If the rink set up at Dodger Stadium wasn't their childhood field of dreams, it was surrounded by attractions the Kings and Ducks never saw in Saskatchewan or Finland: palm trees, a beach volleyball court, and a rich baseball history.
Wearing eyeblack on their cheeks and smiles on their faces, the teams took to the great outdoors Friday to practice for Saturday's Stadium Series game. The Kings skated at 4 p.m., when the temperature was about 67 degrees, and said the ice was mushy in a few spots but not much different from what they normally find indoors. The Ducks, who skated after 6 p.m., dealt with glare from the stadium lights and found quirky places on the ice but nothing hazardous.
"You never thought it would ever happen here in California," Ducks right wing Corey Perry said of staging an outdoor game. "How are they going to build ice outside in Southern California with the sun beating down on the ice? You'd think it would melt right away each and every night they tried to freeze it.
"It's kind of cool. It's kind of exciting. It brings you back to your roots."
Players pronounced themselves ready for a spectacle that will honor Wayne Gretzky for his contributions to hockey in California and will include pregame roles for Hall of Fame broadcasters Vin Scully of the Dodgers and Bob Miller of the Kings.
For a distinct California flair, pro beach volleyball stars Kerri Walsh Jennings and Phil Dalhausser will play on a sand court in left field and kids will play inline hockey on a rink near home plate.
"If you associate anything to Southern California, I don't think playing hockey outside would be the first thing to think about," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "I think it's going to be pretty cool, and we're all going to enjoy it."
Kings defenseman Alec Martinez said the ice was soft near the benches during practice. The humidity was about 65% Friday, higher than earlier this week and enough to make players sweat profusely.
"You get that little glossiness on top. It gets a little wet," Martinez said of the ice. "The puck sticks a little bit. I was impressed. It was pretty good."
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged the ice was "a little softer and wetter for Kings practice than we would have liked." He said the maintenance crew will make adjustments and that Saturday's 7:15 p.m. start time should create a favorable climate. "We don't anticipate that ice conditions will be an issue with this game," Daly said.
Forecasts call for a daytime high temperature of 77 degrees and 31% humidity. The ice will remain covered by an insulated blanket during the day.
Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said players will have to adjust to the crowd being at a distance Saturday. "You get used to seeing the faces right behind the glass and having the fans feel they're right on top of you, but that's what makes this experience so cool," he said. "It's different and you're going to have so many people watching you. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
But it's also a crucial game for the Kings, who have lost four in a row and 11 of 15. That includes a 2-1 loss to the Ducks at Anaheim on Thursday. The Kings can't be distracted by the occasion.
"Sometimes, in different atmospheres, different surroundings, the game can be different," center Jarret Stoll said, "but we're going to try to do the same thing, for sure. Be a physical, hard, heavy game and play the style we play. If we don't, we're probably not going to win."
Kopitar agreed. "It doesn't matter if it's on the road, home, outside, inside," he said. "You always want to get the two points."
Times staff writer Lance Pugmire contributed to this report.ts."
Times staff writer Lance Pugmire contributed to this report.