As we approach the 2020 Stadium Series, let’s take a look back at the most recent outdoor game in the organization, featuring the LA Kings’ AHL affiliate the Ontario Reign…..or perhaps more accurately the rain.
“It was moist,” Reign Head Coach Mike Stothers said, with his usual wit. “We got soaked.”
The 2017 Outdoor Classic in Bakersfield began with business as usual, but as the first period progressed, the rain started coming down and it seemingly never stopped.
As alumni from the Kings and Edmonton Oilers started the day’s festivities with an alumni game, things were calm.
NHL legends such as Rob Blake and Luc Robitaille lined up for the Kings, opposed by Wayne Gretzky, Kevin Lowe, Glenn Anderson and the rest of the Edmonton alumni. Everything was all smiles for the first portion of the event, as the alumni and celebrities playing in the game skated through clear skies.
“I think the concept was good, in the fact that the alumni played before the actual game,” Stothers said. “You had the Edmonton Oilers and the Los Angeles Kings playing, and it was nice to see all the old players that guys got to see when they were growing up. Gretzky was there, it was an exciting thing. That game, the weather was perfect and of course for the main game, the main reason we were playing, it just came down.”
The story of the “main event”, if you will, was the elements. Midway through the first period, the skies opened up and the rain began. And it did not soon stop.
“The first started out not bad, but then in the intermission it started coming down and we delayed for a little bit but couldn’t really do anything,” Kings forward Mike Amadio, who played in the game with Ontario, said. “The puck was sticking a lot on the ice, it was different to play a game like that, but it still a cool experience.”
Plays that you’d normally expect to make were unmakeable. Passes that would normally go tape-to-tape, across the ice, were stopped in their tracks by the sheet of water that covered the ice. The rain impacted the game so much to the point where they stopped the game a couple of times to see if the precipitation might pass over, as Stothers recalled, but it was to no avail as the water just continued to fall.
“The first two periods, it was literally just rain,” Kings defenseman Kurtis MacDermid, who played alongside Amadio in the event, said. “It was kind of a weird situation, especially when the puck was sliding across the ice and you were just getting splashed with water. Eventually, near the end of the second period, it let up and they just did a dry scrape and when we came out for the third, it was actually a lot better ice and it was back to more of a regular game.”
As the Reign and Condors trudged through the absolute downpour at Bakersfield College’s Memorial Stadium, there was still a game to play. Ontario jumped out to a 2-0 lead, before Bakersfield scored twice in the third period to force overtime, with the hosts eventually collecting the second point as well in a 3-2 win.
Looking back, both Amadio and MacDermid recalled how they had to adjust their style of play to fit the elements. Both players preached a simple approach, which seemed to pay off for Ontario as the Reign were the team to score twice while the conditions were at their worst.
“Just keep it real simple,” MacDermid said, with an emphasis on real. “[You don’t] try to do anything too much, just keep things simple and make the easy play and the direct play. It’s not really going to go the way you want it every time, especially in those conditions.”
MacDermid plays a simple game to begin with, staying within himself and taking care of his own end first. For Amadio, a player who likes the puck on his stick, he was an elite playmaker at the AHL level, and many of his finest tools were not able to be showcased in a game like that.
“You definitely had to simplify things,” Amadio said. “You obviously can’t be making rink-wide passes like that, because they’re not going to make it, so it was a little challenging to get used to mid-game. It was still a good experience.”
From behind the bench, Stothers was extremely cognizant that you couldn’t play the same way as you would under normal circumstances. While in that situation there’s not necessarily a ton that you can do, he and his players knew that considering the circumstances, adjustments had to be made.
“It was hard, because passes that you thought would normally go from board to board had zero chance of making it from one side of the ice to the other,” Stothers said. “You pass the puck or shot the puck and just saw a big wake of water in its path. It was tough. Again, you can’t control that, the elements, so you always keep the fingers crossed.”
If you can believe it, hockey equipment is not water-proof, and the rain added another element of difficulty to the players. Amadio spoke about the extra weight added to the gloves and skates specifically, with both seemingly just taking on water throughout the event.
“The gloves were terrible, because they were just soaked,” MacDermid said. “The visor was just constantly filled with water and then the skates were filled with water too.”
In the moment, there were discussions of whether or not to postpone the game, because of the rain, but both teams wanted to play.
“Both teams were kind of unanimous that we’re here, let’s play it,” he said. “We’re both dealing with the same problems, so it was a level playing field.”
However, the conditions did not hinder, or take away from, the experience for the players and coaches.
“It was my first outdoor game, and whenever I think about it, I have good memories, it was a cool time and a cool situation,” MacDermid said. “Just being out there, the atmosphere was great, the fans were good, it was fun for us.”
As the Kings approach their first NHL outdoor contest since the 2015 Stadium Series, both MacDermid and Amadio are looking forward to another outdoor experience, just perhaps with a bit better cooperation from Mother Nature.
“[The Reign outdoor game] was a cool experience, something I’ll always remember,” Amadio said. “But hopefully for this one the weather is a little bit better.”