo talked about his days as a football player, when the Saints, Broncos and Patriots each gave him a tryout as a placekicker. His longest field goal was 54 yards.
• McCauley had a quiz question for a visitor. "There are three people out on the ice today from the 1990 draft," he said. "Who are they?"
The names Martin Brodeur and Jaromir Jagr popped out quickly. Then the room went silent until ref Paul Devorski pointed to his fellow official. The Red Wings took McCauley, then a defenseman from Michigan State, in the eighth round that year with the 150th pick in the draft, which was held in Vancouver.
"Did you go there for the draft?" Miller asked McCauley.
"Naw," McCauley sais. "They told me don't bother. I wasn't going very high anyway."
• Linesman Miller talked about breaking up a potentially dangerous tangle during the first period between Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and Devils forward Travis Zajac. As Zajac began to tumble over the boards, he nearly kicked McDonagh in the head and Miller did a good job of unwrapping the pair before someone got hurt. "I put my hands on the boards over there," he explained. "I didn't want more to develop."
• McCauley spotted something different about this event. "Most games, the players kind of watch the replays of their goals out of the corners of their eyes," he said. "You know, they look at the board without looking at the board, that kind of thing. Today, they have to look behind the glass to see it, so you see a lot of guys looking behind themselves, because they see themselves on this big Yankee Stadium scoreboard. Like, that will never happen again, so they don't want to miss it."
• The officials also agreed that their usual cues for checking the clock are different. They are used to having familiar vantage points and now they are looking off into center field at a larger, but more distant board. "Just different, but you get used to it," Miller said.
• The game, an eventual 7-3 blowout by the Rangers, was well underway by the time time we visited Gary Bettman's suite overlooking the stadium. He was beaming, ear to ear, just as the snow began to fall. "We even called for the snow," he told us.
We asked if there will be more than two outdoor games in the future. Will there be six again? He indicated that the likely number will be somewhere in the middle.
"Look at the atmosphere in L.A. and New York," he said just as a goalmouth scramble in front of Martin Brodeur brought the fans off their seats. "There is no shortage of interest from teams in being a part of this."
The commissioner acknowledged that there should be different approaches to holding a game in an entertainment hub such as Los Angeles as opposed to a place like New York, which has more of a hockey-mad fan base and, of course, colder weather that inhibits the leisurely walk of LA celebrities on a red carpet. "These can't be done on a cookie-cutter basis," he explained. "The location and the environment will help dictate the best way to present the games."
"Thrilled," he said.