Wayne Gretzky was instrumental in the growth of hockey in California, even forseeing the Stadium Series. (Robert Beck/SI)
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
When Jeremy Roenick interviewed Wayne Gretzky before the puck dropped at Dodger Stadium, he revealed that Gretzky considered this idea about 20 years ago: What could an outdoor game do for hockey’s popularity in L.A.? The Kings had history, but no one had really ignited the city’s passion for the sport until The Great One arrived in 1988. Five years later, the NHL formed the Anaheim Mighty Ducks (now just the Ducks) — an expansion team across the 5 freeway with a Disney-inspired name.
Southern California had two NHL teams, but the wrong kind of weather and limited access to ice. Growing the sport would be no easy task in that sun-drenched environment.
Two decades later, Gretzky’s vision came together at Los Angeles’s most iconic stadium. Dodger Stadium wasn’t merely hosting the Ducks and the Kings, it was the site of a regular season game between two of the league’s best franchises in front of 54,099 fans. By the end of the season, either the Kings or Ducks could feasibly hoist their second Stanley Cup in a decade. The Ducks now have the best record in the NHL and it will be a shock if the Kings don’t make the playoffs. As legendary broadcaster Vin Scully helped emphasize before the game, Dodger Stadium had hosted the World Series, the Pope, the Harlem Globetrotters, Real Madrid and The Beatles. Now, it was hosting hockey.
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