By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "California Dreamin'" brings to mind images of surf and sunshine but on Saturday at Dodger Stadium a very different dream will be realized when the Golden State stages its first ever outdoor National Hockey League game.
With a temporary hockey ice rink set up in the unusual surrounds of the iconic baseball venue at Chavez Ravine, the Los Angeles Kings will 'host' the Anaheim Ducks in the opener of the NHL's four-game Stadium Series this season.
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 will be the first one played in the United States west of the Mississippi River.
While hockey fans can look forward to the unique prospect of watching two of the league's top teams face off under the stars in Southern California, organizers hope the temperature dips under 55 degrees when the puck drops on Saturday evening.
"It doesn't matter what event we go to, we study the weather trends that come through," said Dan Craig, the NHL's senior director of facilities operations and the man responsible for creating the ice surface at Dodger Stadium.
"We know when the sun goes down we are going to be in the 50s. So as long as I can be at that 55-degree (Fahrenheit) mark or lower when we drop the puck we'll be in awesome shape."
Craig and his team have been working overtime at the home stadium of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the past week making sure that the temporary ice surface stays in the best condition possible.
For most of the day, the ice is shielded from the sun by an insulated, heat-reflecting Mylar blanket which is removed at around 3 PM PT (1900 ET).
At that point, Craig's night shift crew takes over and the refrigeration system housed in a huge truck parked beyond the center-field fence kicks into action.
"The truck is running all the time until we cover (the ice)up," said Craig. "We've been good. The truck has handled it. The sun has gone down and it's totally off the ice by four o'clock."
JUST ABOUT PERFECT
So far this week, the weather has been just about perfect for Craig with evening temperatures in the fifties at Dodger Stadium.
"This is good," he said. "That's what I am really looking forward to is having the bottom drop out. I know people in the stands won't enjoy it that much but if it gets below 55 degrees we are just going to have an absolutely beautiful night here."
Fans will be treated to a most unusual sight with the NHL-size hockey rink set up in the infield, an in-line skating rink in front of it and a beach volleyball court in left field.
Palm trees line the approach where the players will make their initial appearances, a small pond is positioned in right field and flamboyant rock band KISS will wow the crowd with a pre-game performance and another during the first intermission.
Most sports games in Los Angeles attract a Hollywood presence and Saturday will be no exception with actors Will Ferrell, Jason Bateman, Matthew Perry and Cuba Gooding Jr. expected to walk the red carpet shortly before the puck drops.
For the NHL players, however, it will be business as usual with victory in a regular-season game on the line.
"The Stadium Series is kind of for everyone else," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "Yeah, it's cool, but we're there to win a hockey game. ... They're the best team in the league right now and if we have to win it 1-0, we need to win it 1-0."
The (38-10-5) Ducks, who beat the visiting Kings 2-1 at Honda Center in Anaheim on Thursday, lead the 14-team Western Conference while Los Angeles (29-17-6) occupy sixth place after losing their last four games.
"We obviously need the points more than they do," said Kings forward Trevor Lewis. "After a loss like this (on Thursday), you always want to get right back after them, so it's good that we've got them again."
The Ducks, however, will not be taking anything for granted against the Kings, who are the best defensive team in the NHL.
"One game in January doesn't mean we're a better team than them," said Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy. "We're two very evenly matched teams, and we need to bring it on Saturday in order to be successful."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)