"Here’s your boarding pass and visa back,” the customs agent said as she stamped my passport. “Have a safe and pleasant trip to Los Angeles, and enjoy your time at the outdoor game. And as a friendly reminder, if you don’t mercilessly trash the entire event, you will be denied access back into Canada."
OK, she didn’t say that last part in so many words, or really any words at all. But it was implied. It was in the tone of her voice and an almost imperceptible furrowing of her brow. She knew what was up. Message received, customs lady.
I am a Canadian, and I had been sent to California to watch an outdoor hockey game. This was not right. This was a mockery of what outdoor hockey should be. There would be no softly falling snowflakes, though a smog advisory was possible. There would be no hot cocoa. There would probably be toques, but they would be worn ironically.
And I would be there. But so help me, hockey gods, I would not like it.
When reports first surfaced that the NHL would expand its slate of outdoor games from one or two per year to a remarkable six in 2014, one matchup stood out: the L.A. Kings hosting the Anaheim Ducks.
Canadians are predisposed to not like the outdoor concept in the first place, no matter how much the games seem designed to appeal to us. Outdoor games are new. We don’t do new. In our ideal NHL, nothing changes, ever. Not the teams, not the uniforms, not the rules. Hockey was just fine before Gary Bettman and friends showed up, and we don’t trust them to go making improvements.
But we’ve come to grudgingly enjoy the occasional outdoor game, and the rest of this year’s matchups were at least in standard hockey markets: Vancouver, Michigan, New York, and Chicago. There were too many, sure, but at least the league got the basics right. Cold weather. Traditional teams.
Los Angeles, though? Los Angeles got to host an outdoor game before Montreal? Or Toronto? Or even Minnesota? Put aside the question of how you manage to make decent ice when temperatures are pushing 80 degrees. This is not a hockey town. I mean, can they even spell hockey in Los Angeles? [Checks.] No. No, they cannot.
My flight touched down Thursday night, and on the drive to my hotel from LAX, I noticed a sign indicating we were on the Glenn Anderson Freeway. Really, L.A.? You try to impress hockey fans with an obviously fake freeway sign featuring a former NHL player, and Glenn Anderson is the guy you pick? Sure, he’s a Hall of Famer, but Anderson never even played for the Kings. He helped win them a playoff series once, but nobody’s going to buy that this city went and named a freeway after him just for that.
Honestly, it was like Los Angeles wasn’t even trying.
This was going to be a disaster.